Tim Van Horn

Building Canada’s mosaic

Every Canadian has a story. With his trusty Nikon D300 in hand, Red Deer’s Tim Van Horn is well on his way to telling some 37,000 of those tales.

Every Canadian has a story.

With his trusty Nikon D300 in hand, Red Deer’s Tim Van Horn is well on his way to telling some 37,000 of those tales.

On Oct. 1, 2008, Van Horn began his Canadian Mosaic project — to photograph .01 per cent of the Canadian population in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

He started in Red Deer before heading east in his 1999 GMC Savana with his black lab, Turbo and border collie, Mucmuc.

The van is easily recognizable with small snapshots of Canadian faces on Canadian flag mosaics on the exterior.

Despite several computer crashes, van break downs and other hiccups, Van Horn has captured 13,000 faces of which there are 200 Red Deer residents in three years.

Van Horn has captured faces from cities and towns across the country and in the northern territories.

Another 10,000 portraits are expected to join his collection in 2012.

“The idea is we need something all encompassing, something everybody feels a part of,” said Van Horn who is back in Red Deer to visit family and to get some housekeeping done.

Van Horn said his mission is to reunite the country with its largest ever portrait.

He said people are becoming familiar with the project and are receptive to pose for a photo and to tell their story.

In every city or town, Van Horn will pick a spot, park his van and set up his outdoor studio – a white or red background hung over his van.

Then he waits.

Van Horn will ask everyone who walks by if they want their picture taken. About 70 per cent of the strangers he meets agree. The ones who refuse, he said, weren’t meant to be in the project. One day in Vancouver, he shot 2,700 portraits.

“Everybody has a story and everybody is so unique,” said Van Horn.

“Really from a position of a researcher or a philosopher, I have to be exempt of impression. You are interesting as that 100 year old man. I see everyone as being equal. I’ve met every single type of person out there. Nothing surprises me anymore. Everyone is equal.”

In some cases, he will pull out his iPhone and ask a few questions about what it means to be Canadian.

Names are not necessary.

“It’s not about what your name is,” said Van Horn. “The story is on your face.”

The interviews will be woven into a set of online learning resources as part of the project. Van Horn said Canada’s educational system will soon move from textbooks to tablets and there will be a need for contemporary learning resources for the 150th birthday.

Van Horn envisions the final product as roughly a 24 by eight metres flag mosaic displayed at a major museum either the National Art Gallery or the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

“There’s 37,000 bits of information firing at you from all these different directions,” said Van Horn. “It represents not just Canada but a prism of life. You will stand in front of this thing and have a sense of what life looks like … It’s a real authentic look at who we are instead of a selective look at we are which we are all too often is what we are fed with governments or policies or media.”

Next up for Van Horn is to drive across Canada to bring awareness to the pending 150th birthday. He departs Mile Zero in Victoria along the Trans Canada Highway to Newfoundland. He will arrive in Newfoundland on Nov. 28. More about the project is available at www.canadianmosaic.ca


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