John Healey's PLASTIC BEACH PLAGE DE PLASTIQUE City Hall Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023

This profile will introduce artist John Healey – mind you, many TI Life readers will know of John as he explained to me:

“I grew up in Brockville, ON, during the 1960’s and 70’s and lived no more than two blocks away from the St. Lawrence. We could see the River from our back windows on Pine Street and track the lakers moving through the shipping channel from spring through late fall. As a young kid, I would swim off the pier at Canteen Park and use the beach at St. Lawrence Park. In my teens, I was lucky to able to take sailing lessons at the Brockville Yacht Club and this is when my love of the St. Lawrence was solidified. From there, I worked at St. Lawrence Marina for a few summers, where I met so many avid boaters and friends. I took every opportunity to go out on the water and explore the nearby islands. It was a privileged existence.”
John Healey's exhibit at the Ottawa City Hall - May 25 at 5:30pm May 25 to August 27, 2023

However, you may not know what an important artist John is; this month, his special exhibit will open in Ottawa, ON, Canada's capital, in one of two special art galleries located inside the Ottawa City Hall. These two professional galleries are coordinated by the City of Ottawa Public Art Program. Exhibitions are selected once every two years by a peer assessment committee.

How did this this Editor meet John? First, John's exhibit came to the attention of Alliance for the Great Lakes. They, in turn, notified the Thousand Islands Association, who have followed Save the River's lead in holding volunteer River clean-up days in the summer. TIA thought John would be an important person for us to meet.

Not only was I interested in knowing more about the artist, especially when I learned that he is from Brockville, ON, but I realized that the more we know about our environment and the perils of plastics for our future, the more I needed to know.

Michagin Man After Arcimboldo 2020, Archival Print 76X101. [Photo courtesy of the artist]

I asked John several questions in my interview and his answers were insightful. I learned that after high school, he moved to Ottawa and attended Algonquin Collage in a business program. He also started a family, and as he says, a long and prosperous career in consumer electronics.

Q: When did you start this wonderful career in photography? How did you start?

“The arts were a big part of growing up in our household. We were lucky to have parents who thought that the fine arts contributed to a person’s well being and would surround us with music, paintings, and sculpture. Photography was just a hobby for the longest time; l didn’t get ‘serious’ about the craft of photography until I started travelling in my career, around 2003-2004. I found myself with time on my hands while staying in different cities, so I would take along a camera and explore. I wanted to improve my camera skills, so I enrolled in part-time classes at The School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO) in 2011 and that set me on the path I’m on now. I’m the studio instructor at SPAO, involved in both the full and part-time streams, as well as working on my own material. I love that I’m surrounded by creative people and working on my own ideas.”
John Healey, Styrofoam Cloud, 2019, archival inkjet print, 102 x 76 cm. [Photo courtesy of the artist]

Q: Obviously your expertise is outstanding, but what takes you or took you in the direction of the environment?

“I had completed three photographic projects that were introspective by the summer of 2018, and I was looking for something to concentrate on and my wife suggested that I take an exterior view for inspiration. That summer, we took a backcountry camping trip to a remote site in Lake Superior Provincial Park and were astounded by how much garbage was on the shore. Like most people, I would collect it and hike it out with the intention of dumping it in the first garbage can I came across, but instead of throwing it away I put it in the trunk of the car and drove it home.
At home, I started to really look at what it was, who made it, and how it got to that remote beach. I found that most of it was plastic and that it was starting to break down. This led me to months of research about how plastic flows through the Great Lakes system. I started to photograph the items in a way that reminded me of a solo performer on a stage, spotlit, bare, and revealing.”
“Sometime in the fall of 2018, I dedicated myself to travelling to seven more sites along the seaway consisting of each of the Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair, and three locations along the St. Lawrence, to collect plastics. This whole project has taught me so much about myself, and how we treat the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.”

Q: Do you attribute any of your interests to having been on the St. Lawrence? If so, what?

“It was living close to the St. Lawrence that I learned the concept of how everything is connected to everything else. I witnessed how our actions had an affect on the water and everything that used it. How an increase or decrease of boat/ship traffic impacted the wildlife of the area.”
End of Your Breath, Exhibit by John Healey. "During the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, unimaginable stories were being told of a dangerous virus that attacked the lungs and left its host literally gasping for air. Link in the bio. Please wear a mask, wash your hands and, keep your distance.."

Q: Tell me about one of your other favourite shows or topics? (John has won several prizes, so this question wasn’t a difficult one for me to ask or for him to answer. His work has received numerous awards, including winner of the 2020 Project X, Photography Award and First Prize winner for the international Figureworks competition in 2019.)

““At the End of Your Breath” [see interview with Sonya Gankina, published in February 2021] is a work that I’m proud of. It came out of the need to keep busy during the beginning of the pandemic. The work not only engaged me in the research aspect, but also in the physical. I had to troll the internet and produce images from very poor-quality files representing X-Rays of COVID infected lungs. Then I needed to print the images in my home and mount them onto steel plates. A satisfying project in many ways.”
Shot & Line, 2021, Archival Print, 76x101. [Photo courtesy of the artist]

And finally,

Q: What is it that other interviewers ask that I should too? And his answer was simple!

"What's Next?"

and then he answered  his question with:

After the exhibition starts I’ll take some time and recharge over the summer. My wife and I plan on a road trip around Lake Ontario, where we’ll take our cameras and have us shooting the places we stumble upon. I have a few project ideas that are in the development phase and I’ll look at these again when I return.
Header photograph: John Healey, Composition #4, 2022, digital C-Print, 122 x 165 cm. [Photo courtesy of the artist]


John Healy has offered to do a personal tour of the exhibit for Thousand Islanders at Ottawa City Hall. We will let you know the date on our Facebook page.  Ottawa is only 1.45 hours from the Thousand Islands Bridge. Enjoy the day, explore the exhibit and meet new friends!

To see more of John Healey's work see:  Instagram, Website

By Susan W. Smith, Editor,

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023, Artists

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