Recently, the Economist reported that living in cities can heavily stimulate parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. So even though 80 percent of Canadians live in urban areas, it’s perhaps not surprising that we continue to seek out the wilderness—whether as image, ideal or intermittent vacation spot.
Such phenomena weave through the work of emerging Canadian photographer Mike Andrew McLean. Raised in Lethbridge and based in Victoria, McLean worked for three years on Range, a series that explores our relationships to some of the world’s most-visited wilderness areas—Banff, Jasper, Yoho and the rest of Canada’s mountain national parks.
“It began as an excuse to just go out to this beautiful part of the world,” admits McLean via email, “and eventually developed into a series that I hope contemplates our relationship to these places, and why we feel so compelled to take photographs there.”
Though McLean’s sites are among some of the globe’s most photographed, his series began with a rare conceptual condition—that he would only create portraits of people encountered by chance on remote mountain peaks. Often, this meant camping out with 40 pounds of camera equipment for periods of several hours. Later, McLean’s project broadened to document general evidence of human activity in the parks, like patrol cabins, data receivers, signage, gates, bridges, railways, helicopter pads and weather stations.
The results are part picture postcard, part analytical anthropology—an uncommon combination.
“Historically, the Rocky Mountains and their neighbouring ranges have filled many roles in Western Canada,” writes McLean on his website. “The landscape has helped to shape a collective identity, provided seasonal work opportunities, and offered recreational pleasures to countless visitors. But the histories of the Mountain National Parks are as varied as this geographic terrain.”
In addition to Range’s summer-long showing at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, McLean’s work can also be viewed to July 30 in “Proof 18,” a group show of emerging photographers at Gallery 44 in Toronto, and from July 8 to September 5 in “Cultural, Temporal and Imagined,” a show of landscape in recent contemporary acquisitions at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.