Artscapes Canada

Pho­tog­ra­pher Ray “RJ” Bel­court of Le­duc, Alta., col­lab­o­rated with artists across the coun­try to pro­duce in­cred­i­ble pieces of art­work that com­bine lens and brush

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Pho­tog­ra­pher Ray (RJ) Bel­court, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with artists from across the coun­try, pro­duced in­cred­i­ble works of “mixed me­dia” art that show­case Canada’s beauty.

Ihave lived in Al­berta for al­most 40 years and con­sider it my home. My youth, how­ever, was spent in north­ern On­tario with most of my leisure time spent fish­ing, hunt­ing and trap­ping along the river that bor­dered my fam­ily’s farm. My love of na­ture, nur­tured by the lim­it­less beauty of the bo­real for­est, likely con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of my eye for land­scapes and nat­u­ral form.

In the early ’80s, I moved to Western Canada, where I dab­bled in pho­tog­ra­phy as a hobby. About 11 years ago, my friend and men­tor, Ig­natius Fay, en­cour­aged me to pur­sue my tal­ent more se­ri­ously by col­lab­o­rat­ing with him in pub­lish­ing an art book of Ja­panese po­etry. The ex­pe­ri­ence was so re­ward­ing, I de­cided, with his help, to move on to a much larger art project. Now, I spend most of my spare time pur­su­ing my pas­sion for the arts.

I love beau­ti­ful land­scapes. Al­berta’s scenic moun­tains and vast plains served as the seeds of a project that quickly grew to en­com­pass the en­tire coun­try. Drawn by the di­ver­sity and depth of the Cana­dian land­scape, and the added bonus of meet­ing some won­der­ful folks, I set out to take pho­to­graphs.

My orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was to pro­duce a work of dig­i­tally ma­nip­u­lated pho­to­graphs, but I soon re­al­ized they had no soul. They lacked a hu­man touch. I de­cided to col­lab­o­rate with Cana­dian painters, one from each prov­ince as well as the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries—although I still in­tend to in­clude the Yukon and Nu­navut—to mesh their me­dia with my pho­tog­ra­phy.

The process in­volved tak­ing a se­ries of trips to ex­plore the Cana­dian coun­try­side, snap­ping rep­re­sen­ta­tive scenes of each prov­ince along the way, scenes I felt had a cer­tain artis­tic ap­peal. At the same time, I had to find tal­ented artists who might be in­ter­ested in a mixed-me­dia col­lab­o­ra­tion. The idea was to have the artists paint over por­tions of

my pho­to­graphs in their own unique styles and me­dia. The par­tic­i­pa­tion of these artists brought the hu­man di­men­sion, adding life and per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion to a one-di­men­sional dig­i­tal print.

I be­gan by print­ing the photo di­rectly on can­vas, omit­ting por­tions of the image as se­lected by the artist, who in turn in­ter­preted the miss­ing por­tions in his/her cho­sen medium on the same can­vas. The re­sults are land­scape il­lus­tra­tions that seam­lessly merge pho­tog­ra­phy and var­i­ous styles of paint­ing.

One of the high­lights of my trav­els across Canada was meet­ing and chat­ting with won­der­ful peo­ple. I soon dis­cov­ered the traits and char­ac­ter­is­tics that de­fine Cana­di­ans vary from prov­ince to prov­ince, and even within prov­inces, yet folks through­out the coun­try shared at­ti­tudes and ideals that de­fined them as uniquely Cana­dian.

On the road, I had sev­eral par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences, one of which oc­curred in St John’s, New­found­land. Fly­ing from Ed­mon­ton, I was met at the St. John’s air­port by René Pike, the tal­ented artist who agreed to rep­re­sent her prov­ince for the project. We had only com­mu­ni­cated with each other by email to this point. As she ap­proached me, I was cap­ti­vated by her youth and beauty, but was not ready for the dis­tinct, thick New­found­land ac­cent that en­veloped her greet­ing. I couldn’t help but chuckle,

but I soon found the ac­cent only added to her re­mark­able charm.

Next morn­ing, René and her hus­band, Marty, picked me up from the ho­tel be­fore dawn and handed me a fresh cup of cof­fee. We set off along the south­ern shore high­way of the Avalon Penin­sula seek­ing the per­fect photo-com­po­si­tion for our can­vas. The view was spec­tac­u­lar— the nat­u­ral beauty of the jagged cliffs and craggy shores, the end­less sky ex­tend­ing out over the At­lantic and teem­ing with seabirds be­yond count­ing. We en­joyed a won­der­ful drive, chat­ting and laugh­ing, ran­domly turn­ing off the high­way onto count­less old, well-worn trails that all led ul­ti­mately to the ocean.

I car­ried a back­pack con­tain­ing my lap­top, as well as sev­eral ex­pen­sive lenses and miscellaneous pho­tog­ra­phy equip­ment. On each beach and cove, René and Marty pa­tiently waited while I set up my tri­pod and shot away. We con­tin­ued along the high­way search­ing out spot af­ter spot. The hours flew by.

At one point, I looked around the back seat where I was sit­ting and, in hor­ror, dis­cov­ered my back­pack was miss­ing. My stom­ach sank. I had left the cam­era bag be­hind at one of the lo­ca­tions. I felt sick. How could I be so inat­ten­tive? In my own de­fence, I have to say that I was view­ing such marvel­lous scenery that get­ting lost in the mo­ment was easy. I had no idea where I had left it be­cause I had ended up us­ing the same lens

through­out the morn­ing shoot. René ex­uded calm­ness. She sug­gested that we sim­ply turn around, re­trace our route and find the bag. Dis­cour­aged, I was sure the bag, with all that ex­pen­sive gear, would surely be gone by now, and said as much. I didn’t want to waste any more of their time by go­ing on a wild goose chase. René as­sured me that I was in New­found­land, and who­ever found my equip­ment would re­turn it to me. I laughed ner­vously and pointed out that, even if that were true, I had no ID on or in the bag. It was gone.

Marty gra­ciously stopped to check for the bag at sev­eral lo­ca­tions on the way back to the city, but we never found it. They dropped me off at the ho­tel and told me not to worry, re­peat­ing, “This is New­found­land and some­one will find and re­turn your bag.” “Yeah, yeah, sure.”

I thanked them and shuf­fled into the ho­tel. Upset and dis- couraged, I lay down and closed my eyes, try­ing to calm down and clear my head. I sur­ren­dered to the fact that my equip­ment was lost, and tried to con­vince my­self to be grate­ful I still had my cam­era and main wide-an­gle lens. Af­ter a cou­ple of deep breaths, I re­al­ized that I should con­tact the po­lice depart­ment in case some­one found my bag and took it to the po­lice sta­tion. I walked down to the front desk and asked the clerk for the use the tele­phone and the num­ber of the lo­cal po­lice depart­ment. He looked up at me and asked if I was Ray Bel­court. When I told him I was, he ex­plained that a fish­er­man called from Mo­bile, a lit­tle town about half an hour from St. John’s, and said he had found my back­pack. I felt the world lift off my shoul­ders; I could have jumped over the counter and kissed that boy!

Ex­hil­a­rated, I im­me­di­ately called the fish­er­man who ex- plained he had gone down to the seashore that morn­ing, as he did ev­ery other morn­ing, to col­lect kelp for his com­poster. He dis­cov­ered the back­pack on the rocky shore. At first he fig­ured he should leave it, think­ing per­haps the owner would re­turn for it. He was a lit­tle leery, so when he found a ho­tel re­ceipt in the front pocket of the pack, he de­cided to take it home and call me. When I said I would drive to Mo­bile to pick it up, he said he was com­ing into St. John’s the next day to get gro­ceries; he would be happy to drop it off at the ho­tel—no bother. Thank­ing him for his ef­forts, I told him I was eter­nally grate­ful as I was be­side my­self for hav­ing lost it. I stood there for a minute af­ter hang­ing up, a silly grin on my face, think­ing how René and Marty were right. By God, this was New­found­land and some­one did re­turn my back­pack.

The fish­er­man and his wife de­liv­ered the bag as promised. I

shook the fish­er­man’s old weath­ered hand and thanked him again. To ex­press my grat­i­tude, I of­fered him a gift cer­tifi­cate for a steak and lob­ster sup­per at a lo­cal restau­rant. He said he couldn’t take it for do­ing some­thing any­one else would have done. I in­sisted, ex­plain­ing that it would make me happy if he did. Hes­i­tantly he ac­cepted the en­ve­lope and drove away, with a smile and a wave.

These acts of hos­pi­tal­ity, hon­esty and kind­ness by René, Marty and the fish­er­man are but a few of the traits ex­em­pli­fied by the peo­ple I met all across this great land. Cana­di­ans are of­ten de­scribed and en­vied by other na­tions as po­lite, car­ing, gen­er­ous peo­ple, ready to help oth­ers in need without hes­i­ta­tion. I have to agree.

My goal to share the beauty of our coun­try with the world in a fresh, new artis­tic form re­sulted in the pub­li­ca­tion of a book,

I am so thank­ful to the team of artists who had the courage to trust me, to forgo the norm and to share my vi­sion. I ded­i­cate this photo es­say to one artist in par­tic­u­lar, Ro­man Gierek, who passed away in 2013; his tal­ent, en­thu­si­asm and kind­ness will al­ways be cher­ished. And to all the other artists who took part, thank you; your tal­ent, ded­i­ca­tion and hard work are what made this project pos­si­ble. n

Far left: “Coun­try Wild­flow­ers B&B“(book cover) by Mo­hamed Hirji, Alta.; Left from top to bot­tom: “Mount Run­dle“by Darlene Adams, Alta.; “Emer­ald Lake“by Kathryn Mul­laney, B.C.; “Play­ing in the Wind“by Jen­nifer Walden, N.W.T.

Clock­wise from top left: “Of­frande au Grand Esprit” by Lise-marielle (Fortin), Que.; “Moon­stone House“by Gisèle Crites, Ont.; “Win­nipeg Sun­set“by Ro­man Gierek; Man.; “Ovide Barn“by Norm Krogstad, Sask.

Clock­wise from far left: “Fer­ry­land” by René Pike, N.L.; “Cap de Cocagne“by Claire Che­varie, N.B.; “Cavendish Winds“by Louise Mould, P.E.I; “Peggy’s Cove“by Dawn Oman, N.S.

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