Aaron Sidorenko: Calgary Artist

I first met Aaron just over 2 years ago when we both had exhibitions at the Okotoks Art Gallery. Aaron is a Calgary Artist whose paintings are no less than incredible with an amazing talent for painting portraiture. I will not even begin to describe his work as you need to see it for yourself here -> http://aaronsidorenko.ca/ When I asked Aaron if I could photograph him he was more than willing, but with much humorous hesitation, worried that his dashing good looks might break the camera lens. The shoot lasted only about an hour where we spent most of the time setting up lights in his small studio downtown. Working in such a confined environment, we managed to highlight both his environment and Arron himself, just don't let his seriousness be to deceiving as Aaron will be the first to crack inappropriate jokes, smoke from his large collection of tobacco pipes, and talk about his new love for the ever so popular instagram app!!



Stranger Series: Balvir Shargill

I came across Balvir by chance one evening while I was photographing an event late one evening in downtown Calgary. While I was outside on Ninth Avenue waiting for my ride, I noticed a man through a set of tall floor to ceiling windows next to the restaurant. I assumed the man was South Asian from his long beard, he was older with weathered hands, and casually mopped the lobby floor as my face was pressed firmly against the glass. The only thought flooding my mind at that moment was am I going to get the chance to photograph this man. After a few phone calls, a couple meetings with the buildings management, and a security clearance, two months later I finally managed to meet with Balvir having only fifteen minutes to photograph him followed by a short interview. Balvir Shargill comes from the city Ludhiana located in the Punjab province of India. Using Balvir’s work supervisor as my translator, I asked Balvir when he was born, he responded by saying “…I don’t really know… I think I am sixty years old, but I am not too sure”. Balvir was a dairy farmer back in India raising cattle and growing a variety of crops. It turns out he has only been in Canada less than one year and has come here through a sponsorship his son has provided. Bringing his wife to Canada as well, the two of them live with Balvir’s son, cleaning part time while Balvir’s son teaches them both English where the couple plan to become permanent residents in the near future.

Balvir's portrait can be seen at the Art Gallery of Calgary (http://www.artgallerycalgary.org/) until December 14th, 2012.


Stranger Series: Tyler Lemermeyer the bicylce courier

When the Art Gallery of Calgary ( http://www.artgallerycalgary.org/ ) asked me to exhibit my stranger series, I was a little nervous due to the fact that I had only FOUR weeks to photograph EIGHT people. Now this does not seem like a massive responsibility but think of it like this. I had to find individuals who I thought represented Calgary today, they had to agree to let me photograph them,  I needed good light and weather, I need to interview each subject, photograph enough people where you have a large enough body of work to choose from and that works well together, the chosen photographs have to be framed and printed which takes another 10 days off of the time line just for production purposes, and sometimes you have to go back a second and third time because you were not happy with the first series of images. Tyler's Portrait unfortunately did not make it into the gallery exhibition, however I enjoyed the time spent with him and I look forward to photographing him more in the future. Here is Tyler's Story...

Tyler was born in 1984 growing up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta. Tyler has always been interested in bikes from watching pro mountain bike riders at a very young age and noticing all the couriers in Edmonton's downtown core growing up. When Tyler moved to Calgary he attended art school at the  Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD) majoring in Media Arts & Digital technologies program. After graduating, he wanted to pursue more opportunities in the arts and then attended the Vancouver film school. After graduating in 2008 he then returned to Calgary during the recession where he had a hard time finding work as a designer. So in the summer of 2009 his buddy got him an interview where he immediately landed a job as a bike courier.

Tyler earns his living where he is paid based on a per trip basis where he averages fifty trips per day in Calgary's downtown core. It turns out Tyler cycles between 40-70km per day depending on the amount of deliveries he does. When I asked Tyler how he copes in the winter months he says that is the most common question he gets asked and he responds by saying "It is no different than any other day. We dress warmer and the -30 days are the worst. You are only out on the bike for 3 hours a day, your moving so your core temperature is up, and the rest of the time your in and out of buildings, waiting in line, and processing your next order which is in a heated building".

It turns out Christmas is the best time of year for couriers because people are schmoozing, gifting, and sometimes sending a variety of packages including wine and cheese via bike courier. Now this is where couriers can charge for over sized items as well as fragile items. When I asked about winter bike tires he still uses regular slicks but Tyler is significantly more cautious during the winter months.

Tyler plans to pursue his artistic career selling his art and plans to become an illustrator. It's no shock because artistic talent runs in his family where his brother is a photographer, his father an architect, his sister a graphic designer, and his mom a hair dresser. His entire family are all creative individuals.

It was a pleasure and honor to meet this interesting and wonderful man.

Stay tuned for more as I plan to do another shoot with him very soon.

Bihari Refugee Camp

Posted: 12 Dec 2011 04:24 AM PST This series of images is of the Bihari refugee camp in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Having trouble getting detailed information from some of the residents, I did some research and found a fantastic article on this particular topic. Now I have never been in a refugee camp and from what I have seen from other photographers images, media, etc. this particular camp is more of a local community/town rather than a camp. Their are schools, markets, businesses, and even entertainment where daily life seems to be manageable within this community, not to mention many smiling faces and the most amazing hospitality… but that is is pretty much what to expect anywhere in Bangladesh..HA!!


The word ‘Bihari’ literally means a person who belongs to the state of Bihar of India. In Bangladeshi context any one who speaks Urdu is considered to be a Bihari whether that person comes from Bihar or not. Before the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971, Pakistan Biharis came to East Pakistan in different phases. They were considered as citizens of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani army evacuated and these Biharis were left behind. Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for having supported the enemy and an anti- Bihari sentiment instigated political persecution and their homes and properties were taken over by the Bengali’s. After the creation of Bangladesh, almost all Biharis were fired from their jobs on various pretenses. Bihari children were expelled from schools. Bihari pensions, bank accounts and investments were seized. Most Bihari homes and businesses were declared abandoned/enemy properties and therefore confiscate under cover of law. Several Government promulgations facilitated the dispossession of Bihari properties. As a result, by mid 1972 nearly one million Biharis found themselves in temporary camps set up around the country.

Bangladesh Government announced the Presidential Order 149 in 1972- as a step towards offering the Bangladeshi citizenship to these Bihari people. According the Government sources nearly 600,000 Biharis accepted the offer. Later, these people assimilated with the larger population and settled down properly. But at that time, a survey was conducted by the ICRC which found that 539,669 Biharis wanted to go back to Pakistan as it was their country of nationality. ICRC started registration for the repatriation of these people without any legal sanction from both the countries.

Later, Pakistan refused to recognize all these Urdu speaking people as her bona fide citizens who already declared themselves as Stranded Pakistanis by registering with the ICRC. Islamabad showed little interest in repatriation because to them they were basically Indian refugees. During the first year of post liberation period this community was quite confident that Pakistan would welcome them as their loyal citizens. From their side, all efforts were made through ICRC and other sources to influence the concerned authorities that the only solution to this problem was repatriation to Pakistan.

In December 2008 general election in Bangladesh, a portion of these Bihari people who were born after 1971 were able to cast their vote for the first time as the citizens of Bangladesh. They are also registered for the National ID card which is associated with getting many benefits in social, economic and political life. In September 2008, Caretaker Government of Bangladesh took this laudable step to reduce their stateless situation.

TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CGEQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fakira-foundation.org%2FDocuments%2Ffellow%2520product%2520%28Tasmia%29.pdf&ei=Yt_lTr-XNY3prQeDl7CXCA&usg=AFQjCNF-ThfA4NULaIllXmxmF43yMEOPgg&sig2=h8h3P4EMPtb0s1i-b1XJPw





















Pabna Mental Institution.

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 01:20 AM PST The festival of Eid was just coming to an end and I thought it would be a great time to head out of Dhaka for five days and do a little exploring. I took an overnight bus from Dhaka all the way up to Tetulia which is located in the far North about 20km from the Indian border. After a few connection buses, some hot cha (Tea), a decent night sleep surprisingly on a crazy bus, I finally arrived at 10 am (12 hours later) in Tetulia. I quickly found a guesthouse and got my self settled followed by a quick two hour nap to catch up on some sleep.

When I woke, the sun was shining, I packed my gear, and headed out to do a little exploring and to find the tea plantations. Tetulia itself is a very small town that is surrounded by wheat fields, rice fields, and tea gardens that span for hundreds of kilometers throughout the country side. After about an hour of walking I found a couple tea estates that produce the tea I was looking for, but to my dismay there were no workers in the fields. Puzzled and a little confused, suddenly a young Bengali boy riding his bicycle approached me and asked me what I was doing and in PERFECT English. After introductions he told me that the woman workers would not be returning to work until Sunday. As it was only Thursday, I didn’t like what I was hearing because if you couldn’t tell I like to have people in my photographs and had no interest in photographing trees all day… HAHA. The young Bengali boy asked if I wanted to join his family for lunch and as it turns out his uncle owned the land I was exploring on. Lunch as always is amazing in Bangladesh with a variety of food, meats, spices, and of course unnecessary amounts of rice. After lunch I thanked the family for their company, lunch, their hospitality as I had to keep exploring, and the family had to head back to their village. We exchanged our contact information and all of us went our separate ways.

Realizing that I didn’t want to spend three days waiting for workers to return to the tea gardens, I decided to head to a town called Pabna where about a month ago, I was doing research on a mental hospital and thought it might make for some interesting visuals and possibly a great story. The next morning I was up at 7am and caught the first bus out of town. Nine hours later and two bus rides, I arrived in Pabna. On the bus to Pabna I met a two Bengali boys Reza and Likhon that spoke decent English and offered to take me to a reputable guest house in town as they mentioned prostitution in Pabna is very prominent making it difficult to find accommodation where your not going to be solicited (Another story/Blog post coming soon…). We hopped off the bus and within 5 minutes I was at my guest house. Reza and Likhon said they could meet me the next morning and would be more than happy to help me gain access in the mental hospital. I booked my room which was about $4.00 a night that included waking up to several two inch size cockroaches crawling on me throughout the 3 days I spent in Pabna, despite my efforts using the mosquito net to keep them out…. Hey it’s better than the rat incident in Bhola…HAHAHAHA.

The next morning I met with Reza and Likhon and we headed for the Pabna Mental Hospital. All the research I had done previously on this institution mentioned they were desperate for funding, more qualified care workers, lack of facilities, etc. We arrived at about 11am and I asked to talk to the person in charge. The man that was supposed take me to the head boss was on edge the entire time as he offered to give me a tour, always whispering, and looking around as if he was being watched. He took me around the hospital letting me view the patients but would not allow me enter their rooms where they were being held. The rooms were very large about 40′ x 100′ where up to 30 patients were kept in one room. I kept asking him if I could take photo’s but he said it was not allowed until we were alone in one area and suddenly he said I could quickly take one photo but it had to be quick. This guy completely rubbed me the wrong way and I had enough of this sneaking around as if we were walking on egg shells. I stopped him, told him I wanted to see and talk to the person in charge. He said it was not possible. So I asked him again, and this time Reza stepped in and told him exactly what I wanted because tip toeing around a government hospital randomly taking photo’s without permission can create a bad situation. After much convincing, I finally met with the head doctor and told him my intentions and the type of access I was looking for. Within five minutes I had the permission I was looking for, however was not able to get access to the woman’s ward.

The last thing I want to do is put a bad taste in anyone’s mouth from any topic and/or subject matter I choose to photograph. From the research that I had done on the Pabna Mental Hospital it seems they were genuinely wanting to improve conditions. However from what I witnessed with my own two eyes, speaking to patients, and the attitudes from some of the staff, this cry for help couldn’t of been farther from the truth. Mentioned earlier in the post, there were 30 patients in locked in one room wards, human feces  in areas throughout the rooms, staff sitting around doing nothing, and staff screaming at patients for no apparent reason.

As I entered one of the communal rooms where the patients are locked up 20 hours of the day, I asked to photograph one of the patients and he enthusiastically was willing. Suddenly he started to sing and within 2 seconds one of the staff members starts shouting and approaches him ready to smack the back of his head to stop him from singing. I looked back at the staff and told him to be quiet, back off, and let the man sing as it was not harming me, him, or anybody else. Another instance I asked a patient why he was here. He responded in PERFECT ENGLISH and said his father in-law admitted him without telling him. His father in-laws reason was he talked to fast. His father in-law assumed he rapid speech must make him a drug addict so he sent him to the hospital for one month. I didn’t know who to believe.

Now after being in Bangladesh for almost five months I have realized there is ALWAYS two sides to every story. I decided to head to the office where they admit patients where they do the psychiatric assessments. As I entered the building there was already a steady line of about 30 people waiting to enter a room at the end of the hall were a medical curtain blocked anyone’s view from the office. People were entering the office and within about four minutes they exited and were taken away by staff. I asked Reza what was going on, and he said the doctor was assessing. Now I don’t know how assessments work in the medical field but can you really assess someone in four minutes?? In this line outside the office, I encountered a man that had chains around his wrist and a woman holding the other end of the chain as if to make sure this man was not going to escape from her sight. On the other side of the man was another older woman. It turns out that the woman holding the chains was the man’s aunt and the other woman was his Mother. I asked for permission to photograph the three of them and they graciously said yes with a slight nod to the side. Within minutes the mother started to cry and speaking in Bangla. Reza said she was extremely upset over her son as this was the third time she has admitted him because of his violent outburst at home and unable to keep a job to help support the family. As she continues to talk the son suddenly starts saying random things and staring into what seems to be nothing with no reaction to me, or anyone else surrounding him. After more questions the son starts to break down in tears, saying he doesn’t want to go back, and just as fast as he cry’s out for help, he quickly loses focus and stares into the oblivion.

The doctor now comes out of his office and suddenly the son grabs the doctors hand as he walks by and again cry’s out pleading with him that he is fine, and that it will never happen again. The mother and aunt tell me they have no more energy left. They have spent all their money on treatment from the hospital, the mother continually has to watch his son just in case he gets arrested or causes any harm to anyone else, and they don’t know what else to do as they have no where or anyone else to turn to.




This is a photo of the man who was going to be smacked for singing. His voice was actually very comforting and it seemed to calm everyone down in the room. Some other patients even started to sing along with him.




A patient quickly enjoys a cigarette before being told to return to his room/cell.




A group of patients enthusiastically pose for a photograph. The staff said it was dangerous to enter the room and they might be right. However they were so gentle with me and most of them even knew a little English. We had fun taking photographs and singing.





The Aunt, mother, and son waiting to be assessed by the head doctor.


The son breaking down into tears as he realizes what is about to happen to him.



The mother cries as she is extremely upset over her son's condition, situation, and that nothing seems to be working given that this is her third time in this circumstance.



Son being taken away to the psychiatric ward.