The Canaries


I’ll start this post off by saying my wife is amazing and possibly the best gift giver I’ve ever met. When we first started dating I told her about this day in art school where one of my favorite professors brought in a bunch of photo-books for the class to look through and study and learn about sequencing and how that translates into creating a book. If you would have asked me what books he brought in that day, I wouldn’t have a clue about any of them except for one. I still remember the feeling I had when I saw it and flipped through it. It was this book in the image above. I have had the images and book burned into my brain ever since—I think about it A LOT. But the only reason I never purchased it was I couldn’t remember the photographers name or what the book was called or anything. I had tried googling it several times, I had spent hours and hours looking online to figure out the book title and the photographers name—I always came up short. Couldn’t find it no matter how long I looked. I thought I knew enough about the book to be able to describe it in a Google search, but still wasn’t enough. So this year Ariel searched for hours and hours to find this same book and eventually was able to find the photographers website through another article. She reached out to her via email to ask if she had anymore copies of The Canaries—she was doubtful because there were only 1,200 made and this book had been out for years and years, but she got back with Ariel and said she could ship one out the next day.


So Ariel gave me this book for Christmas this year and the shock on my face when I realized what I had just opened was unreal (she captured a photograph of that moment yesterday, I finally shared that photograph here when we got that roll of film developed).


So there it was sitting in my lap. It was a brand new copy of The Canaries by Thilde Jensen. A hand written book title, that was hand wrapped in aluminum foil was sitting in my lap. A body of work that ultimately changed the way I view photography, story telling, and photo-books ever since I first saw it years ago in art school. Now you may be asking why is this book wrapped in foil? Well, Thilde suffers from a disease called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. So this body of work, The Canaries, is a portrait of the people that are diagnosed with this same disease.


Although not recognized by the American Medical Association, multiple chemical sensitivity is a chronic condition (part of a broader condition known as environmental illness, or EI) in which the immune and central nervous systems are affected, often painfully, by daily exposure to the myriad chemicals that dominate modern society such as perfume, cleaning products, car exhaust, synthetic fabrics, and even printed material. This book not only contains beautiful photographs, but they bring to light a disease that is hard for me to imagine and understand. The use of aluminum foil is interesting because you will see throughout this body of work that there are homes/trailers lined with this material—to keep what man made materials out of their homes. Most of the people impacted by this disease, including Thilde, had to move way out into the woods and desert to feel better, or to simply survive.

You can see The Canaries work on her website.

booksRyan BelkComment