Saskatchewan

Who needs Instagram? Sask. artist sharing his photos the old-fashioned way: through the mail

In a world where digitally "liking" an image has become the norm, one Saskatchewan-based artist is trying to help people reconnect with the power of a photograph and each other.

Jannik Plaetner's year-long project aims to make connections with other through photo sharing

This photo, shot by Jannik Plaetner, was sent to seven people - including the host of Saskatchewan Weekend Shauna Powers - through the mail during Week 31 of his year-long project titled "Giving it Away." The aim of the project is to help people reconnect with the power of a photograph as well as other people. (Submitted by Jannick Plaetner)

With millions of images shared in the digital realm every day, one Saskatchewan-based artist is trying to reconnect people to the power of a physical photograph through a year-long project. 

As part of his "Giving It Away" project, every week of 2019, Saskatoon's Jannik Plaetner will send one of his original photographs to seven different people. However, he won't do so on Facebook or on Instagram or even on Twitter. He'll share them the old-fashioned way — through the mail.

"I wanted to give people the experience of handling an image, to touch it, turn it over and just engage in a more meaningful way," he said. "More than just sort of a quick glance on Facebook or Instagram."

A photographer since he was six years old, Plaetner's photos feature bright colours, beautiful landscapes and the contrast that can exist between nature and structures produced by humans. 

He said in the era of social media and quickly scrolling fingers, there's a "numbness" effect that has formed around the way people view an image.

Jannik Plaetner captures contrasting colours in this photo, titled Side Door. The photograph was sent to seven people through the mail during Week 33 of his project "Giving it Away." Plaetner said each week, he'll be sending a new image to seven different people, as a way to make personal connections in a world where so much communication is digital. (Submitted by Jannik Plaetner)

So he began by sending pictures out to people he knew through Facebook. Now, he's branching out, with people offering recommendations for others he can send his photos to. He even invites people to "nominate" photo recipients through his website.

Plaetner said he was inspired partially by the work of Saskatoon artist and educator Monique Martin and her project "Paraph." It focused on the importance of written letters, and their power to capture human emotion in an envelope.

Saskatoon photographer Jannik Plaetner has embarked on a special project this year. Every week he sends out seven packages in the mail, all containing a photo and a letter. He's sent them to family and friends. He even sent one to me! I just had to learn more. 13:19

Among the photos he's sent out is an image of a lighthouse against a wide-open body of water. Another shows anchored boats fading into a dense fog.

While the images are worthy of a place on a gallery wall, Plaetner said the project also looks at how art is delivered to its consumers. 

"The thing about mail art is that it bypasses the traditional channels of art," he said.

"There's no curators. There's no museums. There's no art galleries or commissions involved. It really is a one-to-one communication [from] the artist to the person that receives the letter."

The Blue Hour, a photo by Jannik Plaetner, was sent to a group of people through the mail during week 19 of his project "Giving it Away." For all of 2019, Plaetner used the mail to send out physical prints of his work. He said mail art sidesteps the usual way art is consumed, as the project is a direct link between the artist and audience, with no gallery or agent working as the messenger. (Submitted by Jannik Plaetner)

Over the span of 39 weeks, Plaetner has sent photos to more than 270 people, but he noted it's not always easy finding someone to receive a physical message. 

"In some cases, it has taken literally months to convince them that this is not a scam," he said.

 

Plaetner said in some cases, when he asked for an address, people would think he meant an email address and send that along first.

He said he takes joy in imagining someone opening the letter and watching a mini art exhibit unfold in the privacy of their own living room or kitchen.

 

The responses he's had to photos he's sent have ranged widely. In some cases, the envelope will be returned, unopened. In other cases, he's received hand-written notes thanking him for the gift.

And in some instances, he said, people have been so inspired that they've picked up the mission on their own, looking for new ways to help people connect with one another.

The night sky is lit up with purples, greens and pinks in this photo, titled Nature's Fireworks. The piece was sent out during Week 12 of Jannik Plaetner's year-long project, titled "Giving it Away." He hopes the project will help connect people in a way they can't on social media. (Submitted by Jannik Plaetner)

So far, the photographs have found their way to mailboxes around the world, with many being sent to Plaetner's native Denmark, South America, Australia and  New Zealand.

"I haven't done India or east Asia yet, so I'm still working on a few addresses there," he said. 

All of Plaetner's photographs and the responses he's received as part of the project are set to be part of a full-blown show at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery on the University of Saskatchewan campus next June.

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend

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