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Postcard from the Canadian Rockies.

Yellow Larch Valley meadow amidst snowy mountains

Autumn meets winter in Larch Valley.

It’s shoulder season again – my favourite season – and we’ve just been chased down from the alpine of the Canadian Rocky Mountains by bad weather.  The sky had been threatening all morning, but in the mountains such threats make no promises one way or another so we went ahead and hit the trail up to Sentinel Pass.  Hours later, the weather finally materialized overhead and a cold wet snow blew heavy in our faces with the summit of the mountain pass only a few steep switchbacks out of reach.

Respectful of Mother Nature and her moods, we retreated back down the mountain to this meadow (pictured), hunkering down in the protection of the tree line.  Sheltered at the base of an elder Engelmann Spruce, we sat alone in the quietness that comes with a fresh snowfall and watched the distant, shrouded peaks don their first layer of snow for the long winter ahead.  With bright larch trees in the foreground showing their distinct bright yellow as they shed their seasonal needles, autumn meets winter and my heart is glad.

These are amongst my favourite moments in life to bear witness…the fleeting transition, that so few of us get to see, unfolding right before my eyes.

November 14, 2016 - 8:55 pm

Daniel - Wow! This is surreal. Like, out of my dreams surreal.

Northern summer in Churchill

When we hear a reference to “the north” an image of windswept tundra blanketed by snow and ice immediately rises to mind.  That, or maybe Santa Claus.  Even in the high arctic though, summer does arrive; the land takes on a very different look than that which we imagine and attracts seasonal animals that travel great distances to get there.

This past August I witnessed the brief northern summer for the first time with my own eyes and, of course, my camera.  Returning to Churchill, Manitoba, I ventured out on soft tundra along the Churchill River, and even out into the Hudson Bay to spend time with arctic foxes, boreal caribou, polar bears, and belugas – not to mention the plethora of birds nesting up there.  One of the things I love about going north is that the wild still exists to those who patiently seek it out.

Experiencing this more elusive perspective of the northernmost region of Manitoba only makes me appreciate its diverse and fragile ecosystem even more.  Conservation of these special places is something I care about deeply and moving forward I would like to do more work in the conservation realm.  I am keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities to be a part of this important discussion with my work, so if you have a project in mind and would like to work together in pursuit of these ideals, please reach out and get in touch with me.  I truly believe that our actions with regards to environmental consequences of how we choose to live are some of the most important ones that our current generation will make, and I hope that through showing the world the oft-unseen effects of our current actions we can continue make better choices as we move forward.

All that said, here is a visual story of my time up north.

Churchill Airport Runway - Silhouettes

Touchdown.

Flying sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes also arriving by air.  Birders flock to Churchill to see the plentiful birds of the midnight sun.

Keeping watch with binoculars on Churchill tundra buggy

The tundra is a harsh environment and so “survival of the fittest” is especially evident here.  The animals adapt incredible camouflage that shifts as much as the extreme seasons that shape the land and, as such, it takes a really attentive eye to notice the wildlife.

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November 12, 2016 - 11:39 am

Susan - Beautiful series. I just got home from Churchill myself and now (in November) it’s hard to believe it’s the the same place you’ve pictured here. I want to go in the summer now too…

As the eye sees it: A polar bear on the tundra.

This post is of a slightly different nature than usual: over the past two months I have spent a considerable amount of time with bears: black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears.  Every situation is different – the roadside encounter, alpine surprises on the trail, or actively tracking them on the tundra.  Regardless, respect for an animal’s territory is always of paramount importance to minimize their stress level.  Wanting to get too close is unrealistic, and actually getting too close is dangerous for all and unnecessary.  While I am grateful for the serendipitous moments of seeing these bears, it has been tinged with the disappointing realization that most humans lack the pragmatic skills and sensible expectations that should govern such an experience.  On a recent episode of Contemplative Creative (Episode #7: Street smarts in the field) I mentioned my feelings on this, but I thought it would be worth taking some time to use visuals to illustrate my point here.

In large part I believe this stems from the fact that we don’t spend much time in the wilderness anymore, and our understanding of wildlife encounters tends to be based off of experiences at the zoo or the consumption of imagery online.  The reality of the matter is that you will probably not have an intimate wildlife encounter at the same proximity that tourist pamphlets and Instagram photos seem to promise.  We see a lot of great photos these days that get us closer to animals than we safely can in the wild; please remember this, and don’t get out of your vehicle and approach wildlife with your camera phone.  It sounds dumb, and it is, but yet I’ve seen it happen way too many times this summer.

Wildlife is wild, and it is always good to remind oneself of this after being away from it for a while – myself included.  I’ve just returned from spending some time up in Churchill, Manitoba, photographing arctic fox, caribou, eagles, beluga whales, and the apex predator that is the polar bear.  It is not uncommon to encounter a hungry bear on the street in town, never mind on the Hudson Bay’s bedrock coast or the tundra.  To simply go for a walk you need a shotgun to be safe.  This is a sobering reminder of human mortality and our place within the ecosystem.  It is also a source of hopeful optimism: the wild spirit of animals still exists in this remote wilderness.

I thought I would share a couple photographs to try and illustrate the difference between what the naked eye sees versus what I am able to capture with my camera.  Take it as a behind the scenes look of me on assignment in Churchill, and a gentle reminder on the reality of wildlife encounters.

Fresh polar bear tracks next to tundra buggy near Churchill

Tracking animals takes a lot of time and skill, and luck.  Despite the amount of effort you put towards it, wildlife encounters are never guaranteed and it’s best to curb your expectations to avoid disappointment.  If you have one particular animal as your goal, you tend to close your eyes all the other amazing things along the way.

Polar bear at water

This day in particular, after seven hours on the tundra we finally came upon this lone polar bear.  This is an image I composed with some pretty hefty gear: a Nikon D800 w/ a 70-200mm lens and a 2x teleconverter.  Effectively this puts my focal length at 400mm; a place where I can make out a lot more detail looking through my viewfinder than with the naked eye.

Polar bear in the distance (shot from camera phone)

Can you spot the polar bear?  For perspective, this is a photo of the same scene taken with a camera phone just a few moments later.  Note for scale comparison that both photos contain the tower on the horizon and the white polar bear against blue water.  This view is more akin to what the human eye would see.  Can you imagine how close you would have to get to snap a photo with your phone with the same perspective as the previous shot?  Too close.  Please, just invest in a pair of binoculars and purchase a photo from a professional who has captured the scene ethically and better than the average Joe is capable.

November 1, 2016 - 4:18 pm

Karyn - I always wondered what it would actually be like up on the tundra. Thanks for showing a glimpse of what the eye actually sees.

November 6, 2016 - 10:22 am

David - You’re welcome Karyn. A guide I was with on this trip was telling me about a research study done up there regarding the interaction of polar bears with people, and 90% of the bears will actually curiously approach the tundra vehicles…kind of like a reverse zoo where humans are the attraction. So, there are occasions when you can get close to the bears under the guidance of a good guide – emphasis on the necessary guidance of someone who understands the animals and environment.

Interstellar Rodeo Festival: Building a Green Room.

From the wilderness to the urban jungle, this past week has been a different sort of an adventure: Adrienne Shum and I built and ran the Green Room at the Interstellar Rodeo festival here in Winnipeg.  This entailed transforming a concrete bunker tucked away backstage into a functional kitchen and cozy lounge for the festival artists.  Lighting, refrigerators, furniture, food…we had to bring all that in, alongside a team of hard working volunteers, to help us magically turn the piles of ingredients into the delicious food described on the menu we created.  Needless to say, we’d been working at this for months and it was wonderful to see the ideas percolating in our minds come to life!

This opportunity was different than my usual festival involvements, which tend to be more on the photography/media/social media side of things.  As such, photos were secondary, but I did capture some snapshots to trigger personal memories that threatened to be lost amidst the blur of busyness.  During the constant bustle of festival work the memory gets saturated, and photos such as these bring moments and details back to mind; also they are useful for reflecting and building upon our setup and workflow in subsequent years.

I receive lots of inquiries into the behind-the-scenes details of things like this, so I decided to share a photoessay here expounding on some of these points of interest.

Aside: I’ve taken a more experimental method of processing for these photos.  Since getting my most recent digital camera, I’ve come to the realization that the quality of digital has finally surpassed that which I can eek out of my medium format film camera, with the added benefit of a simplified workflow and convenience.  A lead bag of film still sits in the bottom of my fridge, but the rolls have all rolled past their expiry dates at this point.

Some days I still miss the aesthetic of my favourite films though – the colors, contrast, and grain.  With these characteristics in mind, I’ve been peripherally working to develop my own method of processing digital files to mimic my favourite films.  This series of images was shot entirely on my iPhone, and processed using my best effort to resemble the results I miss from Kodak Portra 160 after being push processed in the dark room.  This is the first time I’ve released something like this into the wild.  I hope you enjoy!

Loads of groceries

Cooking for hundreds of people over a weekend takes a lot of raw ingredients.

Cycling to The Forks with a full load

One of the best features of this festival is that it’s centrally located at the heart of Winnipeg: The Forks.  As such, it’s conveniently accessible by bike, foot, or bus.  In our classic style, we moved the piles of gear from our home to the backstage bunker by pedal power.

The empty bunker

The empty bunker.  I see potential in this bare space.

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August 20, 2016 - 5:44 pm

Jason - That’s a lot of hard work , especially on your bikes! Lol. Good job. X2

August 21, 2016 - 7:53 pm

Sara Stasiuk - I love this so much. ✨🐎🙏🏻

Postcard from Kananaskis.

Hello from Kananaskis!

After experiencing the hoards of people that flock to the Canadian Rocky Mountains during July and August last year on my Pedal Powered to the West bike tour, I swore I would never go back in the summer.  Shoulder seasons are much more my thing.

But as life would have it, an off the cuff idea from a friend turned into a spontaneous whirlwind of a road trip across four provinces to the Rockies.  Having never spent much time in the mountains, it was exciting to show him the ropes and watch his eyes light up in the magical moments.

Here he stands after rising over his first mountain pass, taking in the rewards of a hard hike.

Postcard from Kananaskis

Looking down on Ribbon Lake from the summit of Buller Pass.

August 8, 2016 - 6:36 am

Daniel - You’re not in Kansas anymore…

August 8, 2016 - 4:38 pm

David - Ha! Never was, but I certainly wasn’t in Winnipeg anymore when I took this photo. 😀