PEOPLE OF THE BLOOD
Runs until May 31
Four by Five Gallery
Documentary photographer George Webber has made a career out of watching what most of us just pass by.
His most recent book of photography, People of the Blood (and the accompanying exhibition at Art Centrals Four by Five Gallery) is a testament to what American photography curator and critic John Szarkowski has said of the medium:
"Photography deals with the actual, but the factuality of pictures, no matter how convincing and unarguable, is a different thing from the reality itself."
The debate among a small group of critics and art snobs about whether documentary photography is art is long over. And, so too, is the notion that documentary photography records visual information in a factual way. It does not.
Born in Drumheller to a family with seven children, Webber carries with him the memories of a Prairie boy who explored the land for dinosaur bones and continues to stay connected to the people who inhabit this dusty corner of the planet.
Too often, photography of Canadas Aboriginal Peoples, taken by non-aboriginals such as Webber, devolves into a bleak political manifesto with penetrating imagery of death, abuse and destruction.
Instead, in his new collection of photographs taken from the Blood reserve of southern Alberta, Webber has created a more meaningful "record" that shows the people of the Blood Reserve carrying on with quiet moments that often centre on ritual, family and nature.
A deeply religious man, Webbers photographs are contemplations on life rather than mere landscapes or portraits. The image of a group crossing an open field on Good Friday, 1992 occurred when Webber simply had shut off the engine of his vehicle to look over the windswept scene. The result is both a powerful summation of the Blood People moving from a society whose spirituality had nothing to do with Jesus Christ, to a community of approximately 9,000 where today many literally bear the weight of the cross.
The most powerful images, perhaps even to Webber, are the photographs where he does not stand back from his subjects, but instead moves in close to capture an intimate moment that can only be created when the photographer and subject completely trust one another. A quiet and devout man, Webber is one of only a handful of photographers in the world that have provided visual insights of the Blood People that move well beyond stereotypes.
Webbers portrait of Horace which shows a member of the Blood Reserve, incisions in his chest (where a dowel of green chokecherry will be inserted to tether him in place), preparing for the Sun Dance is documentary photography at its best. Caught somewhere between reality and mythology, this photograph is emblematic of this important collection of work.