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In Guatemala – Part zero: From here to there.

A packed backpack leans up against the wall of a tidied apartment; the bed is made, the floors are swept, and the garbage bins have been emptied. The plants stand sentinel, and aside from the occasional visitor letting themselves in to quench their thirst, this place will sit untouched until my dusty boots walk back in to flip the calendar to the next month. When I return to this space that has stayed the same, I will be seeing it with different eyes. After a quick look back, I grab my waiting bag and step forward and out the door of, quite literally, my comfort zone.

A big trip like this always starts long before the arrivals terminal – planning, organizing, and packing one’s bag just to get to the point of departure, so it’s an exciting precipice to finally reach. On the far side of the ensuing blur of international travel via buses, airports, and shuttles, the bird’s-eye views and dreamlike time spent above the clouds carry me forward to somewhere completely different.

The terminal of Guatemala City’s airport is mysteriously quiet – no more flights will arrive tonight. The sound of our tired feet echoes off hard walls as clinical fluorescent lighting guides us through the abandoned hallways to a sleepy customs agent. With hardly a glance, he dutifully raises his hand to stamp our paperwork; surely his last effort after a long day of work. Beyond this final barricade we step outside and into the city proper where a wall of people vying for our attention and business awaits us.

Arriving somewhere unfamiliar after dark is always disorienting, and the Spanish noise and beckoning hands of strangers only makes it doubly so. Through it all, a sign bearing my name stands out; a driver is here to take us out of the city to our host. Though he spoke no English and my unpracticed Spanish was weak, suffice to say that in that moment I felt wondrously safe in the back of his rickety old van as we flew through the shadow-filled back streets of Guatemala City. With street lights and blurred figures streaking by the windows, we steadily climb out of the capital towards the volcanic valley that houses our ultimate destination.

A sudden jolt from below sends my head into the roof of the van, telling me in a not-so-gentle way that the streets have transitioned to cobblestone and also that we have reached the outskirts of the old capital of Guatemala: Antigua. As our headlights round one dark corner after another, we zigzag through narrowing streets that clearly predate the vehicles that currently force their way along them. Jostling to a final stop, we shake the cramps from our travel-weary legs as we step out under a single streetlight on a silent street little wider than our van. The driver jumps from his perch in the driver’s seat to knock on the door of an unmarked home, and a woman pokes her head out, catches my eye, and breaks out in a smile as she exclaims, “David! Welcome to Antigua.”

A packed backpack at home

A packed backpack leans against the wall, ready to leave home behind.

Birds eye view from the plane over the prairies

A bird’s eye view of the prairies as the plane follows avian routes south.

The blur from the back seat of a late night shuttle out of Guatemala City

The blur from the back seat of a shuttle out of a dark Guatemala City.

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!