When you gaze at Tim Van Horn’s photo mosaic of a Canada flag, thousands of fascinating Canadians look right back at you.
Among the 2,010 tiny portraits that make up Van Horn’s 2.4-by six-metre (eight-foot-by-20-foot) flag mosaic on his garage at 46th Avenue and 47th Street in Red Deer, is the wintery image of a Yellowknife man with steamy breath coming out the mouth hole of his balaclava.
Also somewhere within this tapestry of faces is a terminally ill senior, who allowed Van Horn to take her picture in a wheelchair in Vancouver.
There’s a uniformed Canadian soldier, several Mounties and flamboyantly decorated performance artists, a firefighter — and a zombie (Van Horn shot some stills of the would-be undead at the Zombie Walk in Toronto’s Kensington Market).
Van Horn caught many multicultural faces, including several aboriginal people wearing traditionally beaded head gear.
He photographed weathered and bearded visages (including at least one man who looks like the quintessential sea captain), some cherubic faces and a few homeless ones.
But nearly all of the 2,010 Canadians who Van Horn has so far incorporated into this year’s Canada flag are showing us their smiles.
And he believes this is the key to Canada.
“People have really given of themselves for this initiative,” said the photographer, noting 90 to 95 per cent of the strangers he approached with his camera, from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to Newfoundland and B.C.’s Queen Charlotte Islands, trusted him to capture their image for the flag project.
“It shows that we’re still a very trusting, naive — that we still believe in each other,” said the Alberta College of Art graduate, who’s an unabashed patriot.
As an “army brat,” Van Horn moved across Canada as a child, and even lived briefly in Bermuda.
He believes all that travelling has given him a unique appreciation of this expansive and tolerant country.
“You can find all of the world’s cultures within Canada’s borders,” said 41-year-old, who sees nationalism as “my sense of duty . . . I married it with my art to promote Canada, capture our humanity, and document our history.”
All of the photos in his mosaic can be viewed individually on www.canadianmosaic.ca. Eventually, Van Horn also wants visitors to the website to be able to click on an image and pull up a quotation or some history about each individual he’s photographed. He’s kept this information for later inclusion.
The project started two years ago after Van Horn rented out his house in Parkvale to travel the country while living out of his van. So far, all of his photographic efforts have been self-financed since his application for a Canada Council Grant for the project was turned down.
He shakes his head, saying the council apparently liked his portraits but not the flag concept. Ironically, this is virtually the only negative thing Van Horn has heard about his project — he said most people who have walked by the Parkvale installation like it.
“Even young kids have said ‘that’s sick’ — which means good. . . . The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Undeterred, the artist is still aiming to create a 15-metre (50-foot) long Canada flag mosaic with 15,000 images for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.
His immediate goal is to take 200 photos of Red Deer-area residents at today’s Artwalk Festival in Rotary Recreation Park, just north of the Red Deer Public Market.
“Anyone who wants to get their portrait taken should come down. I’ll be there all day,” said Van Horn, who will have another version of the flag displayed there.
Even if his patriotic project has, so far, failed to find financing, the one-time commercial photographer is still glad to have abandoned his day-job to follow his conceptual art dreams. “I feel this is my calling and my responsibility.”
Some of his other self-initiated projects include creating a portrait tent in commemoration of Vancouver’s 125th birthday next year.
Van Horn, who usually parks his van in that B.C. city these days, is also planning to tour with six smaller Canadian flag mosaics to various celebrations across Western Canada.
He started his artistic career by publishing the book I Am Albertan, and documenting doomed wooden grain elevators, which were being pulled down all around Alberta in the late 1990s. His photos were later exhibited across Canada, including at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.