Wil­lie Mcel­lig­ott’s OT­TAWA

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - LIVING MY WAY - Writ­ten by AN­DREA DOU­GLAS Pho­tog­ra­phy by MARK HOLLERON

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.

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