This photograph was taken on an old abandoned homestead in the area of Virden, Manitoba, a couple of hours outside of Winnipeg. I have been photographing criminals in all their criminal glory (I’ve been a cop since 1998 and undercover since 2002) for the better part of a decade. I decided to make the shift away from “action” photography and started to move back to landscapes about four years ago. I have talked before about the technical specs of this image (MIller Farm & Coach House… Canon 5D Classic, EF 20-35mm at 20mm and F11 with a Circular Polarizing filter with two images hand blended in CS5), but I haven’t really mentioned why it is that I decided to pick up my camera in the first place.I grew up in a middle class home, the second son of an Irishman and a Filipino. To stereotype my background, I often joke that I have a strong propensity to want to feed you and take care of your kids, but I’ll probably drink all of your booze and beat up your neighbour. My Dad was considerably older than my Mom and I was born when he was 53 years old. As a youngster, I never really thought about age. I guess it was just nice having my Dad around all of the time. He retired at 63 so from the time I was 10, he was always there. My Mom was a nurse in ICU and even though she worked full time, she still came home on no sleep and made sure that we were clothed, fed and loved. My dad, as he liked to say, had 20% vision in his right eye and was 80% blind in the other… an injury he received fighting in Europe during World War Two. He never complained about his vision and I still have the memories of him reading the Free Press with a magnifying glass and muttering about the stupid politicians, while listening to CJOB news radio over toast and coffee.
My Dad, even though he was 91 years old, maintained his character. I remember one night a couple of years ago, hearing the floor creaking and rustling around in the kitchen at about 2AM. I went out to see what was going on, and found my Dad’s walker in the middle of the kitchen. He was in the pantry munching away on cookies and he turned around and with a mouth full of crumbs said, “Uh oh… better not tell your mother!” He looked like a raccoon looking for treasures. I told him it would be our little secret (that everyone in the family knew about) and I put him back to bed.
In late September, 2011, my wife and I went back to Winnipeg to spend some time with my family for my birthday. My pops’ health was declining and he had been pretty much bed ridden for the previous 3 years. My Mom, in a true show of devotion and love, never left his side, never complained about not being able to travel because she wouldn’t leave him alone and cared for him night and day until the day he died. On the last night of our trip, my wife woke me up in the middle of the night and said, “Did you hear that? The whole house just shook.” I sat up and listened, and my heart sank when I heard my Dad calling for my Mom. He had tried to get up to get some cookies, lost his footing and fell. I ran in and found him on the ground in obvious pain. After we got him back into bed, I sat with him for awhile, and even though he was in excruciating pain, he joked about those damn cookies. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
Back in Vancouver, I hoped that my Dad just bruised himself and that he would be okay, but deep down I feared the worst. My Mom updated me frequently in the next few days, telling me how she hadn’t seen him have the appetite he had and even though he was sore, he was in good spirits. Then it all changed. One day he turned blue and starting vomiting. My Mom took him to the hospital and our worst fears were realized when we found out that my Dad’s hip was shattered. She told me that she didn’t think he had much time left and that I should come home right away. I was in Winnipeg the next morning.
One of the fondest memories that I have of my Dad was from when I was 19 and playing football for the St Vital Mustangs. I was a running back, and after juking and spinning, I broke free for a long touchdown (don’t worry, this isn’t an Al Bundy story about my athletic prowess). As I trotted off the field, I looked up and saw my Dad talking to one of the other parents. I could see him mouth “What happened?”. The other parent must have explained what happened and pointed my Dad’s vision in my direction. I had never seen my Dad so happy. He couldn’t actually see what I had done, but it was the proudest I ever saw him. I wished he could have seen me and from that day on I never took my vision for granted. It wasn’t until many years later that it all started to make sense to me. My inability to express myself, my repression of feelings… they needed an outlet. I started to see the world in a different light, and I found that I was able to capture feelings and moods through a lens and a digital sensor.
I guess I am fortunate. I had a chance, before it was too late to thank him for being the best Dad I could ever hope for. Before he slipped too far into pain killers and dementia, he weakly reached over, searched for my hand with his and puckered his lips. I took his hand and moved my cheek to his and faintly… barely understandable he told me he loved me and gave me a kiss. That was the last thing he ever said to me. We sat there holding hands for an hour until he finally fell asleep. Two days later, while sitting in his room with my brother and sister, listening to him labouring to breathe, I saw a single tear roll down his cheek. I told my brother to wake up my Mom and tell her it was time. A couple of minutes later, with his wife and children holding him, he died. It was unceremonious and inescapable.
As I stood in an abandoned field taking this photograph, listening to the The National “About Today”, I was completely caught up in the moment.“Tonight… you just…. close your eyes…” Click “and I just watch you…. slip away…” Click “hey… are you awake? Yeah, I’m right here, well can I ask you…” Click “about today…how close am I…. to losing you?” echoed behind me from my rental car and I realized that there were tears streaming down my face.
This image represents more than just a photograph that I like to look at. It isn’t the best resolution, it isn’t the best location and it isn’t the best composition that I’ve done. But it forced me to understand that you can leave no regrets, live your life to the fullest, chase your dreams no matter what they are and ask yourself….
What inspires you?