I live in the Canadian Prairies. That means snow and cold. And lots of it.
As a Canadian photographer who shoots mainly landscapes, that means that about half of my year is cold and snowy, so it really leaves me no choice. Either I shoot or I don’t.
Shooting in the cold and snow is a challenge. My biggest challenge is trying to find a way to keep my hands warm and still operate my camera at the same time. My glasses fog up, and half the time I have to scrape frost off of them so that I can look through my view finder. If I’m lucky, I manage not to fall over in my snow shoes and get snow in my camera. But there is a thing that happens to you when you are out there in the cold snow and ice, with the fierce winter winds whipping at your face …
… you find silence. And not the silence of your refrigerator humming or the birds chirping by the river. But real, HEAVY silence. The kind that you can feel in your bones. It is so heavy you can almost feel it pushing down into your ears. The kind of silence where all you can hear is your own breath and the crunching of the snow under your big orange snow shoes. When you stand still, you can hear your heart beating. The kind of silence where you sometimes make a noise just to make sure you can still hear it. The kind of silence that makes you feel small and insignificant and all alone in the world but is also comforting at the same time.
I see shooting in the winter as a whole other kind of animal than any other time of year. Usually you are looking for things to include in your photos. I find that winter shooting is often about minimalism. Of trying to portray that quiet peace in your photo by looking for what “isn’t” there. Our world turns very monochrome here in the Canadian winter. One winter, we had such a long stretch of grey skies and white ground that I actually began to wonder if there was something wrong with my camera– that maybe it wasn’t picking up colour any longer. It sounds silly– I know– but I didn’t understand how powerful and beautiful it could be then. Now I know better. Shooting in the cold winter white is a whole different process and it took time for me to figure out how to do it effectively. The white of the open prairies in winter is all encompassing and it allows you to see what’s underneath all of the colour and the distractions as it all just kind of blends away. It allows you to see the world in black and white.
There are times when I find it difficult to convince myself to get dressed and go out in the cold, but most of the times that I do I’m rewarded for my efforts, and I come home with such a feeling of peace and solitude even if I did not get the shot I hoped for. Winter, for us Canadians, can be brutal and cruel. It tests our patience, our resolve and our strength. But it also can be beautiful when the world goes to sleep and the trees bare their souls to us and allow us to see them as they really are. It can allow your mind to expand and your soul to breathe in the freshness of life.
It can give us truth. It can give us simplicity. It can give us quiet … and it can give us peace.
Sandra Parlow, December 2014 (website)