After eight years of crisscrossing the country, snapping 55,000 portraits of Canadians from all walks of life, photographer Tim Van Horn has reached one inescapable conclusion.
“The Canadian identity is that of a world citizen,” said the Red Deer native, whose exhibit To Canada With Love opens Saturday at the Red Deer Art Gallery.
However our outward looks may differ, all Canadians have common aspirations: “All of us just want to raise our families in peace, have our children be able to go to the playground in safety, and just enjoy life.”
Van Horn knows contemporary Canada’s not what it used to be. And his exhibit shows the changes — from photographic mosaics that morph from First Nations people in colourful dress, into a homogeneous sea of Anglo-Saxon faces, to a growing multicultural mix of folks from all over the world, many wearing hijabs or turbans.
Some of the most striking individuals he’s digitally captured in the show are from LGBTQ communities — Canada’s latest minority to gain a public voice.
Van Horn acknowledges many conservative Canadians are troubled by these recent changes, but he advocates starting a conversation with the people who scare you.
The photographer admitted he wasn’t entirely free of preconceptions either when he started his project in 2008. He remembers assuming an older, traditional-looking man he saw at a Turkish festival in Ottawa wouldn’t consent to having his picture taken. “I didn’t think he would trust me.”
But the man surprised him by responding with a beaming smile, saying, “well, why not?”
“I’m thankful that (Canada) grew up in a post-Victorian era, where there was a certain etiquette,” said Van Horn, who feels politeness is “ingrained in the Canadian psyche,” so tolerance always wins out.
His large photo mosaics started out as a project leading up to Canada’s 150th birthday, but has become more than that. The photographer believes he’s found his life’s calling and has no plans to stop capturing the nation through portraits of its everyday citizens.
Faces spring from every wall in the museum gallery — of fishermen, ranchers, fire and police crews, “hippies,” merchants, farmers, oilfield workers, parents, teachers, kids, and some people who defy categorization — one woman in a pickle costume stands out.
Van Horn, who will have five of his photo murals installed on the museum’s south exterior as a Canada 150 project this summer, is now aiming to capture the faces of 75,000 Canadians, adding 150 new communities to his growing list by the end of 2017.
Throughout the mosaic project that’s been funded entirely by private donations, without assistance from government grants, Van Horn has felt an undercurrent of appreciation for what this country has to offer.
“With all that’s going on in the world, I think people are realizing that we need to be grateful,” he added.
The exhibit’s opening reception is from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 26.