I met Ruth through a chance encounter while I was photographing a local blacksmith named Marshall who does a large amount of shoeing for the equestrian community in Calgary and surrounding area. I asked Marshall after I had finished photographing him if he knew of any woman specifically in the ranching/agriculture community that are older than seventy-five and still working. Thinking this was a complete long shot and not even expecting an answer, Marshall immediately started describing the exact individual I had in my head. I asked Marshall if I could meet this woman and he said “Sure, we just have to travel to the other side of the highway”. Marshall and Ruth were literally neighbors living within throwing distance of each other. When I met Ruth it was later in the evening around 8:30pm. Marshall was kind enough to introduce me to Ruth at her home leaving only a twenty four hour notice. As soon as Ruth answered the door I was amazed on how mobile she was. Already Knowing she was 86 years old prior to arriving, I pictured in my head an elderly woman with a cane, neatly dressed, and softly spoken. I could not have been more wrong, shocked on how her ability to speak with such confidence and eloquence, and to add insult to injury Ruth was covered in dirt and debris from the days work on her farm. Ruth was born in 1925 in Montana USA and when she was six months old her parents migrated to Calgary where she has lived ever since. Ruth grew up raising horses, pigs, chickens and growing hay. Attending University at Cornell University and University of Alberta (UofA), Ruth studied animal science while earning her masters in agriculture. After university she became a professor at the U of A for twenty-five years before coming back to Calgary to work the same land her parents bought back in 1925. To this day Ruth still runs the farm checking the troughs, the cattle, and attending to the daily maintenance that is always needed. Given her age, Ruth has had to bring on a few helpers as she is going blind. After Ruth passes, she plans to donate the land to the Nature Conservancy so that the land will have beneficial value due to the nutrient soil rather than selling it off to a developer where it could potentially threaten and destroy the area. Before my interview with Ruth came to an end, this was her last statement “There is a limited amount of black soil out here and it is the most productive and it would be a shame to put it under concrete and condo’s. It should be used productively for growing and producing, that is what should happen to good land”.
My encounter with Paul was by chance as it all started while I was driving through the East Village in downtown Calgary. Stopped at a red light, I noticed a cyclist cross the intersection in front of me. Thinking nothing of it, it was actually the cyclist’s incredible speed that caught my eye because he was not pedaling. Still perplexed, I suddenly noticed a little two-stroke engine attached to the top tube of this strangers bicycle. Thinking this was the most amazing device I have ever witnessed, I stepped on the gas when the light turned green, making a sharp left turn, and in full pursuit of my motorized bicycle friend. After following this individual for several blocks, he finally came to a stop at a downtown bottle depot. I parked and casually approached the man introducing myself asking this stranger questions about his bike, how he made it, and later finding out his name was Paul. After about a fifteen minute conversation, I was continually intrigued about Paul’s story and asked to meet with him at a later date to take his photograph. He agreed. If you were to see Paul on the street you wouldn’t think twice to keep walking past him. However under that rough exterior is a man that has lived a life of extremes with considerable highs and lows. Born in the city of Montreal in 1960, Paul and his parents moved to Calgary when Paul was two years old to a farm in Drayton Valley. Paul was always up and about working and traveling in a variety of places throughout his life which has led him to working in the oil fields, commercial construction, and farming. Later on when Paul moved to Vancouver at thirty-one years of age, he started dealing drugs earning more than a thousand dollars in one day, soon after he started using the substances he was selling, where heroin and alcohol became his choice of drugs. From there Paul has led a life where he considers himself to be a loner, never staying in one place too long. Right now he currently resides in Calgary where he sleeps in the backyard of a residential family home where he has now been clean from heroin and alcohol for over eleven years. The family who owns and lives in the home has taken it upon themselves to provide Paul a safe place to sleep as well as being a support system. The Family has asked Paul to sleep inside on a few occasions, however Paul insists on sleeping on the ground under the stars in the backyard or on the porch if it starts to rain. Currently not working due to medical issues, Paul spends his days collecting bottles and trying to sell his motorized bikes that he builds in his sponsor’s garage.
I asked Paul if he has any regrets, where he is quick to respond, “ I have no regrets… I regret some of the things I did to certain people, but I cannot regret what I did in life, it happened… and now it’s done”. “I had all the STUFF, cars, trucks, houses… none of that matters; it is not a goal of mine to own stuff. To be honest I really just love my bicycle. What I would love to do is take a chunk of money and go to Northern China or Mongolia”… “I would be happy with a one bedroom shack on a piece of land, seriously what else do you want, what else do people need”.
One early morning as I was meeting a friend in a downtown local coffee shop in Calgary, I kept noticing a face out of the corner of my right eye and could not help but casually stare. I couldn't tell you exactly what forced me to stare at this gentleman so many times. Perhaps it was his trendy outfit, his soft facial features, maybe it was the beard, and the fact I could not get the strange childish voice out of my head "You need to photograph that guy". When I was done my meeting, I gathered my things, took one last quick glance at the man sitting to my right and headed straight for the door. As I walked outside I kept repeating to myself both in my head and in a dull whisper..." I need to photograph that guy, just go back Jeremy and ask him... don't worry it will be fine... what's the worst that can happen?". I went back into the coffee shop, gathered my wits, and slowly approached the man. The difficult thing now was he had his back to me and his seven friends that surrounded him quickly realized I was some stranger about to say something. As I approached the group telling them who I was, the project I was doing, I then turned to the bearded man I wanted to photograph. As I continued to explain leaving him with the opportunity to answer, he immediately said "NO", his friends were disappointed with his answer and encouraged him to say yes making jokes on why he should say yes. I gave the man my card and said "It's completely up to you and if you change your mind please do not hesitate to call me".
Two weeks later I received a phone call from Conrad Ouchi.
Conrad was born in Vernon BC where he and his wife moved to Calgary in 1975 looking for work as graphic designers. Studying at the kootney school of art, Conrad was a freelance graphic designer for 13 years and then slowly started to decide to become an full time artist. The decision to pursue art happened when Conrad went to Chicago for a conference, from there he was immediately inspired.
Conrad now lives in Calgary pursing his painting and most recently experimenting with photography.
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!!
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.