A while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Calgary’s best photographers when he came into the bookstore to discuss the possibility of displaying some of his photos in honour of his latest book (a project undertaken with the help of a local writer, and spanning about 20 years). We now have two of his photos hanging in the store, and about a week ago, we hosted the launch of his new book. Anyway, as we chatted, I happily flipped through the new book and devoured the photos, commenting as I went along. He preferred the photos of people set against depressing backgrounds (dilapidated buildings and empty stores and cramped living rooms), while I love the landscape photography – lone shacks against stormy skies, railway tracks leading to the edge of the blue horizon, storm clouds rolling in over prairie wheat crops. He asked if I was into photography, did I take my own pictures, and I said I do sometimes but not religiously. I just have a point-&-shoot type of camera, nothing fancy or cumbersome. By the time he left, I had a few new tips for capturing landscape and nature, and I felt much less self-conscious about taking out my little Canon around real photographers who have massive cameras with interchangeable lenses and heavy neck straps. Not that I’d had the chance to actually go out with my camera, until today. Today I pulled my hair back, put on my long underwear and jeans and thermal socks, my turtle-neck and hooded sweatshirt, heavy boots and mittens, and my real winter coat with a million pockets stuffed full of keys, kleenex, camera, a water bottle, and phone. Then I put on my headphones and let Mary Chapin Carpenter lead me out into the snow-covered streets of my neighbourhood.
It’s funny, but after living in this apartment for almost 2 years, I’ve actually never ventured south. When I leave, I’m always heading north or east, sometimes west. But south takes me out of the lower-middle class neighbourhood and into the world of the wealthy. South takes me up the hill along twisting roads and gated mansions. As if I didn’t already feel poor. As if I need that rubbed in my face. So I avoid going that way whenever possible. Except today. Today, I went south. Up the hill on sidewalks that haven’t been shoveled, down obscure side streets and across empty parks, until I found a little outdoor ice rink behind (and below – this little park is in its own small valley, with the street and houses far above on every side) a building that looks like it might once have been a train station, although there are no tracks in the vicinity. From there, I wandered east down small roads that are probably private, that twist as they lead up and down small hills, the houses mostly placed far back and hidden from view. I got some good nature shots, but not much in the landscape department since I didn’t want the houses hogging the lens.
Down one small street, I found a tree caught in a perpetual windstorm. The willowy branches all stretching sideways instead of down, despite the windless weather. How very Calgary, I thought, as I adjusted the camera’s focus and took a picture.
When I started getting interested in photography, at 13, it wasn’t because I had dreams of being some great artist. At first, it was just a way for me to capture my life on film, to create something permanent. But looking through the lens gave me a new perspective – I could cut out what I didn’t want, and focus on what was important. Photography became a way for me to make sense of the world around me. It’s sort of like having tunnel vision, I think. Looking through a lens, you see only what the camera can capture, but without it, you’re bombarded by the chaos of everything in your peripheral vision. This is just how I make sense of the chaotic world I live in.