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Love dogs? Check out this TMU grad’s photography exhibit

Michelle Leone Huisman’s latest project, CMYK9, profiles pandemic pets
June 27, 2023
Michelle Leone Huisman

Michelle Leone Huisman (Photo Arts ’96) is showcasing her latest project, CMYK9, at Silvershack gallery in Toronto until July 15 (Photo credit Camila Bellido).

We’ve all heard of a pandemic pet. The dogs, cats and other new friends that people added to their lives as a way to get outside or beat loneliness during the depths of the COVID-19 lockdown. TMU alumna and fine art photographer, Michelle Leone Huisman (Photo Arts ’96), got a puppy in January 2020 and was inspired by the happy K9s she met on family walks to the dog park to make photographing pandemic puppies and dogs (external link)  her latest project, CMYK9. Her work is showing now at Silvershack (external link)  gallery in Toronto until July 15. 

“It was a really amazing time for dogs,” said Huisman, referring to how dogs had their families home with them during the pandemic. “We [also] met all kinds of different people who truly loved having a dog at that time and were grateful for the companionship.”

A photograph of a dog exposed in colours of cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Coco, a dog in Michelle Leone Huisman’s CMYK9 series.

CMYK9 is a reflection of this happy time for dogs and their owners in the otherwise uncertain times of the pandemic. Huisman visualized this feeling using a specific printing process called “tri-colour gum bichromate”, which dates back to the 19th century. 

Huisman learned the technique from acclaimed Toronto-based printer, Bob Carnie. It consists of hand-brushing fine art paper, affixing a negative to the paper and exposing it to UV light. Huisman repeats the hand-painting process to add colour pigmentation. CMYK refers to the four colours used in this printing technique: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black or palladium). K9, of course, refers to the canines in her project. Each one-of-a-kind image can take up to five days or more to process and are said, thanks to this process, to last hundreds of years.

“Dogs actually see in two colours, called dichromacy, and I am using three colours, which is what humans see,” she explained. “Maybe this is what dogs would see because it was such a happy time for them,” she laughs. 

The CMYK9 series is part of a trilogy of work by Huismanrelated to the pandemic. The first series, An Unexpected Collection (external link) , featured a collection of  wooden spoons and one rubbermaid container that broke during the daily 7 p.m. cheer for first responders at the beginning of the pandemic. Her second series called Global Pandemic (external link)  highlighted the accumulated waste of discarded masks. Huisman paired the masks with nature and titled each piece with children's nursery rhymes and games to emphasize the impact that both pandemics (COVID-19 and the environmental impacts) will have on children. 

“From the beginning, I’ve felt creatively compelled to archive some meaning from this global social contagion. We have seen some of the best and worst human behaviour and we’re still learning about the long-term physical, environmental and social impacts from COVID-19.” Huisman said. The third installment, CMYK9, is meant to end the pandemic series on a positive note.

A photograph of a dog exposed in cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black).

Bea, a four-year-old Olde English Bulldogge, one of Huisman's K9 subjects.

For Huisman, who does photography work full-time while raising her family in Vancouver, showcasing CMYK9 in Toronto is a full-circle moment. After receiving her degree from TMU, she continued her studies in British Columbia at Emily Carr University. “I left Toronto to be in nature, but I love the energy and diversity of the city,” she said. “Coming back here as a professional artist is a real full-circle moment.”

She says she has kept in touch with some of her professors and credits TMU for giving her the foundation she needed throughout her versatile career as a set decorator and interior designer and ultimately, a photographer. 

“My time at TMU helped me use my creativity and take it throughout my career.”

To learn more about Michelle Leone Huisman and her CMYK9 series, showing in Toronto until July 15, visit her website (external link) . If you’re interested in having your pet commemorated in this unique format, Huisman is available for commissions and partial proceeds from the project will be donated to SPCA. 

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