Two Alberta photographers use Victorian-era process to record a visual journey

Procession West exhibit shows the glorious results of non-digital photography

Jackets and Chair (photo by Robert Michiel).

A man’s suit jacket is shown hanging inside a deteriorating grain silo in the photographic exhibit Procession West at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.

Like a companion image of a decaying piano left in the forest, the silo photo suggests the unknowable story of forgotten settlers in the Canadian West.

But leftover traces of humanity are only part of the pictorial tale that’s told in black-and-white images by Alberta photographers Robert Michiel and Robert Pohl.

Their joint exhibit also shows a land seemingly unspoiled by people — breathtaking vistas of windswept trees along the West Coast, and Prairie grasses rippling like waves under a turbulent sky.

These striking photos were all achieved through a very old process. Far from being quick-shot digital photographers, Pohl and Michiel use a deliberate, painstaking procedure associated with the Victorian era.

Their large, accordion-pleated view cameras sit on tripods and require one large negative at a time to be hand-inserted in front of the lens. Light-blocking blankets are pulled over the photographers’ heads so they can make out upside-down images, reflected on rudimentary view-finders.

At a time when digital cameras can display clear pictures the second they are taken, Pohl and Michiel — who bonded over their old-school approach — still enjoy the surprises, imperfections and experimentation that comes with methodically developing prints in a darkroom.

“The difference is in the control you have… It’s a different mindset,” said Pohl.

Michiel likened the carefulness of this approach to his respect for the landscape.

Although his knapsack weights 30 lbs, Michiel tries to tread lightly on his expeditions — unlike some tourists he observed in Utah, tearing up delicate ecosystems in their race to get umpteen digital frames shot in two to three hours.

By contrast, Michiel’s photographic process is very slow. He recalled capturing only one good image — of driftwood on Vancouver Island — from a day-long excursion that was blighted by bad weather.

The Calgary native, now based in Vernon, B.C., is drawn to the coast because of his love of the ocean, and the challenge of getting a striking image from a field of green, over-abundant forest.

Edmonton photographer Pohl tends to mostly shoot in his own Prairie environment, including old farms in Central Alberta and the badlands, and Russian settlements north of Edmonton.

“I’d like viewers to gain an understanding and an appreciation of what Western Canadian homesteaders went through,” he said — of their struggles and sacrifices to live in this beautiful, austere land.

The exhibit continues to June 25.


Northville Altar (photo by Robert Pohl).

Comber’s Beach Drift Pile (photo by Robert Michiel).

Windswept Tree (photo by Robert Michiel).

Just Posted

Driver crashes into Red Deer business while fleeing police

A car smashed through a Red Deer business’ front window while fleeing… Continue reading

Police informer talks about his role in Castor undercover sting

Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank were convicted of triple murders last month

City of Red Deer invites residents to Let’s Talk

Interactive public forum to be held April 7

Lessons in altruism learned by Red Deer students

St. Francis of Assisi School launches community foundation project

Sylvan Lake council approves fire pits and mobile stage

Large fire pits for group gatherings will be located on pier next winter

Sutter Fund Chiefs ready to host Midget AAA Female Provincials

The second half of the season did not go as planned for… Continue reading

Wickenheiser says strengthening Olympic hockey bridge behind North Korea trip

CALGARY — Hayley Wickenheiser was conflicted about the unified Korean women’s hockey… Continue reading

Watch: Volcanic thunder is real, and this is what it sounds like

Behold, the rumble of volcanic thunder. No, this is not the sound… Continue reading

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal buys Toronto augmented reality startup ModiFace

TORONTO — When University of Toronto engineering professor Parham Aarabi first began… Continue reading

Report: ESPN president resigned over cocaine extortion plot

LOS ANGELES — The former president of ESPN said he resigned from… Continue reading

Conductor Levine, ousted after sex abuse inquiry, sues Met

NEW YORK — Conductor James Levine sued the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday… Continue reading

Five things about ‘Fortnite,’ the video game Drake shared with his fans

Drake’s a fan, as is Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, along… Continue reading

Former Devils forward Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after five years away

MOSCOW — Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month