Unlicensed Grief: Intimate Reclamations of Public Space


This documentary work moves the viewer to engage with loss through composite images of roadside memorials. This photographic series interrogates how we interact with public space in the city to reclaim pieces of the physical environment in commemoration of loved ones. In Toronto, as in many cities in Canada and the United States, these memorials are at the centre of public debate about their appropriateness and legality; in Ontario, there have been attempts to “license” roadside memorials. In societies where displays of grief are confined to acceptable venues and deemed inappropriate for public display, roadside memorials are acts of resilience and personal empowerment that attempt to keep the memory of a loved one alive.

Each image in this series is composed of three interwoven elements taken at the site of a roadside memorial located within the context of the Greater Toronto Area. The overall effect of the composition of each image approximates a memorial wreath containing various elements. The first, and dominant element of each photograph is a detail of the memorial; close-ups of flowers, candles or photographs, among other items, seek to evoke the sense of loss and intimacy while not attempting a descriptive portrayal of the memorial in its entirety. The second part of the image is an element of the physical environment where the memorial is located; images of water, faded photographs, leaves or other aspects of place, are provided as a way to contextualize the memorial without resorting to literal descriptors of place. The viewer is called to imagine the setting and reflect more broadly about loss. The final element of each image consists of one word from a locale found at the site of the memorial. These “nameplates” provide contextualization of the memorial site while also providing the viewer with a sense of the broader urban context. The text works with the remainder of the elements of the image to symbolize a sense of tension: the everyday mundane reality of living with that of the finality of death and the temporality of memory.

View the project here: http://samanthawehbi.pixpa.com/unlicensed-grief