I am a product of my roots, and, hence, the prairie pragmatist is part of my fabric. So, in Saskatchewan Canada,where I took most of the winter photos contained here, we have winter for at least eight months of the year, and, if you like taking photos, then you will inevitably spend time taking photos in the winter. And, in that part of the world, they get real winter- -40C and a lot of snow. That said, I really enjoyed hopping in my truck and driving aimlessly down barely passable back roads while looking for those minimalist landscapes that are hallmarks of the prairies. In a prairie winter, you don’t get the big skies with all of the crazy cloud formations that come with thunderstorms, tornados and the like. Instead, the winter quiets the sky and covers the ground so that you can focus on how the snow shapes the landscape– which really accentuates those barns, silos and roads that in summer would be surrounded by various crops while framed with huge cloud formations.
If you like minimalist landscapes, then come to the Canadian prairies in the middle of January, and you will have no shortage of subjects. The downside is the weather: just see how long you can frame a shot while standing in -30C with a 60km wind blowing in your face. You can forget about using a tripod because by the time you set it up, you can’t feel your fingers and your camera will die if you take an exposure longer than 30 seconds. The typical Canadian prairie winter shoot looks something like this: (1) find a promising shot, (2) pull over but not too far because the snow is deep and you can’t see the ditch and if you hit the ditch you are really stuck in the middle of no where (3) make sure you have your camera set properly, (4) jump out and take 4-5 shots quickly (always leave your vehicle running with the heat cranked), and (6) jump back in your vehicle to de-thaw while checking what you got and then repeat the steps all over again. Appropriate clothing is a must; toques and snowmobile boots are a must; you can’t worry too much about how you look so leave your vanity at home. When I took “9” [see above], I was waist deep in snow and was shivering so hard I thought I was going to drop my camera. The shot ended up being quite serene, but I felt anything but serene when I was taking it.
I don’t like to spend too much time deconstructing landscapes or searching for some deeper meaning. Landscapes for me are about silencing the everyday noise and prairie winters provide a unique opportunity to clear away the clutter. Clearing the mind by looking at a minimal landscape is the end goal for me – too much thought ruins the experience. If I want to light up the neurons I will look at Larry Towell or Jacob Aue Sobol‘s work.
I am living in the middle east now and I am smiling as I write this. I really enjoyed taking those photos, and I still enjoy looking at them. One of the advantages of having lived in various parts of the world– and because of work having traveled to many other parts of the world– is that not only can you see the many differences between cultures but you also become keenly aware of the many similarities. In my experience, winter in whatever part of the world you are in, regardless of temperature, is associated with a paring back of activities, shutting things down, spending more time inside, and, in essence, settling into a more introspective period- which is, arguably, analogous to a minimalist aesthetic. I included some photos I took during the winter in Asia, Europe and the Middle East that may not on the surface look like they have much in common with the snow-covered Canadian prairies, but when I took them there was little activity; it was quiet, and it was a wonderful opportunity to clear the mind– exactly the same as the snow covered landscapes.
Regan Shercliffe, December 2014 (website)
Winter in the Middle East