Farming through a 113-year-old lens

The work all comes together in a book of 21 images and stories

Producing food well is one step to a better world.

An upcoming exhibition in Duncan presents just such a theme through the work of Victoria-based tintypist and photographic artist Ken Miner, who has traveled around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands with his 113-year-old camera to depict the livelihoods of small farmers, fishers and harvesters.

“The amount of compassion, empathy, and respect these people have for the animals, land or sea in their care gives me hope that there is a better, more sustainable way to produce food,” said Miner.

The work all comes together in a book of 21 images and stories called Of Land and Sea: Portraits of Coastal BC Farmers, Fishers, and Harvesters which was released Feb. 16.

“The people I’ve met through this are very passionate about what they do, whether it’s shellfish or bison or bees and they’re really concerned with the whole food industry and how that’s shaping up,” said Miner.

“There were no factory farms we talked to, they were all small producers,” he added.

In particular, concerns such as mass-fishing practices that damage the ecosystem and genetically-modified foods came up.

“I photographed a salmon trawler who’s one of the few remaining salmon trawlers on Cortes Island and his concern is the big net fishers who go out and catch everything,” Miner said.

However these concerns were also mixed with hope for food entrepreneurs entering the economy who care about healthy, natural ways to eat.

“They’re also very optimistic about new people coming into farming and the people who are interested in better food,” Miner said.

The photographs portray small farmers from all over Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands including Saltspring Island, Denman Island, Cortes Island and Malcolm Island to the north of Port McNeil. Stories about the producers accompany the photos, taken from Miner’s talks with them about what they do and why.

 

Miner himself grew up on a small hobby farm in Winnipeg, Man. with a large garden that also sold to some local farm markets, so he has a long history of being close to the land.

He’s done both commercial and hobby photography since the 1990s and moved to B.C. around 10 years ago.

He developed the idea for Of Land and Sea after speaking to Judy Stafford of the Island Farmers’ Alliance and then obtaining a government grant to help fund the project.

In Of Land and Sea, Miner uses wet plate collodion photography shot on his 8” by 10” view camera which was made in 1902 by the Century View camera company in Rochester, N.Y.

To use the camera Miner prepares a mixture of dissolved cotton, ether and other natural chemicals onto the plates and then soaks the plates in silver nitrate.

He then loads the plates in a light-proof plateholder box and into the camera. Exposure takes between five seconds and one minute. Miner said it was generally a situation of waiting for the perfect shot, but sometimes the first wouldn’t work out and the one-time plate would have to be discarded for a new one.

The plates used to make Of Land and Sea will be on display in both Duncan and Victoria between February and March, with Miner present at both openings. The first art exhibit will be held at PORTALS, the CVAC Centre of Arts, Culture and Heritage, located at 2687 James St. inside the Island Savings Centre in Duncan. It runs until Saturday, March 5, with an opening reception to be held on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“We have featured many varied art exhibitions in PORTALS; however, nothing of the likes of Ken’s work,” said PORTALS coordinator Morgan Saddington.

A second art show will be held at the Coast Collective Art Gallery and Artisan Gift Shop, in Colwood, BC from March 9 to March 20. There will be an opening reception on March 11, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and will include the chance to meet the artist, the IFA, and to enjoy some local drinks and treats.

“It’s the oldest form of photography that we really have and it’s the most organic form of photography using natural chemicals in the process,” Miner said. “Anybody with a love of photography would find a lot of interest I think and people who want to learn about their food and who produces it. That’s key.”

Farmers and fishers have all been invited to the openings, but Miner doesn’t yet know who will be attending.

In addition to being available at the art exhibitions, Of Land and Sea: Portraits of Coastal BC Farmers, Fishers, and Harvesters will be for sale at the Cowichan Green Community Store at 360 Duncan St. beginning Feb. 18 and on IFA’s website at www.islandfarmersalliance.org.

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