Photographer and artist Norman Riley was in Fernie last week for the opening of the latest exhibit at the Fernie Museum.
Peace Park Perspectives features 24 photographs Riley took during his month-long residency at Glacier National Park in July 2015.
“When you apply to be artist-in-residence, you have to essentially propose some sort of project. I looked at what previous artists-in-residence have done and quite of few of them came to the park with the idea that they were going to do something to document the impact of global warming on that particular ecosystem,” Riley told The Free Press. “I decided I wasn’t going to do that because I wanted to be a little different.”
Riley focused his proposal and work on the fact that Glacier National Park is a designated International Peace Park as is shares a border with Waterton National Park in southern Alberta, about an hours’ drive from Fernie. The area was the first to be identified as an International Peace Park in 1932.
“As part of that effort to underscore that the United States and Canada get along and it’s possible for other nations to get along as our countries do, I contacted the Fernie Museum just because it happens to be a town near Glacier National Park with a museum facility,” said Riley.
Riley says the Fernie Museum was very enthusiastic about the idea, and agreed to sponsor the show. The museum director and program coordinator, Ron Ulrich and Lori Bradish, organized for the exhibit to travel to other locations, including a museum in Lethbridge and another in Kalispell, Montana.
Riley applied for the artist-in-residence program at Glacier National Park in December 2014 and heard he was shortlisted to be interviewed for one of four positions in March 2015.
“What it boils down to is that, if you are selected and I was fortunate enough to be choosen, you’re offered one month and you live alone in the park. They give you a furnished cabin, no Internet, no TV, no telephone, but heat, electricity, fully furnished. And all you do for that period of time is focus on your art,” he said. “When I received the notice that I was to be interviewed, I was ecstatic. A week or ten days later, they called and offered me the month of July, which I accepted immediately and straight away began to prepare, because it takes a long time to get ready for something like that.”
Riley, who is a self-described hobby photographer, has a unique style to creating photographs. He solely uses old style large format cameras, which are now mostly seen in old western movies as more and more photographers are making the switch to digital. Riley only shoots in black and white on film, which he develops himself in his darkroom at his home in Bellingham, Wash. Because of this, a large part of the work happens even before the shutter is clicked and each photo costs around $6 just for the film alone.
During his residency, Riley took 395 photographs, which translated to 250 prints.
“It is quite a few and it took me a long time after I got back to do all of the processing. Over a month just to develop all of the negatives and then I spent 15 weeks doing the printing. It took me 15 weeks to make 250 prints. Each of these are edition, there are only 10 of each of these, some of which have already been sold. These I’m donating to the museum for their permanent collection, which has a street value of $20,000 USD,” he said.
As part of the official opening, the museum hosted a talk featuring local photographers Kyle Hamilton and Mark Gallup, along with Riley on Feb. 26. Each photographer gave a small presentation on their work and how they came to photography. Riley came to photography later in life, at age 25, while working as a full-time musician.
“As I began to take pictures, I found it interesting and addictive and overtook what was, at the time, an artistic pursuit,” he said.
Now, Riley encourages everyone in any art medium to pursue an artist-in-residency program.
“I have had the privilege of speaking to high school students yesterday and this morning I spoke to kids here at the private school. To both of those groups and to everyone else I speak to, I say look, these are worthwhile programs and they are open to artists working in all medium, painters, musicians, poets, whatever you do, if it’s art, you have a shot. And I encourage people to apply because there is a real benefit to be gained from living alone for a month where you do nothing but concentrate and focus on your art,” he said. “When I look back on all of the years that I have been doing it, without question one of the highlights was the artist-in-residence program.”
As for venturing to Glacier National Park, Riley says it’s an opportunity everyone should take if they get the chance.
“It’s a place that is worth seeing again and again. Really, I was there a month but we are talking about a million plus acres, I only scratched the surface. I could spend a lifetime there and not see it all. I encourage everyone to go.”