Revealing Prairie Gothic Photos

Guest bog by George Webber: 

Every Sunday I’d be packed into the family car, originally with my sister Patricia, then with my sisters Patricia and Mary and then with my sisters Patricia, Mary and Marge and bundled off to St Anthony’s Catholic Church.

Patricia and Mary entered the pew first, followed by my Mom packing Marge on her hip then Dad and finally me on the outside edge of the pew. This kept Mass time squabbles with my sisters down to a minimum and afforded me a comfortable spot on Dad’s side that I could fold myself into.

I’d slip under the drone of sermon and fasten my sleepy gaze on the stained glass window that swept up to my left. Light lanced through the colored glass onto the dark brown oak pew where my fidgety fingers could poke at the splashes of red or blue or yellow. I’d follow that light up to its source then look at the pictures collaged around that little shard of glass.

Catholics are people of the picture. Look at the work of Warhol or Hitchcock or Matisse or Scorsese. They all started in the pew, staring at the stained glass. Almost from the beginning Catholics have used pictures to inspire, create a sense of reverence, to underscore ritual and most importantly to teach.

I didn’t understand it at the time but I was being introduced to the power of pictures and the important role they would play in my life.

When I was in my early twenties I came upon a book of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson in the library and started to flip through it. By the time I closed the book I knew I wanted to be a photographer and dared to hope that it might happen.

Photography has been a way of life for me for nearly 40 years.

Once when I was heading out on a trip to make photographs my girlfriend Alison sat me down saying, “George the Good Lord is trying to teach you something and he’s going to keep calling you out there until you discover what it is.” She was right and the answer is still elusive but it’s something like this.

Photographers who work in the documentary tradition like I do seem to be hard-wired to seek out people and places and stories that can teach us important life lessons. Below the surface of those stories there’s often a promise or a challenge that we’re being invited to consider. Embedded within them is the possibility of learning something about courage and compassion.  

I’m fascinated by the people and places I encounter on my trips through the Canadian prairies. Through my work I want to touch and understand the traditions, spirituality and possibilities of this place.

George Webber, July 2013

 

Mr. and Mrs. Chew, New Dayton, Alberta, 1988 

Wing Yee, Medicine Hat, Alberta, 1993 

Jul Sordahl, Scotsguard, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1996

Thorvald Skaalid and daughter Margaret Ann, Macrorie, Saskatchewan, 1993

Boys, Neudorf, Saskatchewan, 1993

Stan Big Sorrel Horse, St. Mary's Residential School, Blood Reserve, Alberta, 2009

Horace Shouting, St. Mary's Residential School, Blood Reserve, 2009

 

Joseph Prive, Forget, Saskatchewan, 1993

Pat McKendry and Daisy, Irvine, Alberta, 1988

This guest blog is by, George Webber, one of Western Canada's most renown documentary photographers and the author of several books:

  • Requiem, 1995
  • A World Within, 2005
  • People of The Blood, 2006
  • Last Call, 2010
  • In this Place, 2011
  • Prairie Gothic, 2012

The images below are  all from "Prairie Goth". The words most often associated with Webber's work are: evocative, intimate, sombre, gritty, spiritual, honest, respectful and universal.  It is more than an cliche when I say "every one of these pictures tells a story." Each one of them is like travelling to a different place mentally and emotionally, as we explore and try to understand the world we share today and how it relates to the past. 

As an everyday tourist I challenge you to look at each of the photos for at least two minutes.  Play with them.  Think of 10 or 20 key words that you associate with them.  Create your own story or poem.  Let your mind wander and explore. Sometimes you don't have to leave home to travel to a different place.   

Everyday Tourist

Webber can be reached at:   www.georgewebber.ca

You can purchase his books at: www.chapters.ca or www.amazon.ca

If you like this blog you might like: Meeting Creek Ghost Town