The Living Grasslands By James R. Page
James R. Page has been shooting photos since the age of 12, when he received a plastic Kodak Brownie Starflex camera as a birthday present. He bought his first 35mm camera in 1964, and published his first photo in 1965 in a local newspaper in Quebec. Since then several thousand of his images have appeared online and in print media: books, magazines, calendars, cards, posters, and more. He was the photo columnist and features writer for the national magazine Explore from 1988 to 2000 and during that period taught the Nature & Wildlife course at the Western Academy of Photography in Victoria, BC. He has run independent photo workshops in both BC and Saskatchewan. His book, Wild Prairie, was published in 2005 by Greystone Books.
In recent years James R. Page has been official photographer for the Living Sky Pow Wow in Swift Current and is a regular contributor of photos to Prairies North magazine. Thanks to 25 years of wilderness backpacking, his knees aren’t what they used to be, but he believes that his eyes are better than ever. He lives in Val Marie.
James R. Page: “Out here on the living grasslands of southwestern Saskatchewan, everything is measured against the powerful, raw forces of nature, and to borrow a phrase from Lorna Crozier, everything is small beneath the sky. I’ve been photographing the wild prairie here for nearly twenty years: the landscapes, the critters, the plants, the rocks, the wetlands, the storms, the people… but most of all, the light. Prairie light is like no other light I have seen. Anywhere.
I’m always trying to get to the essence, the core. To photograph the prairie well, you have to come to terms with space. The spaces between things. The apparent nothingness between the lichen-encrusted, glacier-deposited rock at your feet and the buttes rising from a flat— but not really flat—horizon. Walk across that terrain and you quickly discover that it isn’t empty at all. Winter tracks on the frozen river tell you who has been by in the night; summer birdsong, frog chorus, and the wind itself welcome you to a place as primal and as sweet as any on earth.
Wild prairie captivated me the first time I experienced it, camping alone out in the newly created Grasslands National Park in the 1980s. It bowled me over like a feather in a 100 kph gust of wind, and it has never stopped. I hope it never will.”
Small Works From a Big Land
Early in 2019, a call went out to Saskatchewan artists, far and wide, inviting participation in a group exhibition. Every artist who responded would have at least one work included and the only restriction was one of size—all works were to be no larger than 9 x 12 inches.
Art events such as this always surprise and inspire, and provide an opportunity for beginning artists as well as more experienced ones. The work is as varied as the audience
“Desolate? Forbidding? There never was a country that in its good moments was more beautiful. Even in drought or dust storm or blizzard it is the reverse of monotonous once you have submitted to it with all the senses. You don’t get out of the wind, but learn to lean and squint against it. You don’t escape sky and sun, but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back. You become acutely aware of yourself. The world is very large, the sky even larger, and you are very small. But also the world is flat, empty, nearly abstract, and in its flatness you are a challenging upright thing, as sudden as an exclamation mark, as enigmatic as a question mark.
It is a country to breed mystical people, egocentric people, perhaps poetic people. But not humble ones. At noon the total sun pours on your head; at sunrise or sunset you throw a shadow a hundred yards long. It was not prairie dwellers who invented the indifferent universe of impotent man. Puny you may feel there, and vulnerable, but not unnoticed. This is a land to mark the sparrow’s fall.”
– Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow