Art Beat – OOE Artist Feature: Activism Through Artphotographers Jake Morrison and Jim Lamont

Cover of the political portrait book We Stand With The Trees: Portraits of Trees and Their Defenders, release in May of 2022. Photo by Jake Morrison

Cover of the political portrait book We Stand With The Trees: Portraits of Trees and Their Defenders, release in May of 2022. Photo by Jake Morrison

Tanis Browning-Shelp

Photographer Jake Morrison and his partner Jane Keeler care deeply about Ottawa’s green space. In Old Ottawa East (OOE), Morrison curated the rotating photographic gallery at The Green Door Restaurant for several months leading up to the pandemic. Two of Morrison’s landscape photographs now grace the walls of the restaurant’s permanent gallery. When Morrison and Keeler learned that hundreds of trees were to be cut down for the new Civic Hospital development, they resolved to act. Keeler came up with the idea of reaching people through Morrison’s art.

Artistic Activism combines the creative power of the arts to move people emotionally with the strategic planning of activism required to bring about social change. Morrison and Keeler began by distributing notices inviting people to get their portraits taken with an endangered tree at an endangered park. Sittings were available by appointment.

“In late 2021, 50 Ottawa citizens showed up to have their portraits taken with the endangered trees in Queen Juliana Park and the Campus portion of the Central Experimental Farm,” Morrison says. “Some were from ReImagine Ottawa, some were connected to the Botanica condos across from the Farm, and some were from other parts of the city.”

The result was the political portrait book We Stand With The Trees: Portraits of Trees and Their Defenders. Released in May of 2022, the book calls for Ottawa to protect its green space. “Ottawa is losing its urban old growth to a lack of green-space planning and protection, exacerbated by the lack of coordination between the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal urban planners,” Morrison says. “Many OOE and OOS residents visit and appreciate these 53 acres of park in the heart of Ottawa’s green leisure space.”

“Jane and I set out hoping to save these parks, but we also wanted to organize to save and expand the green space in Ottawa. Climate change is here. We want to make sure we have vibrant community knowledge and appreciation of our green space so that the next edition of this book doesn’t read like a eulogy.

The pages of Jake Morrison's book, We Stand With The Trees, feature 50 Ottawa citizens who offered to have their photos taken with the endangered trees in Queen Juliana Park and the Campus portion of the Experimental Farm. Photo by Jake Morrison

The pages of Jake Morrison’s book, We Stand With The Trees, feature 50 Ottawa citizens who offered to have their photos taken with the endangered trees in Queen Juliana Park and the Campus portion of the Experimental Farm. Photo by Jake Morrison

“In the last century, environmental portraits became a thing. ‘Environmental,’ in that case, didn’t mean natural environment but, rather, the subject’s working or living environment and how it added to the story of the portrait. I think of ‘protest portraiture’ as being an environmental portrait in which the story is about the subject’s passion for the thing pictured with them. Each page of We Stand With The Trees includes a portrait of a heritage tree; a ‘protest portrait’ of individuals, couples, or families standing with that tree; and peoples’ personal reflections. This project taught me a lot about portraiture, and I’m glad I did it.” Four of the trees featured in Morrison and Keeler’s book have already come down, one in storms, and three due to construction. We Stand With The Trees is available from publisher With Flare Press (www.withflare. ca) and at independent Ottawa bookstores, including Singing Pebble Books.

For decades, OOE resident Jim Lamont has used his photography to bring climate change to peoples’ attention. “Glaciers are an early-warning system,” he says. “I have been travelling on glaciers for 50 years. Recently I have been seeing changes that should take hundreds or thousands of years happening in five or ten. My photographs are a chance to make the impacts of climate change real for people who don’t see them every day.” Lamont admires the philosophy of stoicism. “I think that my photos of glaciers are important. But stoicism is partially about doing your best on things that matter to you, and not worrying too much about what you cannot control, that is, other people’s reactions,” he says.

Stoicism aside, one of Lamont’s photographs, “A shadow falls on the Lowell Glacier,” recently won the Natural Landscape Photograph of the Year for 2022. It tied with a photograph from Austria. Ten thousand seven hundred photographs were submitted to the competition by 1179 photographers from 55 countries. Lamont’s winning photo shows the shadow cast by peaks on the surface of the Lowell Glacier, in Kluane National Park, Yukon. It was taken on a July morning in 2022 from a Cessna 172 as part of a decades-long project on glaciers. “The image is intended to suggest the wave of destruction that will overwhelm us unless we stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere,” Lamont explains.

Some of the trees pictured in the book have already been cut down for he new Civic Hospital project. Photo by Jake Morrison

Some of the trees pictured in the book have already been cut down for he new Civic Hospital project. Photo by Jake Morrison

“The Cessna 172 was very small, and, unfortunately, I was unable to prop the side window open. I didn’t want to shoot through plexiglass. So, with the help of the photographer who travelled with me, we devised a system where I would push the window open when I thought I could get the shot. Then he would hold it there for a short time from the back seat. We had to coordinate and practise. When I saw the shadow on the glacier, I knew immediately that it was going to be a good shot, but flying at over 100 miles per hour, it was hard to get into the right place with the window open in time. It took three ‘go-arounds.’ I felt a bit like a Hollywood director giving the pilot directions over headphones and a mic. Exciting.

“You know immediately if a photograph has impact or not. I felt this picture was sombre and consequential. Within myself, I noticed an immediate impact, but I wondered if sombre was okay. Ultimately, I hoped it would remind people about the damage we are inflicting on the world and the importance of changing our collective behaviour.”

Lamont’s winning photograph was covered in November by The Ottawa Citizen’s Bruce Deachman and CNN’s Travel journalist Jacopo Prisco. The CNN article had the heading: “Award-winning landscape photographs show fragility of the natural world.”

Old Ottawa East photographer Jim Lamont’s “A shadow falls on the Lowell Glacier” was selected co-photo of the year in an international competition that judged 10,700 photos submitted by photographers rom 55 countries. Photo by Jim Lamont

Old Ottawa East photographer Jim Lamont’s “A shadow falls on the Lowell Glacier” was selected co-photo of the year in an international competition that judged 10,700 photos submitted by photographers rom 55 countries. Photo by Jim Lamont

“Winning that award was gratifying, but I do not judge myself by other’s recognition,” Lamont says. “I know I am a very small voice in the fight against global climate change. I hope it helps a little. Regardless, I will continue working for what I love and think important.” Lamont firmly believes that as a society, we can solve this problem. “We just have to decide to solve it,” he says. “We did that when we created vaccines in the pandemic; similarly, we did that when we transformed our economy overnight during and again after WWII.”

This year, the Public Art Program purchased two large prints from Lamont’s “Communion” series of photographs of the Donjek Glacier (also with the theme of climate change) for Ottawa’s permanent art collection. The exhibition, “Metamorphosis: 2022 Additions to the City of Ottawa Art Collection,” is scheduled to run between December 8 to February 3, 2023, with the formal opening December 15, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the City Hall Art Gallery.

“I think of my photography as a small hand helping to push our society toward action. I am hopeful things will change. Hope is essential if we are to act. We must have hope, if only for the children of the world. But this will require concerted effort, societal, and political action, and not just personal lifestyle changes.”

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp (http://www.browning-shelp.com) pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact tanis@browning-shelp.com if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

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