By Paul Coates
Photojournalism professor, Mount Royal University
Let me begin with two quotes because they set the stage for the collection of photographs that follows.
The first quote is from an unknown source: “When people ask me what equipment I use, I tell them my eyes.” And the second is from American photojournalist Diane Arbus: “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”
My long-time friend and colleague, Richard Erlendson, told me in the fall of 2016 that he wanted to do a photography project for the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. He wasn’t quite sure what that would be, but fast-forward to today and from what I see in the images of Oh, Canada!, it’s clear he figured it out. The book includes over 1,000 beautiful images from every region of Canada – often presented as photo essays, a powerful form of visual story telling.
For several months in the spring and summer of 2017, Richard set out in his camper van to take “enterprising” photos throughout Canada. He worked 16-hour days and travelled 28,000 kilometers to photograph this land of immigrants from the west coast to the east coast. The result is a rich fabric of human interest and scenic photographs from his 90,000-picture odyssey.
The art of the “enterprise” photo is what he used as his concept to capture Canada in photographs through his unique view point. Years ago, news photographers routinely went into the community looking for interesting slice-of-life photographs – pictures of people doing things: a mom having a moment with her children, a boy playing with his dog or a couple enjoying a sunset. Photojournalists implemented strong photography as they did so – creating silhouettes, looking for juxtapositions or capturing reflections in water or glass.
These photos opened our readers’ eyes to the everyday beauty around them. In 2017, the community Richard photographed was Canada.
Richard has been a photographer for more than 40 years. He studied photojournalism in the late 1970s, and we first met at an Alberta News Photographers’ Association symposium in 1981 – now the News Photographers’ Association of Canada. He was a founding member of both. At the time we met, he was the chief photographer for the Daily Herald Tribune in Grande Prairie, Alberta – a position he held through the 1980s.
We connected again when he became a faculty member at Mount Royal University to teach photojournalism, design and professional writing in the School of Communication Studies. In his first years at MRU, Richard taught photojournalism to fourth-year journalism students in a capstone ‘photojournalism projects’ course.
In 2013, he taught and mentored a student named Melissa Renwick. Through his industry connections, he put her in touch with Reuter’s stringer Todd Korol. After graduation, Melissa worked with Korol, and subsequently landed an internship and then a staff photographer position at the Toronto Star. Though young and just beginning her career, in both 2015 and 2016, Melissa was named the Canadian Photojournalist of the Year – the highest photographic honour in the country.
Richard’s inspirational approach to teaching won him the Distinguished Faculty award in 2014. He is also an award-winning photographer and writer.
Oh, Canada! is Richard’s 10th book, and I’m sure there’s more to come in his mind’s eye.