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Postcards from Kananaskis.

Every year, as the calendar flips from August to September, the flow of tourism that descends upon Canada’s natural wonders retreats back to urban comfort. As the wild returns to the wilderness, so do I for my annual shoulder season adventure. This has become an annual pilgramage for me over the years. With all the wildfires that have been tearing through western Canada this year, my plans were more fluid than usual…and by fluid, I mean that backcountry plan after plan had to be cancelled due to evacuations and restrictions around the blazes; namely the Kenow Fire around Waterton Lakes National Park and the Verdant Creek Fire around Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Uncertain where the road would lead, my initial landing destination in the Canadian Rocky Mountains was Kananaskis Country, a series of rugged provincial parks in Alberta just south of the more popular national parks (Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and the Kootenay). As chance would have it, when I arrived the daytime highs suddenly plummeted from 30 degrees Celsius to zero and below. The smoke and haze that dominated the Rocky Mountain summer skies disappeared with the heat, and turbulent snowfalls rolled through the valleys for well over a week, which was just fine by me. The wet cold made for tough camping, but our tent was literally the only one around and the shoulder season beauty was ours alone to explore.

Day by day we extended our stay, putting fresh tracks on winter’s first snow. Moments like these are why I first picked up a camera; to record this magical, fleeting beauty as I happen to bear witness to it. It was hard to pull myself away, but after two weeks of this I had stretched my schedule as far as possible and, after dipping down to Waterton Lakes National Park to cover to reopened burnout as part of a larger story on wildfire that I’m working on, it was time to head back across the prairies to Winnipeg.

The imagery I’ve brought home is special and plentiful. I continue to share bits of it on Instagram and plan to use a bunch of it for some magazine articles I’m working on, but here are a few postcards from my time in Kananaskis that I just had to share. These are chosen more to give an idea of the paths we travelled over the time rather than on imagery alone.

Kananaskis Highway 40 - Winter access to paradise

A ribbon of pavement provides wintery access to a truly Canadian paradise.

Mountain sheep on Kananaskis Highway 40

As snow squalls rolled through the mountain valleys, it was just us and the animals.

High above Spray Lakes hiking/scrambling

Lacing up boots, we put some first last tracks on several magnificent summits for 2017.

Snowy summit ascent of Mount Burke

The final push to the summit of Mount Burke, and the abandoned Cameron fire lookout hut atop it. This photo does not capture the gusts of wind swirling around this peak that would knock us to our knees; such is the norm at the top of the continental divide.

Ptarmigan Cirque in WInter

In sheltered valleys, away from the harsh exposure of the mountain ridges, there were moments of peace like those out of a dream. Autumn colors meet winter’s monochrome in this quiet mountain pass.

Aurora Borealis phenomenon "Steve"

Despite many nights spent in the mountains, rarely is it clear enough to do any proper stargazing or northern lights watching, but we did have one night over the three weeks where conditions allowed the viewing of the mysterious Aurora Borealis phenomenon “Steve.”

October 29, 2017 - 4:54 pm

Denise - Beautiful! I would love to experience the wild the way you do one day David.

Nopiming with a paddle.

In classic Canadian fashion, this past weekend I headed out to Nopiming Provincial Park in Manitoba with some close friends for a quick canoe trip. Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm late-October weather this was to be our last hurrah before the snow came, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather or company.

Here are some photos of good people, their beards, a couple canoes, and, of course, the beautiful wilderness of Canada; for which I am all grateful.

Strapping canoe to vehicle on the road

The first challenge is to get the canoes out of the city, across the prairie, and into the Canadian Shield.

Paddling canoe in a calm river

In the water, the nearest road quickly falls away into the distance behind. This narrow river near the beginning of our paddle acts as a barrier that keeps motorboats from passing, and beyond it, we enter wilderness.

Moody weather as seen from the canoe bow

Moody weather as seen from the canoe bow.

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October 26, 2017 - 4:24 pm

Dave Benson - Doesn’ t get any better

Live at the Winnipeg Folk Festival 2017.

Another year, another festival.

Over the years, the Winnipeg Folk Festival has become a point of confluence for the people in my circles. Despite life having taken us in so many directions – detours rooting from children, careers, and the plethora of other catalysts for change – we always come back together for this one weekend every year. We return not just the location, but a safe place for expression, creativity, and being. With all that’s going on in the world, cultivating spaces like this is more important than ever.

Sitting with some friends the other day, we were trying to count the festival years that we have behind us. A blur in the memory, I was able to number five years working as a photographer but I couldn’t put a firm number to the years beyond that. This is interesting to me.

The fluidity of memory is a beautiful thing, but so are the moments immortalized in photographs. Subject, composition, focus, light, and gesture…ultimately, all the elements chosen to be in the final still frame embody a feeling. It makes me glad to have an ongoing body of work with these festival photographs I create that bring a stillness to the otherwise ephemeral; firm points of reflection for both myself and all those I share them with. These thoughts stem from the latest episode I released for the Contemplative Creative podcast, which happens to turn the gaze upon the topic of cultivating perspective. So much of our growth is dependent upon the process of reflection.

All that said, here are some moments from the five days spent in this year’s popup village of friendly creativity.

Family wandering through the Winnipeg Folk Festival fields at sunset

Returning to the festival fields.

Hammocks in the Main Stage field

Hanging around main stage, watching the sun set over stars.
Side note: this image has been picked up and will be featured in an upcoming print photography book that Travel Manitoba is releasing to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday!

Hoop dancer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival

Shanley Spence walks the thin line that separates the crowd from the stage, hoop dancing to the rhythms of DJ Shub.

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August 2, 2017 - 8:19 am

Karen - This sort of made me feel as if I was able to attend the whole festival 🙂

August 8, 2017 - 3:22 pm

Bruce - Spectacular! Nice words, photos, AND VIDEO!!

August 16, 2017 - 12:22 pm

Daniel - Folk yeah!

Musical moments.

The power of a musical album that succeeds at evoking something deep within is a beautiful thing, yet a raw live performance has a living power to it that can’t be recorded. A show is not a one way thing, but rather a lively conversation between an artist and a crowd that has potential to go in beautifully unpredictable directions. Even on stage, fellow musicians listen, speak, and encourage each other with subtle glances, smiles, and intimacy that can only come through years of shared experience. The best live photography captures these subtleties in a visual way, and captures the heart of what the crowd falls in love with at the live shows they will remember the rest of their lives.

This weekend will mark my fifth year working as a photographer for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and looking back at my growing photographic collection it’s interesting to see how it has shifted over the years. I will never claim to have output the best of anything – because there’s always more to learn, and if a year from now I look back at my body of work without feeling that I’ve grown, that is the moment I will be disappointed in myself – but I point myself to continuing to develop an eye for greater subtleties and aim to make better photographs with this clarity of vision.

Last year I only posted a few postcards from the event here on my personal website, though many of you will have seen a lot of my work being used for the festival’s social and print media efforts. The usual photos I release are centred around the greater festival experience, but today I would like to share a few of my personal favourite images of musical moments.

Enjoy, and if you see me out in the festival fields over the coming four days please don’t hesitate to come and say hello!

Elder Mae Louise Campbell and her daughter officially kick off Winnipeg Folk Festival 2016

Elder Mae Louise Campbell and her daughter kick off Winnipeg Folk Festival 2016 with a traditional song and blessing.

The rhythm section of the world-beat Lemon Bucket Orkestra.

The rhythm section of the “Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super Band”: the Lemon Bucket Orkestra.

Lemon Bucket Orkestra - Saxophone and twirling dancer

A moment of connection amidst a fast paced set.

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July 4, 2017 - 5:54 pm

Jillian Leibert - Hope to see you around there my friend! Happy Fest!

July 5, 2017 - 9:07 am

Daniel - If I swing in for a day I’ll definitely keep an eye for you my friend. Happy fasting 🙂

July 5, 2017 - 4:08 pm

Karenia - Hope to see you on Friday at some point!

Canada’s wild places and us.

Female hiker in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Every time I find myself returning home to Canada, I am awed by the vast open spaces we have here. Every. Single. Time. The contrast with the high human density common in most other places around the world is stark, and this uniquely shapes both the land and all of us creatures who call Canada home.

Even today, in our modern world, the word Canada conjures up strong images in our minds of expansive landscapes. In this there is a shared national identity amongst diverse multiculturalism; we are proud of our wilderness in a world where it is becoming rarer.

July 1st marks 150 years since Canada’s founding, when people of diverse stripes and colors came together in union to form a country. While the timeline since then certainly hasn’t been without its fair share of bumps, it is still a milestone worth acknowledging and using as a point of union in a time where there is a lot of division both globally and nationally. In acknowledgement of this shared cultural identity around our wild places, the federal government has waived fees to all the protected national parks for this anniversary year so that all may get out to experience them. People have praised this decision, but I have held my breath.

I love our Canadian wilderness and truly wish everyone could experience it intimately. In fact, this was one of the reasons I originally picked up a camera – to show others beautiful corners of the country they never even knew existed and inspire them to explore it as well. The unspoken assumption that accompanies this wish is that anyone who chooses to venture to these protected pieces of nature do so responsibly. There is a reason these places are protected, and that is because they are fragile.

On a normal year, Canada’s national parks are already beyond their capacity during peak months; available campsites are rare, traffic jams around wildlife are common and often accompanying troublesome baiting or pursuit, and people leave much more than footprints with trash and even graffiti. With free access opening the park gates to higher numbers of tourists, who may or may not have the knowledge necessary to respectfully interact with our national treasures, I worry about the damage that may be inflicted on already fragile ecosystems for years to come.

We need to be in good relationship with the land and that needs to be rooted in reverence and respect. Whatever your experience level may be, never assume you know better because there is always room for better understanding. To respect nature is to abandon any acquisitional expectations we might have from it; animals are not there to perform with you and Mother Nature’s diverse moods will change quickly with no heed to your safety on the trail. Instead, enter a place as an open minded guest and accept whatever experience chance happens to deal you. Bear witness without exuding control or influence (pun intended).

The responsibility for our actions, in all our interactions, falls firmly on our own shoulders. The preserved wild places that exist are an inheritance from those who came before us, but they’re also what we will pass on to the next generation.

June 30, 2017 - 12:59 pm

Daniel - Well said David. I admit I was originally really excited about the free park passes this year, but after the initial excitement wore off I feel the same as you.