Michael Neal: City In Motion

Artist Statement

If you take the 401 an hour east of Toronto, you’ll eventually end up in a city called Oshawa. Once known as the “Automotive Capital of Canada”, Oshawa’s history is deeply rooted in the North American Auto Industry. In the late 1870s, McLaughlin Carriage Works relocated to Oshawa from the nearby Town of Clarington, and they would begin producing automobiles in 1907. General Motors as we know it today was established after McLaughlin merged with the Chevrolet Car Company in 1918. Employment peaked in the 1980’s with over 20 000 people working in the Assembly Plant, but throughout the 2000s vehicle production in Oshawa would decline. One of the Car Plants closed in 2005, followed by the closure of the Truck Plant in 2009, and in 2018 General Motors announced it would cease production in Oshawa entirely, ending over 100 years of auto production in the city. General Motors would eventually reopen the Oshawa assembly line years later in January 2022, although with a much smaller footprint in the city than it once had. 

Oshawa’s history revolves heavily around GM and car culture itself. When driving down Simcoe Street, or through King Street, it feels like every second building you pass either changes oil, fixes brakes, rotates tires or replaces mufflers. This body of work reflects on the character of this greatly influential and fast growing Canadian city, and documents its changes and evolutions throughout GMs reopening, the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the 2020s in general. One of Oshawa’s old slogans when auto production was at its height was “The City in Motion”, and although Oshawa has evolved tremendously throughout the past 100 years, the nickname has stuck.


2: Describe how you envision the end result of your project. If it is a work in progress please indicate your planned completion date.

This project is a work in progress with no clear end date in sight; I just want to keep working on it until I feel like there’s nothing more for me to contribute. I envision this project lasting at least until the end of the 2020s though, and I’d be happy if I had 60-80 super strong images when all is said and done.

What inspired you to create this project? Include any relevant artists.

I was inspired to create this project because Oshawa is only an hour away from Toronto, and its common for people in Durham Region who develop an interest in photography to wait until they step off the train at Union before they start making photos. Although Oshawa is a smaller city which seems uninteresting to many, I wanted to honour the place that I grew up in. The book I took the greatest amount of inspiration from is Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore. While working on this project, I sought inspiration from other photographers who made photos of more mundane scenes and environments, as opposed to the energetic and lively scenes of the city Oshawa couldn’t really provide me with.

Describe any challenges you faced creating this project, and the solutions that helped you to overcome these problems.

It was challenging to figure out unique ways to photograph scenes that weren’t unique to me. Having lived in Oshawa for the first 18 years of my life, I was very familiar with the city and its character, so I had to take myself outside of that perspective many times throughout the past few years while I was out with the camera. During the first year of Covid, while the province was going in and out of lockdowns, I was out aimlessly wandering around with my camera anywhere from 3 to 7 days a week, and it was always refreshing when I would finally figure out an interesting way to photograph something I may have walked past 20 times already. To this day, the thing that truly helps me overcome a majority of problems when creating this project is time and patience.

What are you most proud of about this project?

What I’m most proud of with this project is that I actually did it instead of laying around daydreaming about doing it! Although I’m a lot busier with life these days, this project occupied a huge chunk of my time and energy in its first year and a half, and it’s been incredibly fulfilling to make work that honours not just my hometown, but a city thats often looked past and neglected by creatives in general.

Michael Neal is a photographer from Oshawa, Ontario, and currently based in Toronto. He has been photographing the landscapes and people of Oshawa since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 as a body of personal work reflecting on childhood and the evolution of the city he grew up in. Commercially, Michael is a portrait and concert photographer, working with bands creating and performing in Torontos underground indie music scene. Michael is currently in his first year of pursuing a BFA in Photography Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Michael Neal: He/Him

Website: https://www.miketheneal.com

Instagram: @miketheneal