Based in Calgary, Alberta, Royce is an artist working in the medium of photography. His work currently focuses on cultural landscapes, particularly of the Canadian and American West. Cultural landscape is found at the intersection between our human civilization and the land. Travelling this intersection, Royce finds many facets to explore.
Originally, Royce sought time within the landscape as solace from the forces in modern city and professional life that seemed increasingly to create stress and care, and didn't provide a level of fulfillment or meaning that he realized he was missing. Royce wanted to escape from the press of city life back to the landscape, searching for -- if not wilderness -- at least a respite from the built world. It became natural for Royce to explore with his camera in hand.
It wasn't long before Royce had to admit to himself that "wherever you go, there you are". His very ability to reach places in the mountains or desert, on a Caribbean or Mediterranean island, even within a remote volcanic or glacial wilderness -- meant that all of these places were touched by human culture as surely as his backyard or the downtown core of Royce's home city. Royce began to sharpen his photographic vision not to show the land as an absence or negation of human culture, but culture and the land as necessarily integrated components of life that we need to come to terms with.
Now, Royce presents visual stories and intriguing details of both human and natural elements in the places he encounters. Through them, he hopes to open small windows into how we have inhabited the land in the past, the nature of our culture’s approach to the land now, and the shared future we hope to build within the land.
For this series to date, I have chosen several of my photographs from these locations:
Brazeau Collieries coal mine in Nordegg, Alberta, which ceased production in 1955.
Greenhill Mine in Blairmore, Alberta, which closed down in 1957.
The Lower Bankhead Mine operations remains near Banff, Alberta, which ended in 1922.
The story of Brazeau Collieries has interested me, in particular, and I have visited and photographed there many times. Founded by Martin Nordegg, the mine operated between 1911 and 1955. At its peak the mine was known for its innovation in mining operations and was one of the largest producers of coal briquettes in Canada. The town itself was an interesting and progressive model of community planning and development, a home to work seekers (many of them immigrants) that was in many ways ahead of its time in social terms.
Once boasting a population of about 3000, Nordegg today is home to some 200 people. Though little of the original town remains, the nationally-listed historic mine site is largely intact from the day it ceased production. The shutdown was a result of a fire that destroyed much of the operation in 1950, requiring an extensive, heavily debt-financed reconstruction. Unfortunately for the mine and the town, that debt load occurred at a time when railway locomotives were rapidly converting from coal-fired steam power to diesel. This triggered the sudden economic collapse of the mine very soon after the re-build was completed.
In my previous career I have worked for various natural resource sector companies, and now as an artist I feel drawn to a visual exploration of past and present industrial locations. I deeply respect and value the natural world, and strongly believe that we need to act far more responsibly to conserve and sustain the environment within which we live. But I also recognize the essential contributions to our history, economy, technology and very way of modern life provided by natural resource-based industries.
As we look at the situation of the current day in Alberta, are there lessons that we could or should be learning from our history? If so, what are they? I have my ideas about this… undoubtedly you have yours as well. Will we be able to chart a different course for our future? Or will I, later in life, begin a new photography series on economic and environmental devastations wrought by our current generation?
By themselves, my photographs hold no solutions to the apparent conflicts between the increasing need for conservation and the continuing appeal of job- and wealth-generation through resource extraction. Indeed, I seek to embody some of this tension in my work. For example, I deliberately contrast decaying equipment and buildings with aesthetically pleasing forms and glowing light. I place the abandoned products of human ingenuity within the context of the disorganized and chaotic life impulses of the natural world. I print my images of heavy industry operations on a soft, warm-toned paper made from rapidly renewable bamboo.
My explorations of the industrial component of cultural landscape, and the visuals that I create, are part of my own personal journey in reconciling these conflicts for myself. If the work resonates with viewers, I can only hope this may contribute in some small way to a sense of curiosity that further opens a door. Through that door may lie some resolutions to the on-going divide between our modern industrialized world and the natural world from which we have become seemingly isolated, but upon which we utterly depend for our survival as surely as we depend upon economics, industry and technology.
Carbon inkjet print on bamboo paper
40" x 50"
20" x 25"
Carbon print on Bamboo