One of the things I miss about working as a full-time commercial photographer is the access to people, places, and things that 'regular' people with cameras don't get. I've had my share of backstage passes for concerts, VIP passes for events, helicopter rides in remote places to photograph mining camps and industrial locations, flying with military search and rescue teams during airshows, and even brushes with well known celebrities and politicians. There are times I'd like to get back into it, but then I see a photographer working to get the 'perfect shot', and I think how glad I am that I can just enjoy my time at what ever function I find myself and not worry about deadlines. But there are times...
At times I think about what it must have been like for photographers in 1860. Location photography was new, it had only been around for about nine or ten years, and it was fairly expensive, dangerous and somewhat difficult. Not everyone had easy access to photography equipment either, so you could be fairly certain that if you were out photographing a seascape on the coast of Vancouver Island, you'd likely have the first photos from that area ever seen.
But I am sure the one thing that the photographers of the day didn't really worry too much about was access. If you could get there, you could probably set up your darkroom and camera, and photograph the scene, unhampered by the authorities (maybe not military fortifications, though) or selfie snapping tourists.
My first encounter with Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse was in the summer of 1999. My friend and I did a motorcycle trip from Winnipeg that summer, and one of the places we visited was this Parks Canada National Historic Site. For a boy from the prairies who had never seen the sea, that visit left an indelible mark on my memory. Fast forward nearly 20 years and I now live only a stones throw from the place that launched a thousand ships from my imagination. Whenever I see the lighthouse, with it's deep red brick house and the stark white tower set against the brilliant blue sky, I am transported, for just a moment, to the days of great adventure and exploration of the 19th century.
Ever since I took up wet plate photography in 2012 it has been in the back of my mind to photograph Fisgard Lighthouse. After all, the process was still in its infancy when the lighthouse was built, and Canada wasn't even a country yet, so what better place to photograph using this method, the method that was a witness to the birth of a nation. The trouble was access. I could set up on a nearby beach off the property, but I would not be able to fill the frame enough with the lens that I have. I needed to get closer. I let the idea go. But not completely.
I decided that I needed to put my previous commercial photography experience to use if I was ever going to gain access to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Through contacts I had at Colwood City Hall I managed to track down Sophie Lauro, the promotion officer for Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse. I told her of my intentions, what I needed, how the process works, and that I'd happily donate an original glass plate from the session to the Fisgard Archives. Less than 2 weeks later, I was on site making plates.
Perhaps access is not as easy as it was in 1860, but that is not always a bad thing. These places need to be preserved and cared for so that the next generation can launch the ships of their imagination as well.
Big thanks to Sophie Lauro and Parks Canada for granting me access to this amazing site, and to the City of Colwood for their support of arts in the community.