While Jonathan Hobin’s previous work focused on the beginning of life and childhood, the renowned Ottawa photographer’s newest exhibition concentrates on death.
Little Lady/Little Man is a memorial to Hobin’s late grandparents, opened March 15 at the Ottawa City Hall Art Gallery.
The exhibition includes photographs of Hobin’s grandfather, William Merrill, soon before his death as well as of his grandmother, Marjorie Merrill, on her deathbed.
In addition to the photographs, the exhibition contains a recording of a lullaby. As his health deteriorated, Hobin’s grandfather recorded himself singing for his relatives to find after his death.
“He had come to terms with the fact that his time on earth was fairly limited and so it was strange to see someone, essentially putting things in order and saying good-bye to people,” Hobin said. “Part of that was he secretly recorded these lullabies that he’d sing to the girls and the boys in the family.”
“Little Lady Make Believe” and “Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day” ended up being the inspiration for the name of the exhibit.
Hobin said the lullabies are also what links Little Lady/Little Man to some of his previous exhibitions.
“The way this body of work relates to my other work…is again that childlike imagery of the song,” Hobin said.
Take his controversial portrait series, In the Playroom, which featured children acting out recent news stories as games, including two boys flying model planes into twin towers in their playroom.
Hobin’s 2010 exhibit provoked widespread criticism. The Bad Moms Club blog, a Canadian parenting website, criticized Hobin for exploiting the children in his photographs.
“Maybe this is art, but creating art while risking your kids’ innocence is irresponsible,” their website’s blog said.
Hobin said he believes the source of the backlash he’s received for his previous exhibits is because people don’t like being reminded of uncomfortable facts.
Despite the controversy, City Hall isn’t shying away from showing Hobin’s work.
Alex Massaad, the gallery assistant at the Karsh-Masson Gallery which is partnering with City Hall for Little Lady/Little Man, stands behind their decision to display Hobin’s photographs.
“He fits the criteria we look for…it’s because of his prominence in the art community that he was chosen,” Massaad said.
Hobin said he doesn’t expect Little Lady/Little Man to be controversial, but then again, he didn’t expect his past exhibitions to be controversial either.
Overall, the opinion Hobin is most concerned about is his family’s, particularly his mother Nancy’s, for William and Marjorie Merrill were her parents.
“I’m thrilled. I really am,” Nancy Hobin said. “I think he’s caught their personality.”
As to what his grandparents would think of the exhibition, Hobin hopes their reaction would be a positive one.
“I think they would be pretty happy to think that they had left such an impact on me that I had dedicated this part of my life to just putting together this exhibition.”