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Aaahhrrrr, matey! Things be a-buzz in Peace Country

February 15, 2012
Porthole on the Shaftesbury Tug, Peace River

Porthole on the Shaftesbury Tug, Peace River

I haven’t been posting much about my photography here since the arrival of 2012, because I’ve been busier than a one-armed organ grinder in a swarm of killer bees. This year is shaping up to have some pretty interesting goings-on in my photo work, about which I’ll have much more to tell in the coming weeks.

First off, I wanted to post some catch-up notes about where I’ve been since the beginning of February. I’ve been hanging out with friend and fellow photographer Dan Wheeler up in his home town of Peace River, Alberta. This is the farthest north that I’ve been on the ground. It’s smack dab in “Peace Country”, a region spanning over 250,000 square kilometres that’s defined in many ways by the Peace River, which was first explored in European terms by Sir Alexander MacKenzie in the late 1700’s.

Are there pirates in Peace Country? I wouldn’t have thought so. But I found a skull & cross-bones on one of the porthole windows of the Shaftesbury Tug, so who knows. What is this tug, you ask? Well, the “mighty Peace” is a big river… a lot bigger than I was expecting! Shaftesbury Ferry, a rare tug-powered vessel, operates in the warm months (whenever those are!) after the river ice is gone. It carries traffic 325 metres across at this point on the river. I read that if the ferry wasn’t here, travelers would have to go at least another 100 kilometres to get where they’re going on the other side of the river. While I might have expected the ferry service to date back many years, it’s actually fairly new, having opened in the late 1970’s only after another ferry ceased operation elsewhere along the river.

Morning light on snow and thick frost along the river, Peace River

Morning light on snow and thick frost along the river, Peace River

I’ve been doing a lot of work with Dan getting his print studio up & running, containing among other things a nice HP Z3100 24″ printer. For a bit of an older design (looks like this one was produced in 2009 or earlier), the printer has been working flawlessly so far. We’ve burned through an entire roll of Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk, one of my favorite papers to print on. We’ve also chewed up a bunch of other media including some Hahnemühle Bamboo sheets and Smooth Fine Art matte roll stock, a bit of HP matte canvas, a few sheets of Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl, and sundry others. Results have been great so far. Calibrating the printer against new papers using the built-in Eye-One spectrophotometer is a whiz, and the results are looking very good on all media. Just one incident of significant head-strikes so far, on the Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art, but we solved that by doing a custom media preset, taking the ink limit down to 90% of normal for the paper. Fun stuff! The only thing I love more than shooting or developing great photographs, is printing them.

Outside of the studio, we’ve been doing a bunch of networking and meeting with people. I can’t begin to cover them all, but here are just a few examples. We’ve had some great discussions on history, culture & art with Laura Gloor, director of the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre. We hope to be able to do some creative photography of a few museum artifacts thanks to Laura’s generous offer. Due to Dan’s introduction, I had a nice interview written up by Erin Steele of the Peace River Record-Gazette — thanks, Erin! Dan’s involved in Peace of Art, the art society in town, and I attended an opening the group held in their great gallery space located at the recently expanded Peace River Municipal Library. Several society artists exhibited new works including painting and photography, and a nice crowd turned out and buzzed in a very animated way through the rooms all evening.

The following night, the proprietor of a great little cafe called Java Domainn re-opened her shop in the evening to host a photo show I presented. Thanks to Dan and Peace of Art for arranging the opportunity, and to Vaida Allen for staying late to host everyone! On my trusty projector, I showed some 200 of my favorite photographs and told a few stories behind them. The group was engaged and stuck through my meandering delivery and was very complimentary of the work, for which I’m grateful! 🙂

I’ve also been contributing some input in a few photography and printing workshops Dan has arranged with local Peace River artists, photographers and printing services at Foto Source and Counterfeit Ink. Among the local artists I’ve connected with is Sharon Krushel. Well… I should say I have re-connected with Sharon, since I knew her and her husband Terry back in the day — the early 1980’s — but had been out of contact since then. It has been a genuine treat to meet several times with Sharon & Terry on my trip here, and renew our acquaintance. Sharon has been doing some good work with her photography, and has more projects up her sleeve for this year. I’m not the only one who’s going to be busy!

Sunset light burning over the river as seen from the gravesite of "12 Foot" Davis, Peace River

Sunset light burning over the river as seen from the gravesite of "12 Foot" Davis, Peace River

In between the studio time, workshops and networking, Dan and I have gotten into the field for a few really good bits of shooting. These included a day of great foggy / frosty winter conditions along the Peace and Hart Rivers, a day in the bush with some forestry operators, and a killer sunset at the gravesite of Henry “12 Foot” Davis who was a prospector, trader and pioneer in Peace River back in the late 1800’s.

Weather has been up & down, but on the whole not the winter blast I half expected. True, there have been several days of temperatures below -20 C, but also several others that have been really unseasonably warm. Just days after I got here, the Peace River was almost clear of ice as it flowed through town — unbelievable! Right now there is a bunch of broken ice covering most of the water, however no new snow in some days.

Last night I saw a wonderful display of aurora borealis, a sight I’ve not laid eyes on in several years. It was late, the sky was clear and the night was chilly. I decided to leave the camera in the vehicle and just be content to watch for awhile. The green wave of light stretched over my head in a slow dance, a glowing ribbon among the stars spanning from horizon to horizon. Those few minutes brought a new facet to my understanding of “Peace Country”.

Whew! And that’s not all of it. It has been a fantastic trip so far, and I’ve still got over a week to go. I’m liking it here in Peace Country, and it’s clear that I’m just scratching the surface. There’s a wealth of history, places to see, things to do, friendly people to meet, and photographs to make. For sure I will be back again.

I’d be remiss not to thank Dan & Liz who have been putting me up in their home during the visit. Muchas gracias, and if you guys come to Calgary, you know what they say… mi casa es su casa.

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