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”.
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.
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.
I met Dyson through a mutual friend of mine as I was looking for individuals for a project that involved the Art Gallery of Calgary featuring portraits of EIGHT Calgarians. The title of the show is "I am Calgary" (Check out the show Sept 7th- Dec. 23rd, 2012: Opening Reception Sept. 7 @ 6:30pm-10:00pm). I met Dyson downtown after he had finished work where he works as a commercial glazer for a variety of projects around the city of Calgary. For those of you that do not know what glazer is or does, well when you are in downtown Calgary, look around and all that glass that surrounds each building, structure, doorway, etc. That is part of what a glazer job consists of, installing high rise glass, along with metal clad that highlights a buildings entrance way, monuments, and structures.
Dyson was born on September 23 1966, as he immediately points out with enthusiasm is the same birth date as Bruce Springstein... the "Master" as he calls him. Dyson grew up in Roddickton Newfoundland and moved to Calgary in April of 1976. Through out his time in Calgary, Dyson has worked for mobile home manufactures, the oil industry, and then started working with glass where he has now been a glazer for 32 years. He will turn 56 this year.