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It’s a small world after all

Yukon photographer focuses on the little things
An example of the small works print series by Philomena Carroll displayed at the Yukon College bistro. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Necessity - that’s why Philomena Carroll turned to photography after training as a painter at art school in Ireland.

When she graduated from Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, she no longer had access to the kind of studio space required to work on or store her massive canvasses, so she started thinking smaller.

“You do find yourself at times in life where you just have to sit down and say ‘ok, I have to adapt.’ Like a borg from Star Trek,” said Carroll on Oct. 10, the day her show Small Works: Drawing with Light, opened at the Hilltop Bistro at Yukon College.

In the past, Carroll, who moved to Canada in 1992, after growing up all over Europe, has shown paintings and photos in group and solo exhibitions in Canada, Europe and the U.S.

When she bought her first camera, she also bought a computer with a primitive photo filter program, and took a 12-week course in Photoshop.

When it ended, she said she sat down and tried to make sense of how a course aimed at graphic design could work for her as a fine artist, particularly when she was an artist who focused on the abstract, something she fell in love with in her third year of college.

At the time, someone showed her a book of the work of American painter Paul Jenkins, who poured bright streams of paint on canvas in a way that Carroll said “turned her world upside down.”

“Up until that point I had never quite figured out what on earth to do with paint and paintbrushes and stuff like that. I didn’t get it. I was almost in my third year of college and someone came up to me with that book and it was just like ‘that’s it!’”

Carroll eventually found a way to translate that into photography by taking close-up photos, and by laying items and images on a flatbed scanner and layering them in photoshop.

The 14 works at Hilltop are small (framed, they’re just 8 x 10), and taken at such close range, you can’t tell what the objects in some of them are. In others, such as Color Study #1, the focus is more clear - a small clutch of fabric, placed on a mirror, its pink and green tufts and fringes furling.

“I’m fascinated with layers and I’m fascinated with texture and those you’ll always find in my work, no matter what medium I’m working in. It took a while for me to realize that always underlies pretty much everything I do,” Carroll said.

“Each texture comes out or pulls back and creates a very interesting landscape.”

Still, Carroll said it took until about 2007 before she felt she had translated her painting approach to photography.

At that time, she had just mounted a show, Alchemy, at the Yukon Arts Centre. For the first time, she’d decided to work with large format prints (40 x 40). She said seeing them on the walls at the gallery gave her the opportunity to stand back and look at all the work in one place. That’s where she noticed one of the common threads she was able to tie back to her paintings.

Viewers told her they felt a kind of sacredness looking at her work. A sense of looking at a world held inside something like a snow globe.

“That’s what I hope, when you’re looking at these,” she said. “You’re willing to step into it and see it as something of a small world that you can walk into.”

In a way, she sees her photos as a kind of landscape, however non-traditional, or intimate those landscapes may be.

Another set of pictures, for example, features horsehair, lit by sun and tangled in the barbs of a fence on the perimeter of the Mayo Road property where Carroll used to live. She said it reminds her of things that are there, even though they’re gone. The horses, she said, were on the ranch most of the year, with their personalities and their presence. Then, in the summer, when they left, their absence was made even more strange by the fact that they weren’t completely gone. They’d left behind these pieces of themselves.

“The world I’m fascinated with is that half-seen world that we’re always walking in. If you sit in a room in the morning, especially at this time of year, and the light comes in at an extraordinarily sharp angle, very, very bright and it hits a couple of things.”

“That can be quite eerie and almost take you back to a level of a sense that there’s more worlds out there than we know.”

Small Works is up at the Hilltop Bistro until Dec. 20.

Contact Amy Kenny at

An example of the small works print series by Philomena Carroll displayed at the Yukon College bistro. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Amy Kenny

About the Author: Amy Kenny

I moved from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Yukon in 2016 and joined the Yukon News as the Local Journalism Initaitive reporter in 2023.
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