Archive for the ‘Then and Now’ Category

Robert Service in full color

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

                                    from the Spell of the Yukon, Robert Service

[by Fritz] Last month I headed to Dawson City to shoot the Klondike National Historic Sites for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Most of the talent we pulled in were Parks Canada staff whose jobs had just ended for the season, along with some keen locals and a few tourists. It was supposed to look like a ‘summer’ shoot, but fall was in full swing here in September so we embraced it.

One afternoon we spent some time at Robert Service Cabin. Most visitors to Dawson seek out the home of the famous poet known for his verses about the Klondike Gold Rush. The weather had been cloudy and cold, but while we were there the sun beamed into the historic site. For a short time we were surrounded by magic light and golden fall colour.

While leading us around town on a walking tour, Parks Canada heritage interpreter Fred Osson became Robert Service. By the time we arrived at the cabin, we’d been listening to Fred recite Service ballads and spout off tall tales like Service. I found myself lowering the camera so I could watch the famous bard. I caught myself thinking: this actually is Robert Service, and I really am standing here on the boardwalk in 1903.

It’s easy to think about historic times in monochromatic black and white like we see in the old photos, yet Service’s life was full of colour. That afternoon Fred animated Robert Service’s world for us. Fred is incredibly gifted at what he does, and he took us back a hundred years. We re-created a historic photograph in front of the cabin porch, with Fred teasing us in and out of the past. Oddly, it was 100 years almost to the day since Service left the Yukon for good.

I’ve been to Dawson many times, yet I felt something significant at the cabin that day, like I’d travelled through time and found Klondike gold myself. It was a testament to the power of interpretation.

Little critters on Herschel Island

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] If you ever have the opportunity to visit Herschel Island off the Yukon’s north coastline, jump at the chance. The first time I went there I was a 21-year-old university student and I spent a month in a tent all over the island assisting Swedish researcher Anders Angerbjörn on his study of Arctic foxes. I’ve been back several times since, most recently with my friend and colleague Don Reid, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is involved in a study of Arctic food webs and how a changing climate is affecting wildlife populations. Lemmings and voles are key prey for a number of predators on Herschel, and their abundance affects the population dynamics of many wildlife species. I photographed this collared lemming in the tundra meadows of Herschel nibbling on one of its favourite foods, Dryas flowers. They’re important to the food web, and they’re also really cute. Contrary to the myths fabricated by Disney, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide or jump over cliffs. The shorebird is a semi-palmated plover nesting and feeding on the beaches on Herschel.

Mama, please take my Kodachrome away

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] Last week online forums were bursting with sentiments about the end of Kodachrome and the shuttering of the last processing facility. Since 2009 Kodak stopped making their signature slide film. Yet, there was still a crush of exposed film arriving for a guy named Dwayne in Parsons, Kansas, before he closed the world’s last Kodachrome processor.

I don’t mourn the passage of Kodachrome and I definitely don’t miss film. However, reading about Kodachrome did send me digging in my archive for a favourite photo from Africa. In the summer of 1989 I was a wide-eyed zoology grad student working in Tanzania’s Serengeti. I had my own Land Rover and was free to explore the national park. Dreamy stuff. One of my most memorable experiences was following a pride of lions and photographing a resplendent male that we later darted and radio-tagged. He was a magnificent animal with a massive face and mane. I recall being struck by the size and weight of his tail, which I could barely circle with my two hands and had trouble lifting. My photos from the Serengeti evoke all kinds of memories: the smell of wildebeest dung, the night sounds of lions, strange encounters with army ants and porcupines. I had a Nikon F3 HP in Africa, and I happened to be shooting with Kodachrome.

Lion on the Serengeti.

Are people sentimental about Kodachrome, or are we sentimental about the experiences we photographed? I think we’re sad about the passage of time, and this is also a retrospective time of year. Images evoke memories, and we just happened to capture them on Kodachrome, then Fujichrome, and now the latest CMOS sensors. I think many people who are sentimental about Kodachome never used the stuff in a serious way. Professional photographers don’t seem to be filling online forums with Kodachrome nostalgia. The advantages of today’s professional digital cameras, compared to all of the constraints of the film world, are too numerous to count. We have almost grainless images at ISO 12,000, essentially unlimited number of frames, and instant feedback so we can learn from our mistakes as we go. We don’t have to worry about film damage or storage and can almost instantaneously distribute images to anyone anywhere through the Internet. Stills cameras make movies and movie cameras make stills. And we can emulate the look of Kodachrome with a few simple moves in Photoshop or the latest iPhone app. Why hang on to Kodachrome?

Kodachrome reigned during an era when good photographers were revered. They’d mastered a complex craft that was a culmination of 100 years of chemistry, mechanical apparatus and the unpredictability of light and art. Viewers still thought that photos represented the truth. But it never was: photographers and labs and editors were always capable of great manipulation. Digital technology broke that belief and people became wise to it, but images are no more or less truthful than they ever were. Back then there were relatively few photographers, and the images they made felt more precious. Today, everyone is a photographer and we’re awash in a sea of low-grade imagery. Still, profound images and memories are being made every day with digital cameras. The creative possibilities with today’s high-end cameras and the latest software are almost unlimited and we can also be more accurate with our photos than ever before.  I think there has never been a more exciting and challenging time to be a photographer.