Our Pictures of the Year - 2015

Inspired by some of our friends and colleagues, I asked the Boreal members to send me some of their best pictures from 2015. I’ve put together a portfolio of all of our work to share some of the breadth and beauty of work that we made last year.

We were working far, wide and also close to home. These are some of our favorite pictures of our 2015, as we experienced it.

Happy New Year, we’re eager to see what 2016 brings.

- Matt Lutton

A La Quebrada Cliff Diver jumps during a show in Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, March 30, 2015. The group has been performing daily shows for the public since 1934, diving from a height of 115 feet into the ocean below. Brett Gundlock/ Boreal Collective for Mashable 

Fire Breather from Quebec at the top of the Stawamus Chief, a mountain nearby Squamish in BC which attracts characters from all over to the self-declared “outdoor recreation capital of Canada”. Squamish, British Columbia. February 2015. Laurence Butet-Roch / Boreal Collective

Residents of The Jungle, an infamous refugee camp in Calais, France, clashed with French riot police on October 7 after a group tried to storm a highway overpass adjacent to the camp. Conditions in The Jungle are horrific, with poor sanitation, no running water, and poor drainage. The population has reportedly swelled to 6,000, with refugees coming primarily from East Africa and the Middle East. Daniella Zalcman / Boreal Collective 

Lennox Island “is a tough place to be. It’s a beautiful place to be. I love all the seasons, even the winter when the bay freezes solid,” says community property manager Dave Haley. “We’ve had as much as 18 feet of ice out here. Lately, though, the bay hasn’t frozen and that means more storms, more erosion because the water is pushing the ice up against the shore. A lot of the elders talk about how it was, and it’s not like that anymore.” Johan Hallberg-Campbell / Boreal Collective for National Geographic 

Cottonwood standing tall across the Lanxess polymer plant. In the midst of Chemical Valley, Aamjiwnaang and its 12 square kilometers of forest and bushes are vital green lungs. The tree is a symbol of the community’s resilience, a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration. Aamjiwnaang, Ontario. November 2015 Laurence Butet-Roch / Boreal Collective

A dancer for the National Ballet of Canada is seen backstage during a performance of the Nutcracker. Aaron Vincent Elkaim / Boreal Collective

Alejandra at the start of her Quinceañera in the village of Yokdzonot in Yucatan, Mexico. October 2015. Matt Lutton / Boreal Collective for Mashable 

Muslim Londoners convened from around the city to celebrate Eid in Southward on July 17, 2015. Daniella Zalcman / Boreal Collective

A family arrives to a new 8-month-old flea market in Summer Ave on August 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee. The market sells mostly Latino products, vegetables, clothing etc. Mauricio Palos / Boreal Collective

A woman walks her dog during a quiet morning on August 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mauricio Palos / Boreal Collective

Maude, 4 months old, Yukon Territory, May 30, 2015. Rafal Gerszak / Boreal Collective 

A checking point entering the Unist’ot’en Territory and camp in northern British Columbia, September 8, 2015. Rafal Gerszak / Boreal Collective 

A Canoe trip in Canada’s Wabakimi Provincial Park. Aaron Vincent Elkaim / Boreal Collective

Deer season in British Columbia. Jonathan Taggart / Boreal Collective 

Deer season in British Columbia. Jonathan Taggart / Boreal Collective 

Butterfly Hunter, Okinawa. Eamon Mac Mahon / Boreal Collective 

Darth Vader, Pemberton, British Columbia. Eamon Mac Mahon / Boreal Collective

A robotic bird sits on a platform that is equipped with a strobe light, loudspeaker and a propane canon, at a Syncrude oil sands site, August 12th, 2015. Various types of scarecrows are used to deter migratory birds from landing in tailings ponds. Numerous cases of large numbers of birds dying in the ponds have been reported in recent years. Ian Willms / Boreal Collective 

Gilbert Sark is a drum maker, artist, and tour guide on Lennox Island. “I’ve lived here basically all of my life and I’ve seen a lot of changes growing up,” he says. “Even our fishery is changing. The mackerel down at the wharf don’t come around any more. You don’t get a feed anymore. They’re out of our diet.” Johan Hallberg-Campbell / Boreal Collective for National Geographic

Malachi (centre) and his friends play ball hockey in Little Buffalo, May 13th, 2015. Since 2011, Little Buffalo has experienced three nearby industry pipeline ruptures, spilling 7.1 million litres of oil and petroleum product. Local residents claim that industrial pollution is causing elevated instances of cancer, birth defects and other health problems within their community. Ian Willms / Boreal Collective 

Fishing from a jetty on the beach in Durres, Albania. May 2015. Matt Lutton / Boreal Collective

Allison visits the body of her dead husband, who died from complications with pneumonia and overdose. They had only been in Williston, North Dakota for three days when he died. Annie Flanagan / Boreal Collective

A man and a women (names withheld) touch the statue of Jesús Malverde, Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. Brett Gundlock / Boreal Collective for The New York Times

Monet early morning at The John. New Orleans, 2015 After a series of sleepless nights we found ourselves at The John at dawn. We had walked forever for drinks we didn’t need. I wish I could remember what she was playing on the juke box. I remember Gabe passing out and falling backwards off of the stool while Kip and I endlessly confessed our love for each other. I remember the light pouring in and the beauty of all of everything I love about Monet. Annie Flanagan / Boreal Collective

Interview with Annie Flanagan

The second of Boreal’s two new members talks with Ian Willms.

Ian Willms: Tell me about the time we met.

Annie Flanagan: It was NYC April 2013. There was a giant banana that we found on the side of the road. And we shotgunned beers in that park and my friend Van Dave met up with us. It wasn’t rainy I don’t think, but I remember the post rain night light and the light glisten of the yellow street lights and Kuba was there and Tommaso. I haven’t seen Kuba since. Tommaso and I went to Eddie Adams. I was staying in Van Dave’s van. And y’all were shotgunning beers in public and I was like maybe these guys don’t realize it’s America and we are going to get in trouble. We did not. I think I was the fastest shotgunner. Anyway. Then we went to that bar with that giant Banana and played pool and then I went to Van Dave’s van to crash and we went to the NYT Portfolio Reviews the next day. It’s probably all jumbled cause our memories jumble the past but thats all that I remember of that day. I was also like I am going to make Ian be my friend. It was when I began to friend court you!

IW: Describe your work – in three words.

AF: I forgot them.

Just kidding. But that is three words, and I did forget them.

Compulsive, Intimate and.

IW: Tell me about the most important photograph you have ever taken and what it means to you.

AF: Man. I don’t know. I guess can I talk about someone else’s important photograph in relation to my photograph? Cause that is what I am going to do.

For whatever reason, in high school and college, I was neither surrounded by nor aware of a lot of female or queer photographers. And certainly not photographers using photography to process their own experiences with sexuality, gender identity or rape. So, in college when I saw Nan Goldin’s image Nan one month after being battered everything changed. Earlier that year I had made a self portrait where I had a black eye and, at the time, I was not speaking to my best friend, Hannah, because she was in a violent domestic relationship. It was not until that moment, when I saw that image, that I understood that I could share vulnerable moments in my own life. And those moments did not make me weak. And admitting when you feel weak is okay. And being vulnerable is okay. You can be strong and be vulnerable. And understanding what that vulnerability is like, what it feels like to document and share your own trauma, it has made me a more compassionate artist. So, that single image was a huge influence. It gave me such courage.

This is one reason why I think it is so vital that we work to support and encourage different perspectives and why diversity is so very important because if you don’t see people you can identify with making work, it can make you not only doubt your own ability, but also doubt the worth of your perspective. Especially, in my case at least, when I had people (police, friends and people in the photography community and maybe even professors) telling you that certain things happened to you because you were drunk, you know the shame of others can fuck you up just as much as the violence. Which is not limited to experiences gendered violence but being open and honest about your own life, there are complications and judgement that comes with it. So, that portrait I made of myself, which, image-wise, is not great or anything, but it was so shameful for so long. I didn’t show anyone so much of my work because it was filled with shame and confusion. And now I find power in it. I find power in placing it next to the image of Hannah with her first black eye that her mom took. God, I really need to fucking get this book published. But, it was the experiences surrounding those photographs that made me commit to photographing experiences of gendered violence and all that surrounds it.

IW: I think we can agree that it’s hard to survive as a young photographer these days. Why do you do it?

AF: Since I was 13 I have had a camera by my side and since then photography has always been how I learn to understand the world and myself and only in the last like 9 months have I started to try and make a living with it. So, yea it is going to be hard. But I don’t know, its sounds so stupid but I don’t do it to make money as it hasn’t been how I have financially supported myself. I have had shit random jobs and side hustles but this isn’t that like, “I just follow my heart and I think it will all work out don’t worry about the money.” That is a bullshit sentiment that I fucking hate ‘cause bills are real and finances are real and it doesn’t have to all work out, but, photography is a way of life. It’s a reflex. It’s everything. And it is never about the industry or the publications or the bureaucracy and it is always about the people you are photographing with and that will never stop no matter how I am getting by or not getting by.

IW: What were initial impressions when you first heard of Boreal?

AF: I think internet told me, or you told me, we were friends then? I don’t remember, but, yea, I think y’all had like something and laundromat? Maybe a party with photographs on the wall? An art show? And y’all struck me as collective who started making work out of their own desires and curiosities. I mean maybe that was totally incorrect and that laundromat wasn’t actually a laundromat but for whatever reason y’all struck me as not seeking approval from people and just making work and pushing shit out there regardless, in a real and meaningful way. And I liked that. I like that.

[Editor’s Note: It was the Private as Public group show at Harbord Coin Wash in Toronto in 2013.]

IW: Why did you decide to join Boreal and what are you hoping to get out it?

This is regurgitated from those other things but It rings true so I am going to use it: 

I am constantly impressed by the sensitive yet striking nature of the photography Boreal is putting out, their commitment to long form documentary projects and their creative approach to sharing and making work. Those are the main reasons I was thrilled to join Boreal. 

Additionally, I am a big the whole is greater than the sum of the parts person. I find making work in a vacuum to be very dangerous and, therefore, being apart of a collective of people you can count on to challenge and support you invaluable. Having people that you can bounce ideas off of and collaborate with, which are things you should be able to do without the structure of a collective, but having that intention and commitment to each other is huge. It is goes beyond me and is a commitment just as much to my own work as it is to the other members and the art form of photography. 

IW: What is your favorite number and colour and why?

AF: 21 because that was my number when I played basketball. I also really like 533. It’s a nice one. If you say them all fast they are nice. 533. 533. 533.

Right now I am partial to the barf green. With a slight hint of neon green. That electric barf green.

IW: What’s next for the illustrious Annie Flanagan?

AFI need to focus on publishing this book. So, all the glory of making a budget and understanding the logistics for all of that. I also have a ton of fucking work to edit and like a million rolls of film to process and a couple secret projects I have to work on. I just need to buy one of those desk calendars so I can organize all my thoughts. I need to find a project while in NOLA because I need to be a part of this city in a real way and photography is the only want I know how to do that. I am playing the bass for at least an hour every day. 

On a personal note—well, its all personal, but I don’t know, I am just typing cause you told me to just type and I am on so much coffee so there!—but, I spent all summer with the impression I was learning how to be alone, that I had left New Orleans to photograph and to get more comfortable with myself in myself and not to feel shame of not being that person that has a normal life that allows for normal relationships, whatever that means. But turns out the road makes being alone way easier and being here and having a home and a bed and being stationary and not needing to focus on how I’m getting where next or where I am sleeping next and the frustration and allure of that, but being stationary is way more confronting. So, in short, I am learning how to be comfortable being alone and healing and making work and just letting the creativity take over my brain. And man, I have like a million invoices to process and I am slow as fuck with that shit because 1) I hate math and 2) I fucking hate math. Also, learning how to have better business practices and being more efficient.

IW: What did you have for breakfast today?

AFNothing yet. I drank shit ton of coffee. With a shit ton of half and half.

IW: Any last words? 

AF: Dinner’s ready.

Interview with Daniella Zalcman

One of Boreal’s newest members talks with Laurence Butet-Roch.

Laurence Butet-Roch: Hey Daniella. How are you? Where are you today? You’ve been moving around a lot lately. It’s hard to keep track! 

Daniella Zalcman: Hah! I’m good. I’m actually home, in London, for once. Just got back from hostile environment training (HEFAT) in Belfast last night. 

LBR: How was that? And why did you decide to get such training? 

DZ: It was intense. Really intense. I’m not a conflict journalist, and I don’t really ever plan on becoming one, but I do like operating on the edge of conflict and in post-conflict zones, so I think it’s important to be prepared. And maybe most importantly, I strongly believe that journalists have a responsibility not to add to the burden of medical professionals operating in stressed environments — we need to know what to do if something happens to one of us. 

LBR: What do you consider to be the edges of conflict? And why are you drawn to these stories?

I think there are plenty of areas that are far enough from the front lines of fighting that they may be considered safe for civilians, but where life is still dramatically impacted by conflict and the byproducts of conflict. I’ve always been attracted to people and communities living in the margins of modern society, in whatever form that takes.

LBR: Do you have some examples?

DZ: I think the best example (and really the only time I’ve worked on the fringes of a conflict zone) was when I was in South Sudan — so many people living in Juba came from parts of the country that’s seen fighting as part of their country’s protracted civil war, and the capital is ringed by refugee camps. That experience was enough to convince me that I really needed to be more prepared if I was ever going to return to a similar environment. Coincidentally, I just found out I’ll be in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in February, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to go through HEFAT. As for communities living in the margins — that’s pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on: Indigenous residential school survivors in Canada, LGBT activists in Uganda, a community eco village in the UK. 

LBR: Where does your interest for communities living in the margins come from? Which was the first you encountered and how has that experienced shape who you are, as a person and as a photographer?
DZ: I think at its core it’s a very fundamental attraction to stories of injustice. That, I think, is journalism’s most powerful application — its ability to expose those inequities. And as long as I’ve been a journalist I’ve been drawn to those stories. My college thesis project was documenting a neighborhood of New York City where Columbia planned to construct a new campus, and effectively had to drive out existing residents and businesses in the process. My first long term project was photographing Uganda’s LGBT community, which I started in 2011. Giving voice to people who are fighting for equality is deeply important to me. Side note, if it’s relevant, that I majored in architecture in college, not journalism. 

LBR: Architecture? I didn’t know that - what made you change fields?

DZ: I never wanted to be an architect — I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 12 or 13 — but Columbia doesn’t offer an undergrad degree in either journalism or photography. Architecture seemed interesting, and going to school in NYC gave me the chance to start freelancing while I was still a student.

LBR: So, how did you go from being an architecture student to a photographer working with the Pulitzer Center in just a few years?

DZ: Going to school in NYC was a huge advantage — I started freelancing for the New York Daily News when I was a student, and then moved to The Wall Street Journal when they launched their metro section in 2010. In 2012, I moved to London (when my husband, also a freelance journalist at the time, got a job offer from the WSJ) and had a chance to reevaluate my career and how I worked. I shifted largely from daily assignment work to longer form projects and was lucky enough to connect with the Pulitzer Center, who thankfully has been funding the majority of my work for the past two years.

LBR: What are some of those longer-term projects?

DZ: Right now, I’m focused on the legacy of forced assimilation schooling for indigenous Canadians. Residential schools were horrible, and most North Americans (they existed in the U.S. as well) know very little about them. I’m also looking at the legal process for LGBT asylum seekers in the UK, and I’ve got a couple new projects in the works that are still in the research/grant proposal phase.

LBR: How do you juggle between all of those?

DZ: Poorly! Hah. Logistically, it’s not too bad — I think it’s a little more complex psychologically. Journalists are terrible at self-care, I’m not any different. But I manage.

LBR: Haha. I just learned there’s a clinic here in Toronto, dedicated to artists, and I thought that for such a place to exist we must have some pretty unique problems. 

DZ: Ohhh that’s great. And we have so many problems.

LBR: Is that why you joined Boreal? To share yours?

DZ: In a way! There’s always strength in community, and I think it’s much easier to maintain a healthy perspective when you can check in with people who know you and understand your work. I think more importantly, I view Boreal as something of a collective conscience — everyone clearly has a very strong sense of justice in their photography, and having an opportunity to be surrounded by that is incredibly important to me.

LBR: I like that idea of a collective conscience - having a sounding board to know if you’re heading in the right direction. Were you surprised when we approached you?

DZ: Completely! I think of the 10 members I’d only ever met you, so I was very surprised but thrilled.

LBR: Your work spoke for yourself, in a sense. All the members were all able to get a sense of what mattered to you through the way you photographed. And we were also impressed by @echosight. That showed us that you thought of photography in a collaborative manner.

DZ: I do! Which is… counterintuitive, maybe. But I think collaboration is a vital part of the photographic process, even if only to get the input of people whose insights and moral compasses you trust.

LBR: I don’t know whether it’s counterintuitive or if it’s more the result of misrepresentation. I feel like photographers have been portrayed as lone wolves, but I don’t know if that was ever the case. You have to be good with others if you are to gain their trust so that they share with you their stories. For instance, when working with residential school survivors, that must have been quite a challenge. 

DZ: That’s true. At the same time, I routinely meet photographers who obviously must have superhuman interpersonal skills that shine through in their work, and yet seemingly can’t function in a normal social setting. I’m certainly a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to projects — I much prefer operating alone when I’m out in the field — but I think collaboration during the stages on either side of that are crucial. It’s hard, sometimes, especially for freelance journalists because we tend to guard our work compulsively pre-publication, but you can’t work in an echo chamber. 

LBR: Well, it’ll be our pleasure to make sure you don’t ;). We should probably end it there since we have a Boreal meeting in a few minutes. But before we do, I wanted to know what are you most looking for between now and the new year? 

DZ: Self care! It’s been an amazing year, and I’m grateful for the projects I’ve worked on and the people I’ve met and the opportunities that I’ve been afforded, but it’s also been a pretty grueling, intense period, especially these last few months. I’m headed to the beach next week, and I’m very much looking forward to putting up a vacation responder and going offline for a bit. :)

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