A new look at our city

Photographer explores Winnipeg on his blog

Photos from New Home/Same Home.

Photos by Adam Kelly

Adam Kelly, a University of Winnipeg student, has created a blog celebrating Winnipeg’s less seen side.

The Uniter caught up with the photographer and artist to learn more about his project, New Home/Same Home (NH/SH).

The Uniter (U): These photos were obviously taken over the span of a few months. Did you have this series in mind from the first photo, or did it form around a series of already completed shoots?

Adam Kelly (AK): The idea for this series started to materialize for me over the winter break. I had some time on my hands so I did a lot of shooting and exploring. I spent a lot of time driving from place to place walking through these places. That's when I noticed how much Winnipeg has changed in my eyes. At the same time I noticed that I had a lot of shots from around Winnipeg that I hadn't shown anyone, mostly because I knew they wouldn’t' be well received on a platform like Instagram. I wanted a reason to put those photos out into the world and a desire to write a piece about my outlook on Winnipeg, so this project seemed like a solution to both of those things.

U: What was the process for this series? Did you set out on adventures tailored to the kind of photos you want, or did you just let the photos flow naturally from things you were already experiencing?

AK: It was a bit of both. Some days I knew exactly what I wanted to get and other days I just walked outside with my camera in hand and hoped for the best. I explored so that I wouldn’t get bored and hate Winnipeg after traveling. Often I would see a picture of somewhere I didn’t recognize on Instagram and decide that I was going to try to find it. It was never with the intention of creating a series like this though. It was just me seeking out new places that would challenge the way that I take pictures and give me a chance to apply the technical knowledge I had been learning from books.

A photo from New Home/Same Home. 

U: Many of the shots in NH/SH would be unrecognizable to most Winnipeggers, and you explicitly state that you "want to make this place look alien." How did you have to change your outlook of the city to find these unfamiliar places?

AK: I tried to see the city knowing that my view of it is incredibly limited. We may think we know this place super well, but more often than not we just have mastered the portions of it that we interact with. I try to always think as if there's something amazing hiding in that place I’ve never been before and see everything as worth exploring. When you live in a city for long enough you get comfortable and you think you know it like the back of your hand. I think that that comfort limits us and in that we let ourselves get bored. It kills your wonder.

U: Your series is premised on challenging the social meme of shitting on Winnipeg. However, the most prominent cultural explorations of Winnipeg-hating (such as John K. Samson's One Great City! and Brian Scott’s Winnipeg Love Hate blog) tend to focus on the constructed as opposed to the natural. Why did you choose to subvert this trend?

AK: Because to me the natural side of things is the part that really makes Winnipeg unique. Winnipeg has so much natural beauty that people forget about when they're bemoaning how much this city sucks. I think there's definitely a connection between hating Winnipeg and getting caught up in thinking about the constructed aspects of this city. Because if that's what you’re looking at, it's only a matter of time before you start comparing us to the bigger Canadian cities and Winnipeg loses out a lot of the time in that battle.

But that doesn’t mean that this place isn’t beautiful or a fantastic place to live. I truly enjoy it here, despite that we may not be as big as Vancouver or Toronto and I’m super OK with that. Winnipeg's size and economy encourage a lot of really beautiful, unique things that I would take any day over other cities.

U: It could be said of what you express in your series that your love for Winnipeg lies mostly in the bits of nature not yet overtaken by concrete. Do you agree? Why or why not?

AK: Yes and no. While I think that natural space is extremely important for a whole stack of reasons, I don’t stop seeing Winnipeg as beautiful once I leave my neighbourhood park. I had a bunch of pictures taken downtown that I decided not to put in this series. While this project ended up focusing on nature, that doesn’t mean I dislike the urbanized aspects of Winnipeg. A collection of pictures taken in the more metropolitan parts of Winnipeg is something I’ve had in mind for a little while now. We'll see if I end up putting it together.

U: Which location or experience took you most by surprise?

A photo from New Home/Same Home.

AK: I shot this in a park west of Kenaston, just south of IKEA. My friend and I had decided to take pictures but didn't know where we wanted to go. After deciding to go to the Assiniboine Forest and then taking a wrong turn because we're idiots, we stumbled across this enormous field with a hill in the distance (you can see this same hill from Kenaston). We decided to attempt to get to the hill before dusk. We quickly realized we wouldn’t make it so we started running and I let him sprint ahead of me long enough to take this picture. I had no idea this space was there and I’m still not sure if it was private property. I’ve been driving up and down Kenaston my whole life not knowing this beautiful space existed and if we hadn't gotten a little lost we still wouldn’t.

U: What steps would you recommend to the average Winnipeg-hater to tap into some of the beauty you've been able to discover in this city?

AK: The thing I ask when I’m looking for new places is "where  aren't people going." I try to find abandoned or overgrown places. I think that's a really good start. Getting acquainted with the way Winnipeg would look if we weren’t living all over it is a cool awareness to have.

U: Your work was recently featured on From Here & Away, a photography initiative that promotes local artists. Has the increased connection to the city you speak to in the series allowed you to better connect with local artistic communities?

AK: Too soon to tell. I doubt it though. One of the things that makes From Here & Away special is that it can connect people without their work yet being featured on the site through the programs they host. The people I’ve met through their programming have been really encouraging and inspiring, I’m super grateful for those friendships. I highly encourage anyone who's even vaguely interested in what they do to check From Here & Away out and go to one of the events. Making friends who share a love for photography has been a huge help to my progression. It's a great way to get out, find new places and learn from others.

A photo from New Home/Same Home.

U: Are you thinking of expanding on this series beyond the two parts you've released so far? Can we look forward to an exhibition or book down the line?

AK: This is all so new to me, I'm really not sure! NH/SH was my first big project as a photographer. I want to keep trying new things, challenging myself and creating content, but as far as my next big goal goes, at this point, I’m not sure. Doing something bigger like putting a book or exhibition together would be really exciting, but I think I want to wait a while and allow myself to get better first.

At this point I think it's important for me to take a step back and just keep exploring and shooting what inspires me. Another project/idea will come and in the meantime I'm just going to keep trying to challenge myself.

U: What's next on the docket for you?  

AK: I’ve got a handful of ideas in mind right now. Over Reading Week I'm hoping to get to work planning them out and making them more concrete. While NH/SH was a project about places and landscapes, a lot of what inspires me is photos of people, so my next projects might have more to do with that. More than anything my plan is to keep trying new things and learning.

U: Any final words you want to add about the series?

AK: The level of response and positive energy I’ve received about this project was seriously unexpected. I want to thank anyone who's taken the time to give me feedback or start a conversation around what I talked about in this series. The fact that this is something that people can relate to is very cool and I’m really grateful for that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Published in Volume 70, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 18, 2016)

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