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“Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
French aviator, adventurer and poet
Images tell stories that might otherwise not be heard. Nowadays, we like snapping pictures to capture our very own. We use our cameras to record life’s moments, both momentous and mundane. We cherish these photos because they allow us to recreate our personal experiences. We also seek out other types of photos, ones that evoke emotions, questions and answers. For photography to elicit this collective human experience we need professionals.
Thus, I asked nine Canadian photojournalists to take part in RESPECT, not only because they are among the best, but because of their dedication and skill in telling poignant stories through imagery. I had the privilege of working with some of Canada's finest: Allen McInnis, Kazuyoshi Ehara, Jim Ross, John Woods, Todd Korol, Dan Riedlhuber, Jeff Bassett and Andy Clark. In 2009, a newcomer joined this select club: Chris Young, a British-born photojournalist who has worked in Canada for the past two years. Their photographs convey the essence of the Boreal Forest and the meaning of our journey.
This journey began in Quebec and took us westward through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Colombia and the Yukon between October 2006 and July 2007. We were guided by Phillip Wilmer, affectionately nicknamed Douglas the aviator, whose knowledge of the land is truly unique. Phillip is more than just the project’s pilot: he shapes the project vision, he lifts our spirits when things aren’t going so well, he embodies the passion of a forest explorer. The going was tough; we encountered many challenges before, during and after the assignment – from turbulent weather to adverse flying conditions to unexpected interruption to delays for equipment repair. While the photographers captured the forest from above, I ran interviews on the ground – discovering rich details that could later be used in photo captions. Throughout the crossing, we were constantly awed by the majestic landscapes of the Boreal Forest and its fragility; we took in breath-taking views few have had the privilege to see. We worked hard to get results and the outcome is truly outstanding.
The RESPECT project has entered a new phase with a focus on Northern Ontario. The pilot began in B.C. where the first journey ended, and flew eastward to the Far North of Ontario. There, he joined the rest of the team and together, they followed the highway of the early explorers north of Sioux Lookout and along the Albany River. They filmed and took pictures over and on the river, from the streams that feed it to the place where it throws itself into James Bay. Through film and photography, we captured stories of the landscape and First Nations communities living north of Thunder Bay and along the Albany River.
If the Boreal Forest of Canada is about awe-inspiring scenarios, it is also about people.
Without the support and generosity of the many communities we met, both First Nations and non-indigenous, RESPECT would not be what it is today. Previously, we chronicled their tales through still photography. This year we added moving pictures to really let these people shine. These multimedia and film presentations will be added to an already impressive display of large size images.
RESPECT is a modern day odyssey. It brings the Boreal Forest to the people.
Already, over half a million people have seen and been touched by the RESPECT photo essay at outdoor venues such as Atwater Market Place along the Lachine Canal in Montreal (July 2007), the Biosphere Environmental Museum in Montreal (August 2007 – May 2008), and The Forks in Winnipeg (August-October 2007). Many more are expected at the Harbourfront Centre presentation, June 24 – October 12, 2009.
Solid partnerships have allowed this project to happen! First and foremost is SAJO, an invaluable partner who has generously provided financial and in-kind support since the beginning of the project. SAJO designed and built the stands on which we showcase our photographs. Epson Canada and Seal Graphics are corporate partners working on the production of the exhibit. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is the major sponsor of the Ontario Project and the Wasaya Group has been instrumental in making the northern Ontario expedition a success. And finally, our partner Harbourfront Centre, has done a great job of locating the resources necessary to host the exhibit this summer, thus enabling millions more to see RESPECT.
We are wholeheartedly engaged in presenting the splendor and the fragility of the boreal forest and hope to continue for many years to come. After all, the boreal forest of Canada deserves nothing less!
President, Boreal Communications