I’ve been taking photographs almost all my life. As an artist I use many of my photos in my paintings as reference and I am always on the lookout for subjects that become my art, but even if I wasn’t an artist, I would still be a photographer.
I went for a walk out to Big Lake yesterday, a local environmentally protected area just on the edge of my city. I have been going there since 2013 and always find such peace. It has gotten a lot busier since the first few years I would spend my evenings taking sunset photos, but it’s still one of my favourite places to go to.
As I was on my walk, I ran into a couple friends, said hello to numerous people I passed by, one fellow asked me if I saw the two moose, I had not. He told me where he saw them, and I said I would check it out. I carried onto the lake, took some photos of geese, and turned around to head back to the parking lot where the moose were spotted, or so I thought. As I was on my way, I saw that my friends were headed towards my direction. They asked me if I saw the two moose, I had not. As they tried to explain to me where they were, they said “come on, we will show you”. So off we went to check out the moose.
We came upon them in some dense bush just off the trail. I could barely make them out, but sure enough there were two brown shapes in the bush. We stood there for a bit, I changed my lens on my camera and then took a few photos. The photos weren’t going to be great, because they were too far away and too much bush between them and me, but I thought I’d hang around for a bit. My friends said their goodbyes and off they went.
I was a very calm and felt at peace standing there with my camera, hoping I could get a clear shot of one of the moose. The calf started to move closer to my location as he was eating the branches and bark off the trees. I was starting to feel hopeful that I would get a better shot. I got the feeling from watching him that he didn’t really seem to mind me being there, he was pretty much ignoring me. As he inched closer, just then a lady and her dog came around the corner and the moose changed its demeanor. He stopped eating and looked towards their direction, after a bit, he continued to eat, but there was something different about him. I should have clued in!
I told the lady there were a couple moose and I think they could smell her dog, she kept her distance and started taking pictures or video. I continued to take photos, but soon realized this guy wasn’t happy any longer. He stomped on the ground as if digging up something, but it was aggressive, his ears were flattened back and the hair on his back was up. Just as I was thinking maybe I should go, he walked back and forth in the bushes, now just a few strands of bush and about 15 ft between us. He looked back and forth and then all of a sudden, he came out of the bush and charged right straight towards me.
I was taken off guard and just tried to move out of the way, which I did. He stopped, I started to walk backwards, I wasn’t sure if I should have run or what to do. The lady asked me if I was okay, I said I was, then he charged again. This time I made a shhhhhing sound, I don’t know why, I guess I was trying to calm him. Then he turned his head, and I could see his mama coming out of the bush. I thought to myself “I’m in trouble now”. The calf was big, taller than me, but the mama was huge. I think it was enough of a distraction seeing his mama that I was able to turn around and start quickly walking the opposite direction, I don’t know what the lady and her dog did. As I was walking away, trying not to run, because I wasn’t sure if I should, two young women started walking towards me down the path, I told them they didn’t want to come this way, they saw why and quickly turned around.
I caught up with them and we started to walk back to Big Lake. I noticed a family with small children and tried to wave them to go the other direction, but they didn’t see me. As the moose emerged from the path, they had two choices of where to go, after us, or the other way across Ray Gibbon’s Drive, a busy road, one that I’m sure they have crossed many times. They chose the road, cars stopped for them as they crossed, and all was well.
In our excitement the young women and I talked for a couple minutes, and the couple with the young children were excited to see two moose. After saying goodbye, I left the two young women and walked back the way I came. I did not see the lady with the dog, but there were a lot of people on the paths.
When I came home, I looked up some information on what behaviors a moose will give when they are agitated, he was giving me all of them. I think the dog scent was a big factor, but I also know I got too close and I was too complacent. We see moose all the time in our city, I’ve seen them out at the White Spruce Forest, and I think I just forgot how dangerous these wild animals can be, I have a new found respect for the amount of space a photographer needs to give them.
I must admit I was pretty shaken up, and I definitely have had my fill of moose photos for a while.
In 2019, I was offered a solo show at the Northern Alberta Jubilee in Edmonton. The theme was going to be polar bears, but I knew I didn't have enough reference material and had to figure out how I was going to get some.
I had planned on taking in one of the Polar Bear Tours in Churchill, Manitoba, but the show was to take place in November through January, and the trips were offered in October, so that wasn't enough time to paint. Instead, I talked my son into coming with me to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg had the biggest polar bear enclosure I knew of and housed 8 rescued polar bears.
I booked our flights and hotel and got in touch with the conservation officers at the zoo. Everything was arranged for the 3 day visit, including meeting the officers and seeing their research facility. The zoo works closely with Polar Bear International and is involved in the conservation of the Churchill area, including rescuing orphaned cubs.
We spent 3 days watching and photographing the polar bears. The enclosure "Journey to Churchill", is huge and a lot of time was spent walking from one viewing area to the next. There are a number of pools for the polar bears to play and cool off in and one large pool with an under ground viewing area. It was breath taking.
I was able to capture many great shots of the polar bears and have been incorporating them into my paintings. Submerged is the first underwater painting in the series taken from my time at the Winnipeg Zoo. It was a labour intensive painting that I truly enjoyed doing. I used a number of difference reference photos for the painting, but the bubbles gave me a bit of grief. I wasn't able to get them to make sense at first, I had them all over the place. I needed to figure out how to make them work. I love to swim, so on one of my trips to the local pool I did some experimenting. While underwater I brought my hand down hard on the water and watched how the bubbles rise, I did this over and over. Okay I admit, I did feel a little bit silly, and I did get a few strange looks, but hey, it's all for art! And it was a successful experiment.
The large scale painting (48" x 48") was completed and framed, and took centre stage at the show opening. It was a lot of fun to see so many of the patrons who attended the opening get their photo taken in front of the painting, it was even more fun when it sold a few days later to someone who attended the opening.
As I continue with my series "The Polar Bear", I am drawn to the polar bear underwater. My first painting "Getting Closer" was also an underwater painting and has done very well winning awards in shows and getting notice. There is just something that speaks to me when it comes to these wonderful animals. Not all my paintings are underwater, but after painting "Submerged" you can expect to see a few more.
Submerged is part of the Federation of Canadian Artists Online Juried Show "Water". I was very happy to see that the Federation Gallery is using it in their ad campaign for the show.