Way Out West: Road-tripping Through Western Canada

Way Out West: Road-tripping Through Western Canada

Road-tripping through Western Canada throws up images of the rodeos, ghost towns and general stores of a bygone era

This article appears in Volume 31: The Freedom Issue.



For
photographers like Marley Hutchinson, when the opportunity
arises to follow your creative itch, intuition and instinct – to
let your eyes lead you and dictate your journey – you take it.
Inspired by photography masters such as William Eggleston and
Robert Frank, Hutchinson set out on a road trip across Western
Canada. For him, “American road trips are known as being a rite of
passage and I wanted to chase the same allure.”

Eschewing the ice-capped peaks of Whistler and the alpine lakes
of the Rockies that are so commonly documented on the tourist
trail, he instead travelled through forgotten mining towns and lush
farmland, stopping spontaneously, frequently and wherever he
fancied. Frank travelled across America in the 1940s to document
the “ordinary” folk of the lands, while Eggleston photographed the
parts of America that seemed, at the time, mundane – now both their
work is viewed as an ode to America. Their images piqued
Hutchinson’s interest; “I wanted to touch on what makes Canada,
Canada,” he explains. Who knew the Great White North had deserts as
dry as Joshua Tree and a rodeo scene to rival Arizona’s?

American road trips are known as being a rite of passage and I wanted to chase the same allure.

Marley Hutchinson, Photographer

Shooting on the fly, pausing for anything he deemed interesting
and anyone he felt was worth speaking to, led him to a ghost town
named Hedley. Surrounded by British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley,
its once prosperous mining past is still visible through its
abandoned silo and the shafts hewn into the mountainside. Residents
idly lined the main dusty strip and one man beckoned him onto his
property. The lawn was littered with car parts, stones and other
random things. “He said it was stuff he collected, like antiques
but with value only to him,” Hutchinson says. Inside, he turned on
a UV light which illuminated strange objects – lampshades,
sculptures built from car parts, TVs from before the 2000s and
metal poles twisted into art. “I took his portrait adjacent to his
pop-up gallery.”

Hutchinson passed farm after farm and as he drove deeper into
Alberta, saloon cars became pick-up trucks and rural stereotypes
were reinforced. In the middle of nowhere he came across a general
store stocked with botanicals, clothes and essentials. Two
entrepreneurial young friends had stumped up the money to buy it.
“I chatted to them, got shy and left. Then I plucked up the courage
and turned back around. Paul Strand photographed a lot of people in
the Depression and he would take their picture in front of their
stores. I brought them outside of their porch and did the same.”
Full of hope and promise, these people mirrored those shot in the
1930s.

The only thing that wasn’t free, metaphorically and physically speaking, was finding somewhere to sleep at night. Even then, it didn’t matter if we slept in the car.

Marley Hutchinson, Photographer

On a separate expedition, Hutchinson travelled to Cloverdale in
British Columbia to document the rodeo culture there – a culture
he’d previously only associated with America and the
black-and-white Wild West reruns shown on TV. Whole families turned
out, including a father whose daughter was cheering cowboys from
his shoulders wearing her own miniature cowboy hat. The whole
community were willing participants, dressed in fringed flares and
cowboy boots, vying to be part of the culture. He soon found out
that cattle herding is common in the area and the county fair is
one of Western Canada’s most popular events.

As a photographer, embarking on a trip with no deadlines or time
constraints is the ultimate liberation. “To me, freedom is making
the choice that feels right for you.” It means he can “embark on a
brand-new experience, photograph how I want, who I want and when I
want”. For the whole trip, there were few obstructions. “The only
thing that wasn’t free, metaphorically and physically speaking, was
finding somewhere to sleep at night. Even then, it didn’t matter if
we slept in the car.”

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