Our Pictures of the Year - 2017

After a couple of weeks of internal wrangling, Boreal Collective is proud to share our pictures of the year for 2016. We have asked each photographer to share a few words of reflection about the past year of their lives and career.

Brett Gundlock (@brett_gundlock): 2016 was a big year for us (my wife Lindsay and I) here in Mexico. I was able to work on many important stories on assignment, my relationship with my subjects strengthened and the stories I have been covering are exactly what I want to be photographing. I finished the year on assignment in El Salvador, a beautiful country and was a personal career highlight for sure. Outside of work, being able to help bring the Boreal Bash to Mexico was something that will always bring me warm feelings. In 2017 I will be continuing working on my personal project: photographing Campesinos in the Sierra Madre. In April I will be a godfather here in Mexico and ojalá que sí more great assignments throughout Latin America will continue to come my way.

Ian Willms (@ianwillms): I’d say that the Fort McMurray forest fire was the one singular news event that I couldn’t stay away from this year. It completely changed the dynamic of my longterm work in that region and offered a beginning of the end for my time in that city. I still plan to continue covering stories that relate to environmental racism and the oil sands industry, but in a broader sense. 

Annie Flanagan (@annieflanagan): This year was the year of Burning The Candle At Both Ends. I got on a plane more than I ever have in my whole life. I moved into a new home that I love and stayed there. Deafening Sound, a project I have a been working on for about four years, is near the point I’ve been waiting for — where each chapter is beginning to inform the other. Shirley was found dead a month after I returned home from photographing with her — that was beyond awful. I did not update my website. I went over a whole year without seeing my immediate family — that was also awful and will never happen again. I was able to be apart of some hugely inspirational projects and I will continue to live and create in defiance of intolerance and of bigotry and of misogyny and of hatred, despite the admitted fear.

Mauricio Palos (@mauriciopalos): The work I’ve been following in the last year deals with the conclusion of one of my long term projects in Mexico that focuses on the relations between power, land and socio economical disparities, the last chapter of the project is being produced in La Huasteca Potosina, the region where most of my family comes from, and where colonial Mexico still holds a strong presence in the daily interaction between their people. As a lineal thread of the continuation of my work, that began in Central America, im starting following stories up the border in the US.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell (@johanhallbergcampbell): Traveled, made friends, adopted a sled dog called Lily, drove 17,000km to the Arctic Ocean, fixed my truck (a lot, often and still), spent all my money, made some more money, spent that, did quite a few assignments, shot video, co-photo edited Raw View magazine with Donald Weber, went deaf, regained my hearing, spent a really good week in Attawapiskat and was inspired, decided to extend the Coastal project, took up snowshoeing and received a fiddle which I will play. 

Laurence Butet-Roch (@lbutetroch): Amongst many things, events in 2016 reminded us of the enduring systemic environmental racism that exists in North America towards Indigenous communities and of how, in spite of it all, these people remain endlessly committed to protecting our environment. Following four of its young residents on a snake census over the summer made clear to me that a relationship to land also means bearing the responsibility to safeguard it. Since Butler Gartersnakes, which are found on the Aamjiwnaang territory, are an endangered species in Ontario, protecting their habitat has become a priority. In turn, proving the presence of clusters of these ophidians helps the band defend their land against industry encroachment. Before setting out, one of the young man told me an old story in which the snake was the protector of Mother Earth. Everything felt like it was coming full circle. 

Matt Lutton (@mattlutton): 2016 was a hell of an up-and-down year. The spring was an exciting time with a few big assignments. I was fortunate to follow my boyhood dream to visit an active aircraft carrier, when I visited the USS Harry S Truman on station in the Persian Gulf. In April I spent a crazy few days following an infamous Bulgarian who “patrols” the border with Turkey “hunting” migrants, where I met some of the Bulgarian border mafiosos. But the spring also had my mom falling ill suddenly. She needed an urgent surgery, but we have had the best possible outcome. But the rest of the year has been a bit of a slow blur, and with a focus on my family I’ve stepped back from many of my bigger projects and traveling. In 2017 I am really looking forward to finishing my long-awaited book from my time in the Balkans (2007-2015), which will blend my photographs and my journals, amongst other found writing and art.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim (@avelkaim): I am grateful that 2016 marked a year that I was able to commit much of my time to personal projects. The Alexia Foundation Grant has allowed me to continue my exploration of environmental colonialism and hydroelectric development in Brazil, I was also able to return to my home province of Manitoba to begin a comparative exploration of the legacy of hydro in the province. While in Brazil I was fortunate to get an assignment for an important and under reported story on Indigenous suicide in Mato Grosso du Sul. I’m looking forward to continuing this work and finding new projects in 2017.

Rafal Gerszak (@rafalgerszak): Just trying to maintain my shit in 2016. Don’t feel like I fell behind but I don’t necessarily feel like I moved ahead any. Maybe that’s just the way I feel now. Started photographing lots more landscapes and wildlife in Canada’s Far North but maybe the gloomy feeling comes from spending so much time covering the opioid crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. 2017 isn’t off to a much better start… still trying to maintain and hope to head North again soon.

Eamon Mac Mahon: This past year I spent half of my time in cities and the other half in rural Ontario, where I built a cabin which will be my main studio and office in the years to come. My assignments included stories about migrant workers in southern Ontario, a traveling circus visiting a remote First Nations Reserve and an artist who makes ink out of wild plants that he harvests in urban and industrial areas. Cultural exchange and the urban/rural divide were major themes in my life and work, emphasized by the US election. It feels to me that after a long period of increasing openness, we are moving into a time of increasing isolation and division. That’s how it looks from my cabin in the woods anyway. 

Daniella Zalcman (@dzalcman): 2016 was a hugely important year for me — Signs of Your Identity coalesced into a project that I hope to focus on for the next decade. I started the U.S. chapter of the project, published a book of the work from Canada, and am in the process of fine-tuning educational resources for primary and secondary school teachers in North America who want to use the material in their classrooms. Signs of Your Identity also led me to Standing Rock — which in so many ways represents the ongoing legacy of settler colonialism and cultural genocide. 

Jonathan Taggart (@jonathantaggart): 2016 was a year for making new relationships and powerful partnerships. Early in the year I began working with a small group of Elders, hunters, trappers and traditional land stewards from a small First Nation in north-central British Columbia, and together we have been working to record, report and reimagine stories of their changing landscape as pipelines and clear cuts fragment their territory. I am grateful for all I have learned from these incredible woman and men and look forward to working together through 2017 as I complete my work for the Nation and the University of British Columbia. 

Ask a Boreal Member: July 2016

From Daniella Zalcman: What’s the one piece of non-photographic gear that you always bring on the road? 

Brett Gundlock: My good luck charm: Guadalupe necklace given to me by Sr. Click. It comes with me when I am nervous about the area. It has been blessed by shamans a few times; in the last three years it has seen some very interesting scenes of rural Mexico.

Mauricio Palos: I carry a lucky amulet that a sorceress gave me at my grandmas town in La Huasteca. It’s supposed to be used while being on risky areas, borders, narco areas etc. I always lost it but it always comes back to me. I also have the same Sr Click escapulario with the virgin of Guadalupe but wrapped on a wild pork tooth that my compadres the hunters gave me. And good speakers for music.

Laurence Butet-Roch: Whenever I go on the road, I make sure to have a good novel that relates in some way to the subject I’ll be covering or to the mood I’m hoping to conjure. I find it’s another way to immerse myself. For example, I’m in Aamjiwnaang First Nation at the moment, and I took with me “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich, who’s an Ojibwe writer. She’s of the same Indigenous group as the people of Aamjiwnaang, though she was born on the other side of the border, in Minnesota. I first stumbled upon her work three years ago, through her collection of writings “Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country” and was recently reminded of her when I saw she had a new book out “LaRose” (which is also on my ‘to read’ list). A few days before coming to Aamjiwnaang, I was touring garage sales, when I found “Love Medicine” in one of the piles. It felt like it was meant to be. Especially when I was gifted wild ginger, a plant nicknamed the ‘heart plant’ because of the shape of its leaves and because it heals the heart, upon my arrival to the community. I see meaning in such coincidences.

Ian Willms: Ear plugs and a sleep mask often come in handy. 

A good 45L backpack. It’s just barely small enough to carry on any flight. Even those hard-ass econo flights in Europe. Not having checked luggage has saved me problems many times when my flight is cancelled or I show up to the airport hopelessly late (which actually happened earlier today). I also love watching everyone struggle with their giant roller bags to get over a curb or up some stairs while I’m just breezing by like some prick who spends way too much time at MEC (Canada’s REI), which is true.

Matt Lutton: I can’t say just one thing, because I’ve got two items that have been with me for years and are always with me. In the bottom of my CF/SD card wallet I’ve got a wad of gaffers tape rolled up on itself. When you’ve got to stick something down (or like on a recent assignment, reattach a broken windshield wiper in a Bulgarian rainstorm) you just have to have it. I’ve also got a credit card-sized bottle opener in my wallet. I keep thinking that airport security will take it from me, as it’s a hunk of modestly sharp metal, but I’ve had it with me every day since 2006. It has saved many parched journalists and wowed old men in villages who thought they would have to break their beer bottles open on rocks.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim: Cipro for those unfortunate bouts of stomach illness. A pendulum to help guide me when I need to make hard to determine choices. Silica gel for keeping film from moulding in the jungle. Some printed pics from past work to show people what I do. Hammock. Oregano oil (it’s amazing at combating colds and sore throats or general sickness.) Energy bars that I usually end up not eating but sometimes are a life saver. Also allergy pills. Swiss Army knife. A few lighters. Headlight and extra batteries.

Jonathan Taggart: +1 for Aaron’s energy bars. Nothing worse than hitting the wall in the middle of a community event or a bush trip and becoming the grumpy guy who can’t focus and wants to snap at everybody.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell: Ear plugs; damaged my ears before from shooting in noisy environments, so now bring ear plugs just incase. Allergy pills; have slept in some weird dusty and dirty places. Barns, fishing huts on the floor. Pills clear my pipes in the morning. A knife and a flashlight for cutting and seeing.

For real, cod liver oil. Serious.

Annie Flanagan: Bear spray. For large animals and unfortunate humans.

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