In the winter of 2019, I was commissioned to create a piece for Saskatchewan Blue Cross to hang in their office in Saskatoon. The wall we were going to put up the image on was 19 feet wide, 5.8m if you work in metric, and the work would be all about Saskatchewan.
Since I have a lot of diverse work from all over Saskatchewan, I decided to do the image like a tapestry as this would allow me the most flexibility to explore many different stories within the image.
Tapestries are nothing new; many ancient civilizations, including the Chinese, Egyptians, Early Greeks, and the Incas, used tapestries to tell and preserve stories about their lives. Homer’s Iliad—mentions the Trojan War Tapestry, which was woven by Helen of Troy and depicted the battles between the Trojans and the Greeks. In Europe, since the middle ages’ tapestries have played a significant role in documenting critical historical events and serving as a teaching tool for the church. But story cloths are not a thing of the past – to this day, new tapestries with contemporary stories continue to appear and be displayed in galleries and museums.
An all-too-common misconception about Saskatchewan is that it consists mainly of big skies and large Canola fields dotted with the occasional crooked red barn. However, if you take the time to travel around the province, it will quickly become clear just how inaccurate that belief is. Not only is the light in this province fantastic for photography, but the province is also full of incredible and wonderous scenery worthy of anyone's time and attention.
This work, Close to Home, was meant to dispel the clichéd view of Saskatchewan by exploring the province's rich diversity using concepts from tapestries to weave together locations and events into a cohesive piece. The photographs on this canvas have been made over the past seven years and span the entire province from Uranium City in the northwest to Castle Butte in the Southeast. The common threads tying the individual stories and locations together are formed by the North and South Saskatchewan rivers as they are depicted flowing across the province from west to east. As part of the work, individual stories and locations are grouped along the waterways with images and stories from all over Saskatchewan. Like all tapestries, the work may initially appear chaotic as it requires both time and dedication to decipher the underlying ideas behind the work. Let me take you through the piece and explain what is going on.
At the most fundamental level, the canvas is based on the idea of the Saskatchewan flag with a colour scheme meant to depict the green boreal forest to the north to the endless golden grain fields in the south.
The next layer is about the rivers, which are particularly important to the people and the land. Without these vital water supplies, Saskatchewan would not be nearly the same place. The two main rivers crossing through the middle of Saskatchewan from west to east are the North and South Saskatchewan rivers. While they enter the province in two separate locations, they eventually merge into just the Saskatchewan River before leaving the province for Manitoba.
As I already alluded to, the rivers are essential to people and life in Saskatchewan. To further emphasize that, I placed images of people from all over the province along the rivers using a curved corner frame to stress the river's curvy nature. These street photography images are additionally placed along the map in the approximate geographical places they were photographed.
With the canvas, rivers, and people in place, the next part of the tapestry is all about this province's unique places. While a common cliché about Saskatchewan is that it is primarily a big flat province with big skies, crooked red barns, and canola fields – this tapestry sets out to dispel those misconceptions by showing the incredible scenery this place has to offer. Like the people, the placement of the location images is relative to the location they are found in the province. For example, the giant sand dunes in the northwest are placed in the top left corner of the image, while the bottom right corner shows the southwest features like the badlands and dry plains in this area. There are two sets of location images – smaller and larger, more prominent photos. The larger pictures are, of course, the places that stand out and deserve more canvas space.
The smaller images fill in the details of the overall work and provide further context to support the larger images in the work. Generally, you will find them surrounding the larger photos, where they form separate little stories about a place or an event, further stressing the idea of stories within the tapestry.
That said, here is what the full-blown image looks like without the frame. Hopefully, this will give you a much better idea about the thoughts behind this image. I will return to this work in more detail when I write a blog on Variety as a compositional element.
In part two of this blog, I will go through the separate groups and stories embedded within this tapestry to give you an even deeper understanding of how it all ties together. Stay tuned…