County’s rural character a natural draw for photographers

A man and a dog in front of waterfalls at Hallowell Mills in this early 1900's photo. (Marsden Kemp collection/Archives of Ontario)

PHIL NORTON

County Photographer

The 2022 release of the Marsden Kemp photo collection into the public domain (https://www.pictongazette.ca/2022/03/21/historic-photos-of-picton-and-prince-edward-county-entered-into-public-domain/) has revealed a portal to travel back in time in Prince Edward County. If you are like me, you can sit and stare at a single black-and-white picture that the Picton photographer snapped over a century ago as if the curtains were pulled back on a window to another world.

It is so fascinating to view our home place as it was back then with different people, vehicles and buildings.

Today there are dozens of serious photographers capturing scenes of The County every day plus thousands of tourists who spread PEC pictures on the world wide web. Their cameras range from elaborate DSLRs, which are basically handheld computers with lenses valued at $5,000, to the cellular phones that everyone carries in their pocket, capable of precise automatic contrast and focus adjustments. These have proven true the old adage about what is the best camera;it’s the one you have with you when you need it.

Young boys on bicycles in front of a large elm tree in Picton. (Marsden Kemp collection/Archives of Ontario)

This vast legion of County Photographers is creating an impressive archive of scenes which will provide a colourful time machine for future generations. No stone is left unturned in this collective project. Photojournalists cover news, artists and nature photographers document beauty, and social media influencers post pictures of lifestyle and tourism destinations online. Dont forget pets and babies and food, too well documented on Facebook. County Photographers here and around the world are making National Geographic-caliber images on a hyper-local level. Underwater cameras and drones with a birds eye view are giving us a new way of seeing familiar territory. Some are even reaching for the stars, pioneering nighttime exposures with motorized tracking devicessynched with the rotation of the planet.

In 1900 Kemp was a pioneer since photography was invented and made accessible only a few decades earlier. Taking a picture was a cumbersome pursuit with a bulky wooden camera and tripod. And he traveled by bicycle. There was also thethe patience and guesswork of proper exposure and the darkroom chemical development of film and prints. Only a select few were able to do it,thus,such documentation, especially of rural areas, was rare. It would be another 100 years before taking a guaranteed great photo every time was made possible with digital point-and-shoot devices like smart phones.

This newspaper column will place the focus on photography in a broad sense, not simply how-to techie tips, rather exploring who are the people behind the pictures, and how wefindthe special places and subjects. Just as Marsden Kemps lifes work was previously known only to a select circle of museum archivists, so that of todays passionate photographers is rarely seen beyond camera clubs and Instagram followers. There are great stories behind the pictures including frozen fingertips and hours, or even years, of waiting for the sun and clouds to come togetherfor adramatic scene.

Prince Edward Countys rural character is a draw for photographers and artists. The four seasons of rich maple woodlands, vineyards and Great Lake shores with eagles and minks and a world-renowned warbler and owl migration centre make us a preferred destination for nature and landscape photographers. Our natural assets are comparable to the famous photographic workshop hubs of Rockport, Maine and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

AsShire Hallpromotes County tourism, we must be vigilant in protecting the authenticity of the land and human culture.We are documenting the urbanization and gentrification that is exploding around us along with the damage done by inconsiderate partiers and off-road vehicles. County Photographers have an important role to play documenting both the beauty and the threats to the land we love.

We launch this monthly chronicle on Earth Day in hopes of amplifying the visual voice of 21st century documentarians who are conscious of how the their creative work can influence the conservation of our cherished natural and human heritage. To post your Earth Day picture go to www.countyphotographer.com