Waiting is the third photo essay in a series that documents the changing environment at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The ten images in Waiting were taken in September 2020 on the first day of classes for the fall semester, a term that is mostly online. Unlike previous first days at UBC, the campus is empty. The Welcome Centre is closed. Bike racks and outdoor seating areas are unused. Spaces typically filled with eager students, such as the Nest student centre, are hollow without their enthusiasm. Waiting conveys an institutional holding pattern in black and white: maintaining a distance between the unseen, mapping our future spatial arrangements, waiting for our return.
Prepping is a photo essay of images taken in July 2020 at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus. The ten images mark some of the visible changes to the campus that occurred over the summer months as various units prepared for an uncertain fall semester. New signage and visual cues direct our movements throughout the campus: enter here, queue here, wait here. As well, we encounter continued locked doors and empty buildings, emphasizing the ambiguity of making preparations to open amid closure mandates. Outdoor spaces, augmented with picnic tables, are largely empty. Hand sanitizer stations are updated in buildings that remain closed. Questions loom around the future of "UBC Life" and popular programs such as study abroad. In contrast to the stark realities of the ongoing global pandemic, campus visitors are invited to "enjoy" the open spaces (responsibly), remembering that "the best thing in life is life," with the suggestion that "Happiness is just a cookie away."
"Distancing" is an affective/creative response to the shutdown of my university campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020. As a campus resident and faculty member, the university is my home as well as my employing institution, meaning the phrases "shelter in place" and "work at home" are intertwined in complex ways. The photos in this essay were taken on a single day in April, at a time when students and faculty would typically be on campus preparing for final exams and other end-of-term activities. Instead, the campus is silent, classes and events cancelled, with buildings locked and offices vacant. The images reflect my viewpoint as a faculty member now on the outside of my institution looking in, seeing only darkened corridors and empty chairs. Through doors and windows, I see directives for physical distance and safety on flashing video screens, educating into the void. Refracting light and shadows cause a sense of disorientation, signalling the loss of long-established rhythms and patterns of academic life. Interrupted liminality and unbroken illumination are juxtaposed to emphasize our indeterminate futures. Untended landscapes shimmer upon the glass in reflected natural light, set against the polished interior surfaces that await our return.
Tagged is a series of images of the identification tags on trees on the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus. The tags remind us that the trees form a living archive of species that were planted on campus for their aesthetic, scientific, and cultural value. As markers of human interaction with trees, the tags also signal a sense of oversight and stewardship as well as claims to the trees as material property of the university. The designation "UBC Tree" prompts me to ask, "whose tree?" as I recognize the role they play in the campus ecosystem, socially and environmentally.
Tree 973 is an ongoing photo essay focusing on a single tree at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver (UBC-V) to examine the changing campus site in relation to the surrounding forest. As with the rest of the UBC-V campus and the adjacent forest of the Pacific Spirit Park, Tree 973 sits within the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation. Like many trees on campus, it is known by a reference number (973) that identifies the tree throughout its lifespan, indexing it in various databases managed by campus arborists, landscape architects, and external landscape contractors. Tree 973 is a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), recommended for retention in a residential development area known as Wesbrook Place, managed by UBC Properties Trust. Tree 973 is the tallest tree on the site, reaching the height of the canopy of the other Douglas Firs in nearby Pacific Spirit Park and other remaining trees in adjacent lots, which had been part of the same forest prior to the site being cleared for campus development. Now isolated to a small group of trees at the corner of the grazed block, Tree 973 serves as a reference point for the former forested land, placing the newly constructed condo towers in ecological, spatial and temporal context. The photos in this series were taken from March to November 2019. [Note: clicking on the first image will bring up a new window with a slide-show view of the entire photo essay.]
Related to: Metcalfe, A. S. (2019). Witnessing indigenous dispossession and academic arboricide: Visual auto-ethnography as anti-colonial didactic. Visual Arts Research, 45(2), 80-90.
Related to: Metcalfe, A. S. (2019). “This is football”: Visualizing academic capitalism at the athletic stadium—A photo essay. Visual Methodologies, 7(1), 1-14.
Campus Trees is an ongoing photo narrative about the relationship between humans and trees in the academic environment, where the campus landscape is a living participant in university life. I select vantage points that pull us closer to the embracing limbs of these not-so-silent witnesses to our day-to-day passings. Each tree has its own biography, telling a story of displacements, movements, endings and beginnings. Trees have often signified wisdom and the quiet contemplations of the “academic grove”, serving as muse and mother to theories and inventions. Trees also chronicle time through the annual cycle of the changing seasons and the creeping decades that are evident in juxtapositions with archival images of the campus landscape.