Point and shoot

The ’Peg’s photographers are recreating the city

Kyle Schappert. Photo by Alana Trachenko

Kyle Schappert. Photo by Alana Trachenko

“One of the things you need to learn as a photographer is perspective,” Kyle Schappert says. While he talks he’s setting up a photo with his camera an inch above the surface of a puddle. 

His distinctive reflection shots and of course, spinning steel wool photos have earned him mention in Maclean’s, and notoriety as one of Winnipeg’s top photographers. By day, he works at Day & Ross General Freight, and says he prefers to keep photography a hobby.

“If you just get out there and use your creativity and know your gear, you can always take cool pictures,” Schappert says. “You just have to see things a certain way.”

Finding that perspective in Winnipeg isn’t always easy. Skye Spence, 20, says small cities are challenging to shoot. 

“Finding new things is definitely the biggest challenge for me, but I also kind of consider that the challenge,” Spence says. For him, photography is all about doing what you can with what you have. The Tec Voc graduate prefers film for its laid-back and organic feel. 

“I try to go towards capturing imagery in the streets,” Spence says. “I like the challenge, like of photographing with an old Polaroid camera, seven megapixels, but the challenge is trying to get a good image out of that.”

When he’s not at his full-time job (unrelated to photography), Spence walks around neighbourhoods like The Exchange District hoping to capture a genuine moment. On a small digital camera, he points without looking through the viewfinder and hopes for the best.

“You can make the downtown Exchange look like New York City because there’s so much heritage to this city,” he says. “I try to chase a story in every photograph.”

Like Spence, Schappert doesn’t overdo it with equipment. In fact, his tagline is one man, one camera, one lens. It’s a less expensive approach and it keeps his backpack light when he’s hopping over fences or across train tracks. 

He says people often comment on his photos that they show Winnipeg in a completely different light, whether it’s the Canadian Museum for Human Rights or a wall of street art. Where many of us drive through the same neighbourhoods every day, Schappert and Spence park the car and walk, as much explorers as they are technicians.

Photo by Skye Spence

Skye Spence. Photo by Alana Trachenko

Skye Spence. Photo by Alana Trachenko

“Right now, I get off work and it’s the golden hour,” Schappert says. “You never know when you’re going to get your next best photo of a sunset.”

“There’s this back alley I found last week,” Spence says. “It had an LED light that was shining down a blue wall… it was a 30 minute drive there but I got a great image out of it and I enjoyed it, and I can use it as a portfolio piece.

“My time is so cheap… some people prioritize their time too much and they don’t take those (chances). I take as much as I can get.” 

Spence’s style is characterized by clean, simple lines and high-contrasting minimalism. With only a destination in mind, he brings little to no expectation to a shoot and lets the camera do most of the work. 

Our skyline may not hold a candle to some, but as these photographers know, that doesn’t matter. 

“There’s a whole city out there and it’s growing and it’s getting big,” Schappert says. “We’re getting on these lists now, ‘Top 20 cities to visit – Winnipeg,’ cause of this and that and the other thing, but then there’s me, who’s exploring the underbelly… and the nice spots, I do it all.”

For Schappert, it’s about painting the whole picture – the good, the bad and the ugly and in the end, even the ugly is still a matter of perspective.

“It’s all one piece, present it in its entirety… I get people saying ‘I work outside this building and I’ve never seen it this way,’ so that’s a pretty special thing to do. Totally influential. I’ve done jobs where I’ve had a big influence, but never as much as photography.”

The city’s not only getting big on Buzzfeed lists, it’s also becoming known for its art and photography scenes and – yes, really – how cool it looks on social media. Winnipeg photographers are making it their job to make the city look as interesting as possible.

“People have sent me messages saying, ‘I want to see this city,’” Schappert says. “People from Sacramento, Chicago… It’s kind of competitive where people are competing for likes with your community so that’s one of the influences to make the city look its best, put the images out there and go hey guys, this is Winnipeg. You probably don’t know, but Randy Bachman’s from here and Neil Young used to live here for a bit, but that’s besides the fact that it’s actually a cool city.” 

For Spence, it’s also a place to develop his career alongside the city’s entrepreneurs. He currently shoots for a burgeoning clothing company. 

“I’m working for like $50 bucks a shoot but I see the potential that they have and the drive,” he says. “Working for this can evolve into something bigger later because they want to keep me as their photographer… later on if they become a bigger business, I’ll be a part of that.” 

For Schappert, photography has been a way to discover the city’s history and not-oft-seen present. He’s been able to connect with several graffiti artists as well as other influential photographers in the city. 

While walking through South Point Douglas he shares, “Even though these buildings are old and decrepit, people are still using them for entertainment or there’s photographers who are looking to go in there and creep around and document it… and then there’s other people who just want to get on top of the building, and take photos of their feet dangling.” 

Follow Skye Spence at @skyespance and Kyle Schappert at @kyleschappert on Instagram.

Published in Volume 70, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 31, 2016)

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