Newsletter #200: August, 2022
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
My 200th Photographic Newsletter, which began in 2005
an exciting new musical adventure
The Value of Mentorship
I’ve written this Newsletter in celebration of the influence of mentorship, which has enabled me to reach this milestone. Mentorship is at the core of my journey.
Mentoring in the world’s greatest classroom
At an early age, my father introduced me to photography by gifting me a camera, and my mother provided me with a spirit for adventure. These two passions have powerfully guided me ever since. They led me to explore untouched landscapes and create images of untold and unseen beauty. The result has been the sharing of planetary and cultural stories to generate a profound Sense of Place, Pride of Place, and Value of Place. That place is my spiritual home; specifically, the Chilcotin Ark, and more broadly, the Cariboo Chilcotin region of central British Columbia.
Mom and dad gifted me with life and mentorship.
From a photographic perspective, Canada’s preeminent photographer, Freeman Patterson, has been my most influential mentor since 1974 when I took a weeklong workshop at his home at Shampers Bluff, New Brunswick. At that point in my life, climbing the highest mountains and challenging myself physically was paramount. Freeman, however, enlightened me to challenging myself visually.
Freeman, Rita and I at Freeman’s retrospective in 2013
Unknown to me then, meeting those daily visual challenges provided me later in life with the confidence to become an independent publisher of 13 photographic books. Whereas most artists publish books on subjects they are most knowledgeable, my books were about subjects and places I knew nothing about. The confidence to create them came mainly from my parents and Freeman.
Freeman still teaches photographic workshops internationally. I highly recommend visiting his website and subscribing to his bi-monthly Periodical Letter.
Also of premier importance in my artistic journey of visual expression has been the mentorship of my sister Jane, and her late husband, Tony O’Malley. Both are distinguished Irish painters; Tony is acclaimed in twentieth-century Irish art.
Jane and Tony O’Malley painting in their studio. Tony was a well known mentor for many artists.
For years, my father, (still remembered by the Montreal Camera Club with an award in his memory given annually to the club’s most creative photographer) and, I would project our photographic slides to discuss visual composition with Jane and Tony. These discussions about art would go on for hours, and to this day, composition, or visual design, is my primary love in photography and other art media.
The study of visual composition is my passion in the arts. From within a huge iceberg, I made this simple composition. I consider it to be one of my very best.
Recently, an entire wing (the O’Malley Wing) of the new Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland, honours Jane and Tony’s work and legacy. As the entrusted caretakers, the Butler Gallery will display the O’Malley Collection in perpetuity.
For the next 35 years, the value of mentoring would inspire me to share my skills and values with both youth and seniors through outdoor experiences in the natural world.
As an instructor at Porteau Camp on Howe Sound, I helped instill new sets of social values for youth at risk. This was accomplished through ‘Outward Bound’ style challenges in the local mountains. Graduates of these month-long courses would leave probational sentences and re-enter society.
For years, I led groups of teenagers on 10-day hiking adventures where we listened to the stories of the mountains.
Inspired by this successful program, I introduced the concept to the Vancouver School Board. Based at Prince of Wales High School, the BC Quest Outdoor Education Program was initiated, and still continues. It was there I taught (in partnership) outdoor recreation skills and photography in connection with environmental studies and sustainable living.
I incorporated photography in all my teachings. High in the alpine, Ian Mitchell photographed this marmot as it climbed my leg to literally kiss me on the lips.
Finding this style of mentoring youth to be highly enriching, inspiring, and rewarding, I decided to make it my full lifetime occupation. After four wonderful years with youth, I left the school board, entered business, and began offering adults and seniors the same opportunity; to explore the natural world through outdoor adventure. I started (in partnership) EcoSummer Expeditions (Eco was an acronym for Education & Challenge in the Outdoors), and four years later, Pathways Canada Tours. Clients came from around North America including many parents of the students I had mentored on Quest program.
On close to 100 7-day canoe adventures around the Bowron Lake canoe circuit, we all shared our stories, each learning from each other.
For 35 years I guided adventures for people of all ages; from teenagers to those in their 80’s. Each tour included photographic instruction (formally and informally), always my primary passion along with the adventures themselves. I was living my dream.
The year 2003 was a transitional year for me. I met two people who quickly began to influence my life.
Rita has been my companion in the mountains for over 20 years.
Rita Giesbrecht became my new partner in life; not only exploring the back country with me, but contributing from a literary and critical thinking perspective. With the world swiftly moving toward digital expression, it was time to re-evaluate my direction as a photographer and publisher. We began what is called the “Legacy Book Series” which would change my tourism books to educational books; they would combine art with science. They would combine a Sense of Place with a Value of Place.
Mike reflects on the story of Gaia
I also met Mike Duffy, a director of the Grasslands Conservation Council of BC, who ended up paddling in the bow of my canoe on a 7-day canoe tour. During that time, he slowly convinced me to photograph and publish a book about the grasslands; a fragile and endangered landscape that has nourished people since the beginning of time. From a business perspective, I was hesitant. How would a book about unknown and un-sexy grasslands compete with those of BC’s spectacular snow-capped mountains and breaching whales?
With the idea of developing a larger audience, I began this Newsletter; to bolster interest in my photographic adventures, and to honour the value of old-growth grasslands. Starting with 50 friends, the Newsletter has grown to several thousand, and has played a huge role in my life as a publisher, photographer, and most recently, workshop instructor.
With heavy packs, Rita and Mike traverse the Itcha volcano.
Rita has been my constant companion and editor throughout this literary journey. Mike is a towering personality and intellect, who has never slowed down, or allowed me to; his contributions are indefinable, and invaluable. He joined us on all our photographic expeditions and is integral to them. The Legacy Series of books in which Rita and Mike played such a major role include: Spirit in the Grass, The Bowron Lakes, Flyover, Motherstone, and The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.
Rita and Mike enter the core of the Rainbow Volcano.
Rita and Mike have both mentored me in a million ways.
In 2013, Rita and I rode out of the mountains on horse to catch a plane to New Brunswick to celebrate Freeman Patterson’s acclaimed retrospective. It was a gesture of respect and appreciation for his mentoring contribution to my life.
Two years ago, Ian Mitchell, a BC Quest student in 1975, travelled 600km to reunite and be a part of my 80th birthday celebrations. He told me that evening, “you changed my life, and I wanted to reconnect and celebrate your gift of mentoring “.
Both those human events remain etched in my memory. They speak to the value of mentoring.
Ian mentors his son Loren at the toe of a retreating glacier.
Last week Rita and I flew to a remote lake in the Coast Mountain foothills to establish a base camp from which to day-hike, explore, and photograph. We were joined by Ian Mitchell and his son Loren. We hiked, explored, and photographed for 10 consecutive days; laughing and sharing stories. It was the first time Ian and I had hiked and photographed together in 45 years.
It was a ‘trip of a lifetime’. I am sure we were all mentoring each other; from youth to elder and elder to youth. Through laughter and conversation, we were consciously and unconsciously learning about such art forms as culinary cuisine, photography, and how to live a fully realized life.
These two stories demonstrate the value of mentorship throughout our lives; receiving and giving back.
Rita took her daughter Teresa out of school to learn from the grasslands.
A final note of thanks:
There have been many contributors who I have expressed my deep appreciation for throughout my 200 Newsletters. Editors, designers, outfitters, pilots, scientists, poets, writers, photographers, computer technicians, workshop participants, and friends. You have all been part of an incredible team.
Regarding my 200 Newsletters, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the support of all who have followed my photographic journey over the past 17 years. You are an invaluable inspiration to my creative and artistic journey which I enjoy sharing with you all.
Rita and Chris
Thank you. I feel blessed.
Earlier this year, Collen Middleton, frontman of the distinctive Canadian alt-folk rock band Bent Road Tavern (BRT), contacted me about a collaboration, and the release of their new album single titled Fallow (In This Deep).
Collen grew up locally in Williams Lake, and unknown to me, was a fan of my work. The lyrics of BRT’s new release are inspired by my book Motherstone; a natural history of the Cariboo Chilcotin region’s volcanic landscape, and it’s people. Both lyrics and imagery are instantly recognizable by those familiar with the region.
I was pleased and happy to participate, and this week BRT launched the second single of their new album with a musical-video; with lyrics and 50 images of mine depicting the Chilcotin’s Motherstone.
BRT Single, Fallow (In This Deep), Depicts Life on British Columbia’s Cariboo-Chilcotin Plateau
This is “an energetic and enriched musical experience,” award-winning photographer Chris Harris writes of Fallow (In This Deep) from his home in central British Columba, “artistically created lyrics take us on a journey across the Chilcotin wilderness, where emotions and life experiences bring the land to life.”
The song is inspired by BRT frontman Collen Middleton’s time living and working in Williams Lake, BC. It was there he first became a fan of Harris. Says Middleton, “There is no one else who has documented this expansive and enduring region of Canada more extensively and eloquently as Chris Harris.”
This track is the second single released from BRT’s forthcoming debut studio album, “Clear Nights. Brite Lites.” It was produced by famed Canadiana soundman Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Barenaked Ladies, The Rheostatics, Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West). In this song, the BRT alt-folk collective wanders the narrow, harrowing line between beauty and danger, between regret and renewal, etched into this incredible, rugged plateau’s Motherstone.
What an honour it is to inspire another artist of another medium.
All of us at Chris Harris Photography thank you for your subscriber support!
Check out 6-Day Residency Photo Workshops
Check out my Portfolio’s
View earlier Exhibitions
Subscribe to this Newsletter
See you in October!