A Beach-based photographer will have his photographs of northern life displayed at billboard size as part of this weekend’s Nuit Blanche 12-hour art celebration.
Johan Hallberg‐Campbell came to Canada from Scotland in 2007, but his work, much of which is focused on the hearty souls inhabiting remote coastal areas of the country, is drawing attention. So much so that he’s been informally adopted by those who admire his work.
“People are calling me a Canadian photographer,” he said.
The photographs in the Nuit Blanche exhibit, titled Wisdom of the North, show scenes from two very different trips taken to northern Ontario with the Red Cross. One trip was on an aid mission to the Attawapiskat First Nation after a state of emergency was declared due to a housing crisis. Despite the desperation of the situation, Hallberg-Campbell saw the positive side of human nature at work in front of his camera.
“There’s still a lot of hope and beautiful moments,” he said.
The second trip was made to Moose Factory on the occasion of the Red Cross opening a satellite office.
The people in these remote communities are the real reason Hallberg-Campbell was attracted to photograph their stories, often volunteering his efforts for the Red Cross.
“The camera is a reason for me to go to these places where I’m interested to meet the people,” he said. “The people tend to be amazing in the north.”
Hallberg-Campbell worked closely with volunteer curator Patrick Macauley, Harbourfront Centre’s director of visual arts, to assemble the images for Wisdom of the North.
“He had a pivotal role,” he says, pointing out that Macauley took care of much of the organization and logistics of the display, as well as helping edit Hallberg-Campbell’s 40 choices down to the 13 images that made the final cut.
Hallberg-Campbell’s ambitions for the overall project he’s working on make billboard-sized photographs seem like small change. Over the past few years, and for the next two, he is photographing as much of Canada’s remote coastline as he can, documenting the sometimes endangered ways of life of inhabitants of coastal areas. So far he has spent time creating images in a Newfoundland outport during its relocation, on James Bay, along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, in Nunavut, and along the island shores of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, among other ocean-side locations.
The end goal is a book celebrating all three coasts of the country, which he hopes to see published in 2017 to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday.
Though it’s a celebration of the country’s heritage, it all started in Hallberg-Campbell’s native Scotland in 2009.
Observing change in his hometown of Inverness, he decided to visit the Scottish side of his family’s ancestral home on Scalpay, an island of some 250 remaining residents. Hallberg-Campbell’s uncle is one of the last remaining fishermen in a place with no stores, a handful of children, and a quickly dwindling population.
“It occurred to me it was really important to proactively photograph,” he said.
Moving toward a documentary approach with his photographs was a natural fit for Hallberg-Campbell, who said he was the “most unconceptual” student in his class at the Glasgow School of Art.
“I love the visual narrative of photo essays,” he said, though unlike many documentary shooters, his lack of journalism training results in a more artistic aspect to his work.
“I don’t tend to be very literal.”
His efforts to convey the feeling of standing on a frozen shore, rather than to simply reproduce what he saw there, is what he hoped came through in the Wisdom of the North images at Nuit Blanche.
“I’d like the images to stop people as they’re walking past,” he said.
“I hope they show how beautiful the north is, and how beautiful the people are.”
To see more of his work, visit johanhcampbell.com.