Victoria, the Alberta Portfolio (1999)
Victoria, the Alberta Portfolio is my first body of work available as a portfolio set, and as such, marks the beginning of a new period in my photography. Made of images created over an eight day period in Southern Alberta during the summer of 1999, Victoria, the Alberta Portfolio presents a cohesive collection of imagery made with a single model over a short period of intense work, within a diverse and rich landscape. The Alberta Project, which cumulated in the issuing of this portfolio, was the result of almost two months of planning in advance, and six weeks of darkroom work upon my return to Nova Scotia.
Victoria, the Alberta Portfolio is made up of ten 8"x10" hand printed, archival processed and toned, fibre-based prints, each presented in an 11"x14" acid-free mat and enclosed as a group within an archival portfolio box. The Portfolio is sold out . The Portfolio was limited to an edition of 10, plus one model and one artist copy.
I think the most dynamic space I worked in Alberta was Writing-on-Stone, a large National Park near the Alberta-North Dakota border. For miles on either side of the Milk River, Writing-on-Stone stretches out, near vertical cliffs honeycombed with hollows, hoodoos and other bizarre rock formations. When Victoria and I arrived, it was already mid afternoon, but with a park so large, it was not a great problem finding spaces isolated enough to work.
The morning after Victoria‘s arrival in Alberta, we began working. About 30 minutes from where we were staying was an outcrop of weathered rock, known as a hoodoo. After asking permission from the farmer who owned the land, Victoria and I walked up to the hoodoos and started working. What had looked like a small groups of brown-rock outcroppings turned out to be a wonderland of possibilities. In the end, the heat of the afternoon, and lack of water, ended the session.
The second image from our first days working in Alberta, this image is a better portrayal of the bizarre landscape provided by the hoodoos. The clear blue sky translated to pure black on the infrared film, and the low-viewpoint, combined with ultra-wide angle lens, accentuated the dramatic setting. The most important element was mirroring the line of the rock with Victoria‘s body; with such a wide angle lens subtle changes in position lead to radically different perspectives.
Making this image was a lesson in lenses. Five poses were tried, in five different locations, with the above being the hands-down winner. What fascinated me, and stuck in my mind for ways, was how ineffectual the short telephoto lenses had been; the image was definitely made for a wide angle. Though this did not fit with my expected mode of working in the mountains, I was glad to have some experience under my belt, before we went into the mountains proper.
The house Victoria and I stayed in was right at the edge of a coulee (a prairie terms for a river-valley), overlooking the Belly River. Over and over we set off down the coulee slopes, to work in the river-basin, but it was only a couple of days before we left Alberta that we tried making images along the edge, looking up-river.
The last (and hottest) day in Alberta was spent driving to, and working in, the badlands. What I had thought to be rock formations turned out to be hard, dried mud, and much harder on the skin than anything I’d previously asked a model to work with - Victoria likened working on it to rolling around on sandpaper. Regardless, being the last day, she put her all into the imagery, and came away with some very strong work.
One of Victoria strongest asset as a model is her absolute comfort in front of the camera; while many people can pull of standing poses well, few do it with the ease and grace of Victoria. The soft light of an open sky, filtering through an open window, only adds to the presence of this image.
This image had grown on me with time. Initially, I was bothered by the spatial distortion, caused by the wide lens, but the more I view the image, the more the strong flow overwhelms my initial objections. I found the badlands one of the most difficult spaces I have ever worked; there was so much potential, and yet almost every image required such an effort to distill to its essence.
Red Rock Coulee is probably the most haunting landscape I have ever set foot upon; it was surreal and desolate, and as we arrived shortly after sunset, very haunting in the fading twilight. This image was the last we made on this day, with the camera up on the rock, looking almost directly down upon Victoria with the widest angle lens I had.
The hardest part of the work in Alberta were the sessions Victoria and I did with the mountains; without a doubt they were the most awe-inspiring space we visited, but capturing that sense of wondrous space on film eluded me. Fortunately, there were a few exceptions to this frustrating trend; the infrared image here is by far my favourite of the mountain Nudes, if only for the incredibly distorted sense of scale between Victoria and the fir trees behind her.