Willie Mcelligott’s OTTAWA
It may be corny for a photographer to quote the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but sometimes the old adage just hits the mark. Willie McElligott hits it perfectly, echoing these famous words in the introduction to his new photographic masterpiece, The Ottawa Canada Book.
Apart from his own short introduction and a forward by veteran Ottawa journalist and author Roy MacGregor, you won’t find a lot of words in this visually stunning coffee table book. What you will find is a showcase of some of the most striking photographs of the nation’s capital and its surrounding environs. It highlights Ottawa’s finest architecture, events and festivals in breathtaking colour and with camera angles no one else has even dreamed of using. It’s the culmination of a three-way love affair between Willie, the city he cherishes, and the camera that allows him to document and share that love.
As Roy MacGregor so aptly writes, “ This is a book you can walk into, drive through, stop in to visit, decide to stay. Just like the city itself.”
The self-published book, two years in the making, has been well-received by others who are equally passionate about this city since its launch in April. By mid-summer, sales had come close to hitting the Canadian bestseller mark at almost 5,000 copies. With local companies and government agencies ordering the book by the hundreds, it’s filling a niche that has long been vacant.
As one of Ottawa’s biggest boosters, not only does Mayor Jim Watson keep The Ottawa
Canada Book on his coffee table in his office, he purchased more than 100 copies to hand out to dignitaries. Describing it as a brilliant, beautiful and bilingual book that captures the true essence of our beautiful capital, the Mayor’s luggage was a little bit heavier when he visited Beijing in June, as he presented a copy to the Mayor of Beijing as a gift.
The book grew out of what the photographer realized was a need for some kind of showcase of a city that he not only loves, but feels is worth bragging about.
“We’re Canadians. We don’t boast about anything,” he explains. “But if you don’t stand up and speak about what you do or where you live, you’re going to get lost in the shuffle.”
He calls the book a testament to the people, buildings and natural beauty of Ottawa. He believes strongly that we can compare Ottawa to any other capital in the world, albeit on a smaller scale; a scale that people would rather live in.
As an architectural photographer for 35 years, Willie says he likes the graphic element of architecture because it represents nature in so many ways – and that combination abounds in Ottawa. He’s heard the negative comments over the years; comments from naysayers who find Ottawa has little to offer in the way of visual appeal and architectural interest. His answer for that? “Open your eyes!” he says passionately. He says he saw the “architecture wave” coming to this city over the years and worked closely on many of the major architectural projects – from the National Gallery of Canada, to the airport, to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and most recently, the new Ottawa Convention Centre. “I knew this wave was coming and I rode it,” he says. In fact, the book was, in part, the result of his work on the convention centre. He had a 28-month contract to document both the deconstruction of the old building, as well as the construction of the new centre which officially opened in April. He was urged to produce a book that would celebrate what the nation’s capital has to offer. As a great believer in the difference between looking at things and seeing things, he answered a calling.
Apart from his work on the convention centre, he dropped everything else to concentrate on the book for two years. By the end of it, he had created a tapestry of what Ottawa is like in the twenty-first century. The agonizing process of culling his 15,000 pictures into the 143 in the book, and self publishing it in order to create the precise and perfect product it has become, left him drained, but exhilarated.
When Willie McElligott is behind the lens, he doesn’t take a picture. He makes one. I spend very little time afterwards with my images,” says the consummate artist. “I get it. I nail it first. That’s part of the craft.”
And nail it he has. It’s an exquisite accolade to the seasons from which Willie himself draws his energy – the old and new, rural and urban, young and old. In short, it’s a tribute to the Ottawa that deserves this exceptional photographer’s artistry.