Historically, the Rocky Mountains and their neighbouring ranges have filled many roles in western Canada. The landscape has provided industrial and seasonal work opportunities, offered recreational pleasures to countless visitors and more generally helped to shape the collective identity of a country. Though seemingly eternal in their stature, these ranges are in fact dynamic sites of political, social, cultural and ecological relationships as varied as their geographic terrain and, in its many facets, the Canadian Parks Service reflects that diversity.
Range is a series of photographs that embodies McLean’s explorations through Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, Yoho, Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks. This project began in the summer of 2008 when McLean hiked the Rocky Mountains with his 1960s-era large-format Linhof field camera and soon became a three-year endeavor accumulating Parks photographs later categorized as simply People or Places. McLean’s original project called for a series of portraits (with the most spectacular of backdrops) to be realized under a straightforward conceptual condition – each sitting was to be a chance encounter. McLean’s process was to climb a peak (with up to forty pounds of camera equipment), hunker down and wait until another traveler happened upon him, which, more often than not, meant hours spent on exposed ridges, buffeted by wind, and often to no avail. When an encounter did occur, the experience was significant for both the photographer and the photographed, leading to lengthy conversations about the interaction. What McLean reveals is a connection as much between people in parks as between people and the land.
McLean has since extended the project to further consider the manifestations of this relationship by documenting other evidence of human activity: park employees, patrol cabins, data receivers, signage, gates, bridges, railways, helicopter pads, and weather stations. Still, this is not at the expense of denying our mountain landscapes their reputation as staggeringly beautiful vistas. For McLean, who grew up in southern Alberta, the Rockies were a childhood refuge. Long-struck by their grandeur, he also approaches landscape studies with a post-ironic earnestness. In this respect, his large-format efforts speak to another era, one now displaced by cell phone cameras and skepticism for the idea of an untamed, sublime wilderness as inherent to our sense of being Canadian. McLean’s photographs reflect these concerns, and further, suggest a renewed sense of discovery and awe that coexists with contemporary perspectives about the relationships of people and parks that is becoming increasingly complex.
Originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, Mike Andrew McLean received his BFA in photography from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Since 2004, he has been living and working on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where he completed his MFA at the University of Victoria. Recently, McLean’s work has been show in the group exhibition Sentimental Journey at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery, and in solo exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Kamloops Art Gallery, and Republic Gallery (Vancouver). Upcoming exhibitions include Proof 18 at Gallery 44 (Toronto) and thirty-five thousand forty at Open Space (Victoria), McLean is currently a sessional lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria.
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