“Exactly 119 years ago today one of the previous incarnations of that bridge [pointing], what is now the Bay Street Bridge, collapsed under the weight of an electric streetcar that was loaded with party goers on their way to a celebration and mock battle at the naval base in a Esquimalt. The driver - the engineer - stopped as the bridge sagged, and then he decided to try to go for it so that they could get to the party. The bridge collapsed and it was - and remains - the largest street streetcar fatality in North American history. With all of the industrial activity and people around here the response from this area was quite immediate, but still 55 people died and a lot were injured.
So I decided that, given I’m photographing this area, I wanted to actually make a picture on the anniversary of that event, one that includes the bridge. What I'm going to try to do tonight is to photograph the bridge specifically with all the new development behind it, using a lens that was made in the same year as that accident - 1896. I'm using a process that would have been used at that time - not exactly, but the paper negative process was introduced by Fox Talbot in 1834. It's a process that’s had a very long life - people have continued to use paper negatives - so I’m using that process because I want the aesthetic of the time period - one of the time periods - when this area was extremely instrumental in the development of Victoria. As the Burnside-Gorge and the Rock Bay areas and the Gorge area in particular go through a new transformation in 2015, it's high on the radar for the City in terms of their next focus, so I wanted to photograph it as it exists now, the eclectic and dynamic mix of industry, residences, commerce, recreation, but I wanted to use a set of aesthetic sensibilities that harken back to the earlier time when this area was at least as influential as - and maybe more than - it is now.
I used to live right over there when I first moved back to Victoria; I lived in the Railyards, and I think part of the reason I came back to the coast, part of the reason I came back to Victoria, really, in landing there, landing in this area, I think the resonance of that has cemented my love of this area. I'm fascinated by exactly the mix that’s here: there’s this not entirely intact but still functional ecological habitat completely adjacent to industry, residences and human recreation. That eclectic mix, that dynamic mix, appeals to me greatly. I liked living among it; I miss living here. This would be my place of choice to return to to live.
I think what draws me back to the coast at some simplistic level is just the freshness, literally the freshness of the air, air scrubbed by the Pacific Ocean. Also, there’s a different set of values and sensibilities that I think are common to coastal people and coastal culture, one that reintroduces time in our lives, rather than extracts time from our lives. It becomes, if not the reason, a place to slow down and to be more contemplative than strictly urban living tends to allow. There are probably similarities to any remote place, but this place has that combination, it takes that edge off that comes with remoteness without necessarily having to be remote - there’s still community, there’s still connection, interpersonal connection.
The coast creates boundaries. When you go into large areas of flatland and you don’t give people physical boundaries, the living can become very insular. But when you put people around boundaries, you are forced to work with those other people; and you are forced to some degree - as much as we try to modify it - to work with nature. There are powerful forces at work that we have to be aware of here, even just seismically, that influence our thinking to some degree about how we engage with living here. That dichotomy between beauty and risk.
When I first really significantly lived in a coastal environment it was in New Zealand, and the boundaries, that edge, you felt how closely around it you that it was, because it’s a small small nation. And Vancouver Island isn’t even as big as New Zealand so you become aware of those boundaries. For me there was a tension in that. But...a tension not in the negative sense of the word, but in terms of a hyper-awareness.
Living on the coast absolutely informs my work. Interestingly enough, though, that came with a struggle. Being drawn to live here and being inspired by it creatively were not necessarily the same thing for me - they weren’t synonymous out of the gate. I've had to learn to see here. I chose here because of how living here made me feel, but it wasn't a choice that came from a sense of “Ah, I want to go and create there.” Or, “I’m inspired by this place.” That took work, interestingly enough, to come.”
But you found it?
“Well we'll see! I’m definitely drawn to it now creatively - it's now...I’m not pulled elsewhere to create. This is where I want to be creating, but it doesn't come easy. That [marine] boundary is a challenge, partially because as a photographer you see the point of view that you want and you can't just always walk over and place the camera there. But that again is working with limitations, and I think increasingly - whether they're physical limitations of the place, limitations of materials and processes, or self-imposed limitations - that limitations are ultimately creatively liberating, when we can choose to see it that way. Getting to see that as a choice can be a challenge. As a teacher I hear all the time: “Oh there's nothing to photograph here.” And there's probably a time where I would have agreed with that, but this is my second major project here. The first came out of a really influential and challenging time. That taught me to work in my own backyard and it taught me the value of of doing so. And the value of rising to that challenge.”