Abroad and at Home: A Photographer Muses On His Craft

“I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to 'trap' life - to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph.....” These words by Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the great masters of photography, expresses the heart of the emotional experience of Street Photography.

The very activity of seeking that elusive and ephemeral photographic moment is increasingly difficult to find or have access to. At least for me it has. For the past 20 years I almost exclusively photographed in the Himalayas and India and used the images to raise funds and public profile for a Canadian charity. During that time, upon my return to Vancouver, I put my cameras on the shelf and only picked them up again when I returned to Asia.

On those trips I rarely encountered people who were uncomfortable with being photographed. This was true both in remote regions as well as in urban environments. When that work came to an end a few years ago, I started to photograph here in Vancouver to see what might come from a change of subject matter and to see if I could find the same kind of photographic experience that had kept me so enthralled in Asia.

“Why are you taking my photograph? You didn’t ask permission. Delete that picture.” was such a common reaction, that I almost gave up. It wasn’t only theses reactions that I found so discouraging; often when I did find a person willing to be photographed, they would go through such an existential crisis of identity trying to determine how to present themselves to the camera, that the “authentic moment” became distorted or evaporated completely.

One reliable exception to this situation was the annual Pride Parade. This exuberant spectacle of self display explodes with colour, energy, joy, humour and abandonment. One day a year wasn’t going to do it though. However, I did realized from the Pride photography that I needed to find a subject matter and community that would be welcoming and open to the camera.

Wanting to continue using my camera and fundraising talents for social benefit, I searched for a cause and an organization to support. FarmFolk/CityFolk provided all the elements. FFCF’s mandate of promoting small scale sustainable local farming addresses many critical issues of ecology and food security. FFCF’s supportive relationship with farmers resulted in a remarkable level of hospitality on the part of farmers and their families. In return for this kindness, the farmer receives all the photographs taken on the farm. And of course you don’t need to ask a tomato for permission.

My first season of photography produced a whole crop of wonderful images expressing the exuberant and lush productive beauty of sustainable farming. The first product out of the barn is the FFCF 2009 Photography Art Calendar. Most of the photographs in this inaugural calendar were taken on a handful of BC community or cooperative farms; a style and approach to farming that FarmFolk/CityFolk and The Land Conservancy are exploring in a collaborative program called The Community Farms Program. As an example of a community farm, the calendar cover image portrays the satisfaction and delight on the face of a young UBC student as she plows through rows of organic kale, all the while stuffing her mouth full of her bountiful harvest. The photograph was taken on the threatened UBC farm and a portion of this image is featured in this essay.

Now down from the mountain and getting down and dirty on the farm, in addition to an acceptance to my camera, I have discovered a more profound common ground between the farm the Himalayan heights. I have seen that believing/knowing everything in the universe to be interconnected through the web of cause and effect creates a profound sense of connection and mutual responsibility towards all beings and life-forms. This wisdom principal of interdependence of all phenomena is at the core of the everyday actions and understandings of the Himalayan peoples and it is also the operating principal of farmers and growers that have a deep commitment to organic and other sustainable farming practices. As above so below.

FarmFolk/CityFolk 2009 Photography Art Calendar and Programs www.ffcf.bc.ca
Brian Harris Photography www.brianharrisphotography.net

Photos by Brian Harris:
1) Eating the harvest on the University of British Columbia Farm where over 200 varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and small fruits are grown organically, Vancouver
2) Sweet Soul Burlesque troupe members at the 2006 Pride Parade, Vancouver
3) More than a place for plants, Linnaea Farm hosts the island’s harvest contra dance, Cortes Island
4) A rooster struts in front of a Chevy truck hen house on Linnaea’s 315 acres of rich forests, fields, gardens and orchards Cortes Island

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