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SNAPSHOT with Syd Deneau

Updated: Feb 4

Syd Deneau’s first encounter with the Clown House came through an email titled “Chapbook 2023.” Our inbox, swelling with poetic gifts from our first call to submissions in the early fall, introduced us to the Canadian born multidisciplinary artist. Entrusting us with their incredible writing, a new artistic relationship began to blossom. Syd’s written piece “Seeing You Still Through the Fire,” can be found in our 2024 Chapbook titled SPARK UP available in print and online. 

Following our brief internet exchange, the Clowns became fascinated with Syd and their 90’s punk inspired photography. An invite out to an ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ themed birthday party seemed entirely necessary. Proposed to be a partial tribute to video game sequel, Alice Madness Returns, the concept also stood alone as a dark photographic adaptation of the original Alice in Wonderland tale. 

Ottawa born and raised, Syd Deneau calls themselves “something along the lines of a contemporary photographer.” However, the young artist is no ‘one trick pony,’ Syd also enjoys painting and writing. Syd’s work often includes themes of: queer documentation, Toronto based communities, the current Western punk scene, and familial relations. 

It is typical for Syd to keep their art separate. For example, their editorial shoots or lighting experiments are free from literary arts or other visual art forms. This choice helps images keep a clean cut appearance. In a rather personal project depicting their grandmother, the series documents familial history and includes more textual evidence. In these rare yet extraordinary occasions Syd creates directly from the heart and the home.

One of Syd’s favourite projects include a black and white series of the Toronto area combined with scanned highschool photographs of their parents. Their personal work is perfectly summarised by the following sentiment:

“It means a lot to know where I come from, to know literally where my flesh and blood comes from.”

Syd, a current Toronto Metropolitan University student, also shared with us the challenges they faced when coming to the realisation that working on editorial and emotional projects separately, renders them more rewarding. 

SD: “I was doing projects at the start of this semester and my heart wasn't in it, the pictures look exactly how I thought they would in my head but I didn't feel fantastic about them. I realised it's because I am trying to combine the editorial and emotional work but they don't lend themselves well to each other so I went back to a personal series I did called Becoming My Mother and it was kind of weird following in their footsteps but in a completely different way, I was really proud of it.

“Projects are usually based around my parents without really realising why…” Syd says as they reflect on conversations with their dad. Syd possesses an immense amount of gratitude for their parents and the unconditional encouragement they received growing up. Although their father wanted to be an architect, he was persuaded into accounting by his own parents.

Similarly with Syd’s mother, a young lady taken by film was obligated to pursue something more stable. The couple met at a revenue agency and were determined to support whatever their children wanted to explore, whether that be more practical or artistic. The artist gives credit to this parenting style, to quote: “ I wouldn't be doing a lot of what I'm doing without that encouragement.”

Syd Deneau has been showcased at a number of events, including their Relationship with Death series debuted at Rebellezine’s Transcend Soiree, an event held at The Annex Hotel on November 27th 2023. If you have yet to see Syd’s photography in person, or online, be sure to take a look at their portfolio and socials

Before the camera, there was a background in fine arts: Syd first discovered their photography skills back in high school. “Take this camera and take pictures of the talent show,” said a teacher instructing Syd on what coverage they needed for the yearbook. This seemingly small task changed the direction of the artist's life, describing it as a moment where they realised photography is exactly what they are meant to do. 

This moment propelled Syd into buying a camera from a pawn shop and taking portraits with their best friend at the time. Experiments like this opened them up to the editorial side of photography, precisely when the pair decided to do a photoshoot in which the subject is wearing a wedding dress covered in blood. Although Syd’s process has been modified over the years, the overall format has stayed relatively the same. 

At first it was hard for Syd to love the images they were creating, largely due to the challenges of first starting out, like learning the mechanics of a camera.

SD: “I didn't have the skill yet and not doing my own work but copying what other Instagram photographers were doing…feels cold and emotionless.”

Many of these lessons can feel constricting, but learning the basics to an art form are unbelievably rewarding. 

SD: “I have to funnel my creativity into something, force myself to create art. Dealing with this by listening to music, go to a local show or expanding and exploring music online, hearing a particular combination of sounds triggers a movie scene… try to keep away from researching images when I’m in a creative funk because then you'll just see the visual of what you want to make but someone else has already made it and then you feel worse about yourself and what you haven't made.”

From a vision in their head to a picture on camera:

Using their skills in fine art, Syd sketches various compositions of the concept they are trying to achieve. In addition to the structure of the image, Syd plays with the colour palette they want to use. Next, a quick Pinterest search using keywords to describe the topic on Syd’s mind helps them see concepts more clearly. Once these elements come together, Syd creates more refined sketchbook drawings of how the final images would look. A short blurb, much like an artist statement, ties the pre-shoot planning process neatly together. 

In an editorial shoot environment Syd refers to their composition notes and grabs further inspiration from any ideas the models come up with. 

Syd’s interests in philosophy fuel their conceptualization of new images and projects. Finding inspiration from No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre, they continue to develop a piece concerned with seeing the problem you have with yourself in the others. 

SD: “Most pictures I do I try to edit in terms of yes were a physical body but were so much more than that. Photography is an outlet, I really like just observing people and the human condition, with editorial it's seeing what the human body can look like expanded or documentary photography it's seeing how they look like on their own … I'm just very interested in people.”

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