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Where is Fort McMurray?

May 22, 2009 by Darishma


YDC 2008 graduate Andriko Lozowy has been working in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on a project that enables youth to find an expression of voice and place through the art of photography.  This is his lens on the  project and the role of light in changing and illluminating the images and the work.


The shutter goes click.

Inside the black-box resides an image in transition.

The students smile and look up at me with half confused expressions on their radiant faces. I smile back and encourage them to trust in the process and the mystery of photography and light.

Pablo Picasso remarked that painting is another way to keep a diary. I suggest that photography does the work of self-reflection as well. At present I am stationed in Fort McMurray, Alberta, working with high school aged youth towards creating a photographic exposition of select images. There is a swiftness and careful cultivation of imagination towards vision and expression. I am asking a wide range of youth from the high schools in this community to engage in a process of growth, leadership, as well as artistic and personal development.

The project at hand is not unlike the film Born Into Brothels, the general idea is ‘Kids with cameras.’ The difference is that the youth I am working with are between 14 and 18 years old rather than 7- 14. The premise is as such: present the idea of a photography project to youth in high school classrooms, alert them to the opportunity to pursue a creative endeavor wherein their voice is of utmost value, encourage them to attend a meeting at which time they will be introduced to Digital Single Lens Reflex photography and some basic techniques, allow them to articulate their ideal vision, and help them to achieve their goal photographically.

The Shutter

Fort McMurray

Photography has long been a mode of expression and articulation for me. I recall a Satsang talk at Yasodhara Ashram around Christmas (click here to see the video of that satsang) – Swami Radhananda spoke about her own experience with the camera and more specifically with light. She noted that when she began to actively photograph light her own vision changed. She began to take note of the subtle changes, the difference that light itself made as it showered and illuminated things with fine detail. For me, this articulation of the light as a changing force helped to uplift my own thoughts about the importance of subtle changes in luminance of light itself. The challenge for me has been to encourage youth to begin to take note of light as a manifestation of energy.

When I ask the participants to select their favorite images, the ones that they feel best respond to the question above, I have been very impressed by their grasp of light and contrast, as well as their ability to verbally articulate their own thoughts and emotive responses. In these moments I am reminded of the Divine Light Invocation – by focusing on the light we are training our minds, bodies and spirits through cultivating our imaginations, growing towards unity. In a similar sense I am acting like a pragmatic guide, asking the students to focus on the light, the way it changes, the way it changes that which it illuminates, and the way it may affect the way we feel and think.

This project is born of inspiration towards a focus on light. Photography is the act of playing with light and without it there is no image. Through my work and commitment to mentoring youth towards pursuing visual representations of everyday life in Fort McMurray, my intentions are focused towards the subtlety of light at all times. The shutter goes click and light inspires truth.


To follow the goings on of this project in progress, join the group “Where is Fort McMurray” on facebook. In the coming weeks we will be working towards an exposition of prints as well as an online gallery.


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  1. An interesting aspect of this project is that there are many places around Fort McMurray where photography is not allowed. The tar sands operate under cover of darkness. May this project plant seeds of light which grow to banish the shadows.

    Comment by Ben Johnson — May 25, 2009 @ 11:24 am

  2. Hi Ben, thank you for the enlightening response. Just this weekend I had a chance to be part of a ‘Wood Buffalo tourism’ Suncor Tour. The tour guidelines specified that video and audio recording was not allowed, but photographs were allowed. The tour offered some views that are certainly not visible as a regular civilian because the areas are marked and fenced as private property.

    My general sense is that around Fort McMurray most folks feel that the images made by Peter Essick for NG and Edward Burtynsky paint the operations in a very negative light. Another comment that I have heard many times is that the Aerial images of the Tar/Oil Sands ‘are not Fort McMurray.’

    The purpose of this project is towards giving the youth that live here in ‘Fort McMurray’ an opportunity to have a voice, and speak to, and in relation to the images that travel – for instance I ask the youth to consider the images that appear when they use Google to query ‘Fort McMurray’ images.

    And yes, to return to the question – I am yet to encounter youth who have come up against places blocked from vision.

    In light.

    Comment by Andriko — May 25, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

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