Photographers' Blog

The last theater in town

Powell River, Canada

By Andy Clark

As far back as I can remember, history has always fascinated me. Though my specialty as an amateur historian has been military history, just about anything that occurred prior to my birth has had my undivided attention. Recently while having a coffee with a friend, he mentioned he had been to a town north of Vancouver called Powell River and had happened to visit a local movie theater. He went on to say matter of factly, that the theater had been continuously running since it was built many years ago.

“Stop right there,” I said. “Did you take any pictures of the place?” Yes, he had and he pulled out his laptop to show me.

Powell River is a small community on the British Columbia Sunshine Coast and accessible only by water. To get there requires about two hours travel by car and a couple of hours crossing on two different ferries from Vancouver. The town was born around 1910 after a pulp and paper mill was built beginning in 1908. At one time the Powell River Company Mill was the largest of its kind in the world supplying paper to one out of every 25 newspapers in the world. In 1913, a small wooden theater was built to offer the locals entertainment that included silent movies, vaudeville shows and even local boxing matches. The town’s people decided to have a naming contest for the theater leaving their suggestions in a ballot box at the company store. A very popular public figure in Canada at the time was Princess Patricia of Connaught, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Princess Patricia was living in Canada at the time while her father The Duke of Connaught served as Governor General in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Thus, the new theater was named the Patricia.

A new building was constructed in 1928 to replace the original tall narrow theater known to shake and rattle in high wind. It even had bats darting around in the ceiling during performances, forcing the audience to duck and cover their heads. In July 1928, workers broke ground on the new place. But this time, the building was constructed of brick, mortar and stucco. Four months later on November 6 the new Patricia Theatre opened for business. Eighty-five years later almost to the day on a dark and damp evening, I showed up at the Patricia.

As most photographers know, assignments can look or sound good on paper but until you actually get there and see, one never knows for sure. I had gathered a pretty good idea from my friend’s photos and after chatting with the current owner Ann Nelson by phone the theater sounded like a real gem of history. I was not to be disappointed. Just walking up to the theater for the first time was like stepping through a rift in time. The inside was another world. Mural paintings on the wall, wooden trim and of course the rows of old theater seats from the private boxes in the back to the foot of stage. Across the stage hung the original curtain still in place. Made to order in Seattle and shipped by boat one would not have been surprised if Al Jolson himself had stepped from behind the French Velvet to sing a song or two.

The gunfighters

Aldergrove, Canada

By Andy Clark

The hot mid-day sun beat down as the fellow nervously checked his Ruger Blackhawk single action revolver. Spinning the chamber and checking the hammer mechanism several times he then slipped the gun smoothly in and out of his holster sitting low on his hips. Adjusting his Stetson he looked up and said “I may be nervous, but I am ready”. Stepping into position he slightly bent his knees and placed his partially open right hand over the holster, while his flattened left hand crossed over his stomach and balanced just above the hammer of the gun. Only yards away his opponent stepped into his position and took a similar stance. A split second later there was a deafening and almost simultaneous boom as both guns spit fire, creating a large cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air. It was over. There lying on the ground was not some poor soul but rather the tattered remains of two yellow balloons, both gunfighters checked their guns, holstered them and prepared for the next round.

As you have gathered this was not some scene from the late 19th century in a dusty town of the American wild west but rather, a modern day competition, taking place at the annual Canadian Open Fast Draw Championships in Aldergrove, about an hour east of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The present day Fast Draw competition was born from the Hollywood myth of the western gunfighter. The terms “gunfighter” or “gun slinger” are actually movie and literary terms of the 20th century and were not used in the old west. In the 1950s and early 1960s TV westerns were very popular with large audiences and the Hollywood studios began promoting some of their stars as the fastest guns. One actor, Hugh O’Brien, who portrayed Wyatt Earp in a television series even hired a coach and challenged other Hollywood actors. The beginnings of today’s modern competition are credited to a stuntman, a trick shooter named Dee Woolem who designed a timer to measure the quick draws and in 1954 the first Fast Draw competition was held.

The turkey shoot

Vancouver, Canada

By Andy Clark

It was a cold, damp autumn day, as I remember it, sitting in a cinder block bunker terrified I was going to loose my hand as I loaded black clay disks into the machine in front of me. Seconds later I would hear a muffled voice shout, and the machine’s springs and mechanism would suddenly and violently let go, flinging the disk out of the bunker followed by another muffled boom, boom. I would then quickly lean down, take another disk from the box and gingerly place it in the machine. It was at this point my fear would take over, worried one of the distant voices would shout too soon and thus catch and propel my severed hand out of the bunker instead of the disk. Of course this never happened and once I got the rhythm, my fear slowly subsided, well sort of.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: SHOOTING CANADA

I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I was helping out at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at the local Trap Shooting Club just outside Ancaster, Ontario. Each year the contest was held on the weekend before the holiday as a dozen or so members, including my dad, all vied to hit the most clay pigeons and go home with a freshly cleaned turkey donated by a local farmer. Though my dad and grandfather had versed me well in the handling of guns by that age I was still too young to take part so was therefore drafted to load the machine.

That was a long time ago now, but something I thought about as I made my way to the Vancouver Gun Club in Richmond, British Columbia recently. This was the first of two visits to gun ranges I had organized as part of Reuters pictures series on guns. The Vancouver Gun Club dates back to 1924 and is nestled amongst farmland on 39 acres of open and wooded property. The outdoor range is shotgun only and offers trap, skeet and Olympic trap shooting. It also has sporting clays plus another type of shotgun sport shooting called Five Stand. The club has an annual membership of about 400 but also offers day passes to non-members.

Fishing for fins

Off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada

By Ben Nelms

Last year, Canada became home to the first shark fishery in the world that was labeled with a Marine Stewardship Council certification. This is an internationally recognized certification that lists the B.C Spiny Dogfish Shark industry as ‘certified sustainable seafood.’ The fishery is located in the Pacific waters of Canada, off the coast and around Vancouver Island.

I spent a handful of nights on a commercial fishing boat called the Ocean Sunset. We departed from the small village of Ucluelet, which is on the Western shores of Vancouver Island. The only thing I forgot on land was my sea legs.

GALLERY: SHARK FISHING

After a few hours of rough swells, the sea got the better of me and I was ‘feeding the fish’ as the crew would say. This was terrible for two reasons; Firstly, anyone who has been seasick on a commercial fishing boat knows that the environment is cramped, restless and rotting fish bait surrounds you. Secondly, after working to get access to this boat for nearly two months, I knew I couldn’t stop documenting life on the boat just because I was sick.

Tales from a rare bookstore

By Andy Clark

The book immediately caught my eye. It was small, about the size of a deck of cards, but twice the thickness, and there was no question it was very old. It sat in a pile of other aged publications that had just arrived at MacLeod’s Books in downtown Vancouver. It looked fragile as I picked it up and opened to the title page. “Wow!”, I said.

I had been in MacLeod’s Books about five or six hours at that point, not to search for any rare or out of print books but to do a day in the life photo essay on the 50-year-old used book store. The store originally opened in the early 1960s but in 1973 a young Don Stewart bought the place and has been there ever since.

I had been in the store once before about five years ago while waiting for an assignment to begin nearby. Once inside I was in awe of the thousands of books I saw. Unfortunately, duty called and I left shortly after. Well maybe I am fibbing a bit here. I love books, always have, and when I got a glimpse of the inside I had to turn and walk out, right then. If I hadn’t I would have been in there for hours, my assignment forgotten and my wallet considerably lighter. I promised myself I would return and thought this place might even make a pretty good photo story.

High octane and a Princess

By Andy Clark

Swatting away a swarm of pesky summertime mosquitoes, I walked down a quiet country road shaded by rows of elderly trees. You could say, it was any ordinary rural road except for one thing. Parked amongst the trees was a collection of battle-scared and brightly colored stock cars. All tethered onto trailers and pulled behind pickup trucks, the collection of road warriors and their owners waited patiently for the gates to open for another Saturday night at Agassiz Speedway.

SLIDESHOW: HIGH OCTANE RACING

Built in 1970 the speedway is a quarter mile oval track nestled into the side of Agassiz Mountain about 90 minutes drive east of Vancouver, British Columbia. Owned and operated by the non-profit Kent Raceway Society the track hosts about 12 races a season beginning in April and running through to late October.

I have always enjoyed car racing. I spent, though a few said mis-spent, some of my formative teenage youth on darkened summer highways north of Toronto in the late 1960s, riding in muscle cars and drag racing until either the wee hours of the morning or the cops chased us away. Though I witnessed a horrendous accident one night while racing I still look back on those times with fond memories.

Old people and their parents

By Andy Clark

Arriving outside the main gates I couldn’t help but notice there were no crowds of spectators milling around or scalpers shouting their prime seat tickets for sale, in fact all was very quiet. It was roughly 7:45am and besides a couple of birds singing in the trees and a dog barking somewhere out of sight it appeared I was completely alone. My sudden fears of the wrong day and or wrong place were soon quelled as I entered the gates and walked down a small path. There before me was the field of play and scattered across it were the players warming up and preparing for the first day of competition at the fifth annual Pacific Cup Croquet Tournament.

Yes that is correct folks, I said croquet. Several months ago I was searching for a website totally unrelated and for reasons only Google knows, up came a page with a detailed list of the 2012 croquet tournaments across North America. Before I could click the page away, I remembered seeing some interesting images from a tournament at least 25 years ago and thought, I wonder. Sure enough listed halfway down the page was the Vancouver Croquet Club’s fifth annual Pacific Cup.

Like many people, the only croquet I know is what one may have played in their backyard as a child, known as Golf Croquet. The croquet I was about to witness was nothing like that. The game played during the tournament was the full international version known as Association Croquet. I can report that even after it was explained to me on several occasions combined with watching it for three days, all I know is that it involves two players and each match runs just over two hours. In fact my ignorance of the sport became clear on the first day of competition. I had settled down on a bench along the sidelines to watch a couple of players warming up, hoping to get any idea of what to expect once play began. After about 40 minutes I thought this was an unusually long warm up. I approached an elderly fellow nearby and asked when the game might get underway. With a look of disbelief the gentleman replied “they have been playing for 30 minutes”.

Photographing elusive killer Karla Homolka

By Zoran Milic
Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own

It’s late May and I’m still crouched in a Caribbean bush, hours away from the streets of New York City, wondering how did I end up here and why? Just last week I was shooting New York Yankee Derek Jeter for a sports cover and next week I’m booked to spend a week with a horse that could become a Triple Crown winner. But today in the sizzling heat, it’s a different type of subject in front of my long sports lens; I’m waiting for one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, Karla Homolka, to show her face.

I’m waiting for the blonde killer who simply vanished in 2007 after spending just 12 years in prison for the death of two teenagers. Homolka drugged her own 15-year-old sister, Tammy Lyn, so she and her then-fiance, Paul Bernardo, could take her virginity. She protected serial rapist Bernardo as he terrorized young women, even luring some to her home. Then, Homolka plotted alongside him to kidnap, drug, rape, torture and eventually kill three teenage girls, including her sister. She talked the courts into a “sweetheart deal” and is free while Bernardo is in prison for life. (Homolka never faced charges in the drugging-sex-assault death of her sister). Psychiatric experts couldn’t agree on her diagnosis or predict if she’d kill again. Many citizens were just happy to hear she may have left Canada.

I’d been horrified by the serial killers at the time, but now that I am a devoted father, I have an even higher level of horror. Part of me didn’t want to think about the dead girls, but I understood perfectly why investigative reporter Paula Todd was worried. I’d worked with Todd before and trusted her implicitly. She’d found online reports that the “Barbie Killer” was now teaching school in the Caribbean and I shared her fear that as journalists we had an ethical obligation to find out. Many other reporters had tried to find the elusive killer and failed. But Todd is a smart, inexhaustible ace investigator. Todd not only found the killer but succeeded in spending a tension-filled hour with her. What she learned is detailed in “Finding Karla: How I Found An Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered A Mother of Three“. Now, it was up to me to attempt the near impossible: photograph the elusive Homolka after she knew Todd had found her.

A close encounter of the equine kind

By Andy Clark

“Hey bud, don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” the guy behind the counter said after I answered his query as to where I was headed.

I had stopped to grab a coffee along highway 97, about a five-hour drive north into the mountains from Vancouver. My destination was the town of Falkland, named after a career British soldier, Colonel Falkland GE Warren who had settled in the area in 1892. The reason for my visit was to photograph an annual event very popular with those living in the area, named the 94th Annual Falkland Stampede. One of the oldest rodeos in Canada, the stampede began as a community picnic in March of 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War months earlier. Each year as the event grew, area residents gathered to enjoy local cowboys riding broncos and in 1969 the little stampede was sanctioned as a professional rodeo.

I first became aware of the Stampede while covering forest fires in 2003 just north of the area. I had seen a very weathered sign by a roadside and thought it might be worth looking into as a photo essay. Nine years went by, with me forgetting about the Stampede until the end of the event, until I finally arranged to shoot it.

Royal media circus comes to Canada

The last few days have been frantic to say the least as part of the traveling media circus following William and Kate across Canada.

There are no media charter flights on this particular tour which means that in order to stay apace with the couple’s Canadian airforce jet we are constantly having to decide which events to shoot whilst leaving us enough time to dash to the airport to get our scheduled flights.

This is a nightmare, as you just never know where the picture will happen and you are making decisions based purely on pre-tour briefings and judgment. Fortunately, we are blessed with a hugely talented pool of local photographers in Canada who can still provide coverage at events whilst I race to the airport repacking my kit as I go.

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