“Centretown Reflections” Will Have You Looking at the Capital in New Ways

Our fair city is known more for its politics than its poetry, but just because they don’t make the headlines doesn’t mean that artists aren’t contributing daily to the city’s livability, fostering cultural richness, community engagement, and enhancing the identity of the nation’s capital. Among them is one who has been active in the arts community for several decades; if you’ve graced the inside of Centretown watering holes, you’ve probably already seen his work.

Brendan McNally is a proud 613 photographer and writer whose photographs blend art and reality, placing you somewhere in the middle. As a writer, he’s cut his teeth covering the Ottawa Indy music scene over the last three decades.

Recently, McNally picked up his pen to scribe the introduction to the newly released book by Stephen K Donnelly, “Rules of the Road: Breakdowns on the Musical Highway,” documenting the ups and downs of the Jimmy George Band. The group was a hot ticket in the 1990s that saw the rise of homemade music and the democratisation of recording technology, which allowed the indie scene to flourish in small towns like Ottawa, commonly referred to as the town fun forgot.

McNally may not have worked at the now-gone haunts like the Duke of Somerset Pub, but he did work at the Manx as a gig scheduler, where he learned much about the local music scene. You may have also caught his work in the Ottawa cult classic film Hot Knives: A Slacker Odyssey. A truly multifaceted writer and photographer, he’s got a pulse on Ottawa culture.

McNally is making a sort of spiritual homecoming to the Manx with his latest exhibition, Project Puddle Chasing: Centretown Reflections, a passion project that came about during the pandemic when the downtown core slowed down to almost nothing and the streets were empty because of the ongoing lockdowns. Camera in hand, he walked around the downtown core shooting puddles, using them as a canvas to capture reflections of the Centretown neighbourhood.

The visual storytelling captured through his lens encourages viewers to appreciate our town and to look at it in a new way. Perhaps the calmness of the photos and the beauty reflected in the puddles also let you know that everything is okay.

McNally says that people often comment that his photography looks more like artwork created rather than a representation of reality. All of this comes from using rainwater, a natural medium that can either distort how we view things or provide real clarity to what we see. As he shows me some of his work recently on display at the Atomic Rooster on Bank Street, it’s hard not to feel his sense of pride.

Among the featured shots are Bank Street through the medium of the puddle and the PSAC building on Metcalfe Street. His visual storytelling fosters inclusivity and a sense of belonging among residents. The most striking of all is the statue of Terry Fox that sits across from Parliament Hill. The way McNally captures it, he somehow manages to breathe life into it, making the bronze tribute to one of the greatest Canadians appear almost human.

Catch the vernissage for his exhibition Project Puddle Chasing: Centretown Reflections at the Manx on Saturday, January 20th at 5 p.m., where he will also be hosting a House Band Reading series show featuring former Jimmy George bassist Stephen K. Donnelly who will talk about the wild times on the road with a group many Centertown residents of old will undoubtedly remember along with special guests Rockin’ Al Macdonald and Nina Jane Drystek.

The Manx, downstairs at 370 Elgin Street, is a famously quaint escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown. McNally will have the 2024 Centretown Reflections Calendar for sale at the event.

McNally’s photographs help us to look at Ottawa in the mirror of nature like never before.

His work contributes to making Ottawa not just a political capital but also a cultural centre where art flourishes, enhancing the quality of life for its residents.

For more information on Brendan McNally, visit mcnally613.com

Header image: McNally with some of his photos from the Centretown Reflections: Nighttime Abstractions series. (PHOTO: Peter Knippel)