I left Outlook, Saskatchewan for Calgary as a motivated but somewhat naive eighteen-year-old some thirty-five years ago. I knew I would likely never move back. The actress Charlize Theron once said about her homeland that “my blood and bones are there but my dreams are not”. While I was not escaping the horrors of apartheid South Africa, as she was, the context of her words resonate with me.
My parents had moved away from their home in rural Alberta to build their lives and as a family we moved several times with my father’s career until we settled for good in Outlook in the early 70s. As I grew up, I never felt the need or pressure to stay or thought to ask for parental permission to leave, not that they would have never given it. It was an unspoken assumption. I have found later in life that many young adults don’t seem have or be given that choice.
I had considered the possibility of working in a camera store in Saskatoon some 100 kilometres away but the opportunity of a computer operator job at a geophysical data-processing firm pulled me rather suddenly to Calgary.
Moving from my family’s acreage near a community of about 2,300 souls to a bustling city of over 630,000 was an adjustment to be sure. I did my best to adjust as quickly as I could. I became a Flames and Stampeders fan. I proudly rode public transit (at 65 cents a ride) and, once I got a vehicle, did my best to fit into rush-hour traffic.
If you look at my Instagram feed you know that I seem to gravitate toward moody, high-contrast graphic images of concrete, glass and metal - a far cry from the warm winds, swaying crops and puffy Cumulus clouds of central Saskatchewan. It’s true and intentional, but mostly because I do most of my daily work during my lunch hours and I work downtown. I also know those few square blocks quite intimately by now. Like the writer, I should record what I know. I think that’s important.
I am a reluctant and even ambivalent landscape photographer. The explanation for this point of view is a bit more complicated. The most simplified explanation I can offer that is if you really want to enjoy a beautiful vista, go see it in person. No photograph I can take will truly capture it. Don’t get me wrong. I have shot landscapes (and sometimes enjoy doing so) but they are largely fabrications. They are perhaps dark interpretations of visions I feel should be left for others to capture. My images of Dell, Montana and the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge illustrate this most clearly. These images are most definitely not what you would have seen if you stood where I did. This is material I don’t know as well.
Okay, enough of the psychoanalysis. I’ll get to the point shortly.
Late in July 2017, my high school class gathered to celebrate thirty-five years of life beyond our graduation. Previous to this year, we had been gathering every ten years and we recently decided it might be prudent to get together every five years. There were 56 kids in our ceremonial photograph and this year 30 of us - including my bride who was from the same class - came back from as far away as Florida to sit around, BS, share memories and details of our current lives and the trials and tribulations we have encountered along the way. I have to say we are very lucky to have this kinship and each of us has had several moments during our gathering where we can’t believe our good fortune to be part of this astonishing group of people.
Sadly, as it turned out, I had to come back to Outlook two weeks later to attend a funeral of one of my classmates. Many of our group returned, both to lament Bob's passing and to celebrate his life but also again to rejoice in each other's presence.
It also made me reflect on my old hometown. Like downtown Calgary, there are parts of it I know intimately from the past - from the ground on foot or bicycle. Certainly parts of Outlook have decayed, but other areas, particularly on the east end of town, are seeing vibrant new construction, not unlike the fringes of Calgary, which has now grown to well over a million residents.
As an artist, I have a rare opportunity. I can explore the Outlook I remember as a child and and put it up against the town that currently exists.
My task now - and for the next while - will be to capture my old hometown through both childlike and aging eyes. My mother and several classmates still live in the area. That certainly helps with my connection to this place.
I get back to Outlook once or twice a year so watch my feeds for new images. What I’ve done so far has been very satisfying. And I’ll work on that landscape hangup I have. It seems like a safe place to experiment!
For Bob Grunerud. You will be missed.