I don't know if my journey to becoming an artist could be more filled with clichés... After graduating from university, I set off to travel the world; my dad gave me his old Canon a-1 and I learned how to shoot film. When I got back from my travels, some friends liked the photos I took, and offered to buy me a case of beer in exchange for shooting some family photos... which lead to more family sessions, and more beer, until I realized I could probably charge people actual money to do what I was doing. Soon afterwards, my sister got married and asked if I'd be interested in shooting her wedding photos as my gift to them. I said, “Yeah, sure, why not?” At about the same time, I had found out that I had been accepted to a couple law schools in the UK. I decided I would move out to Fernie for one last summer of fun before “joining the real world.” I found a job as a housekeeper up at Island Lake Lodge, and shortly after starting there, realized that law school was going to have to wait. I had grand visions of becoming an action sports photographer, following in the footsteps of guys like Mark Gallup and Henry Georgi. (Whom, at the time, I had no idea lived in Fernie!)
I kept shooting portraits and stuff in Fernie and slowly started to build a client base doing family portraits and wedding photography as my business grew and evolved, and I kept working in hospitality as “my real job.” Finally, in October of 2012, I had my busiest wedding season yet, and was spending more time (and earning more money) as an artist than I was doing “real work.” After a lengthy discussion with my girlfriend (who's now my wife), it was time to resign from my hotel manager position to pursue my art full time.
As I grew as a photographer, and learned everything I could from other photographers, I kept hearing them talk about pursuing “Passion Projects.” These are projects you decide to shoot because you a) want a challenge, b) love the subject matter, and c) just want to shoot it. I had been chatting with an employee from Tourism Fernie about a project trying to shoot portraits of various tourism industry personnel, to create some content for their social media channels. That project never really went anywhere but it got this idea in my head; could I shoot a portrait of every man, woman and child who lived in Fernie – in a year? I felt like I was at a place in my career where a) I needed a challenge, b) I really wanted to do something that would give back to the community that had given me so much, and c) It seemed like a really cool idea. The logistics of a one-year timeframe quickly reigned in that notion, but I thought I would pursue the project regardless.
One of the questions I've been asked frequently since starting the project is, “Why?!?” My answer is, Fernie is such an amazing place to live. One of the main reasons why I decided to stay was because of all the cool people I met after arriving in town. There is just something about this place. Ask anyone who has lived here for longer than 4 months what they love most about this place, and everyone will at some point mention the community and the people. I can't explain what exactly it is about the people, but, there is just such a sense of pride of place, and support for your neighbours that it kind of makes me think about what it must be like to be in the Mob: Once you're in, you're in it for life. My goal for my project was to try to capture this “je ne sais quoi” that exists in Fernie, as well as to provide an artistic historical artifact for future generations to look back on. With the I AM Fernie exhibit up in the museum until the end of May, I am busy working on putting together a book of the first 1000 portraits I've captured, and will be starting on “Volume 2” in late April/early May to capture another 1000 portraits.
I don't know if I'll ever capture a portrait of every single person who lives in Fernie, but I am going to try!