Photographer and University of Kentucky educator, James R. Southard, was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and their environments.
To me, Lake Huron was the most mysterious of them all. It is one of the least populated areas, as a map shows only undeveloped shoreline and small towns dotting the coast. It also has a long history of rough weather and shipwrecks, so I came to Lake Huron feeling it would be the most haunted as well. Being it has so few cities surrounding it, I was expecting to find few artists and more vacationers. Still, I arrived to the lake looking for craftsmen and preservationists working on historic sites and boating in a variety of ways.
Thessalon – I drove out to the small town of Thessalon, to visit Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. They are working with the North Shore communities to build collaborative projects that respond to local issues. They also provide training and consulting services to the community. I kept finding people that moved up from southern Ontario to live and work in the hopes of being more connected to the region.
Big Basswood Lake – I was planning on swimming in each great lake, but due to the temperature and algae blooms, that opportunity never happened. It wasn’t until I reached Basswood Lake on the north side of Lake Huron, that I found got the opportunity. The lake was spring fed, so I could see straight to the bottom no matter how deep it got.
Big Basswood Lake – While interviewing the Sault Ste Marie Artist, Andrea Pinheiro, she asked about my accommodations in the city. Her response, “Nonsense, you are coming up to Basswood Lake and staying in a cabin.” The generosity of northern Ontario folk is staggering. Not once did they ask for money from me for the housing and meal. Great cabin, lake, meal and conversations that went late into the evening.
Manitoulin Island – It was a gray chilly day when I took a long ferry ride from Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula. I was sad to be leaving Northern Ontario.
Southampton – The Chantry Island Marine Heritage Society took me out to their lighthouse, which they’ve been working on for years. Without government funding they’ve done the labor and craftsmanship required to repair this lighthouse themselves. All the volunteers are retired citizens of Southampton. Rob Campbell, in the photograph, is a retired dentist.
Southampton – While touring Chantry Island I met a local historian, Mike Sterling. This retired award-winning mathematician has been coming out to the island to help fix up the cottage and lighthouse for years.
Chantry Island –The island is a migratory bird sanctuary. The local heritage society has been visiting for years, restoring it to its original state. The work features traditional carpentry.
Chantry Island – The island has been getting smaller as the lake’s water levels reach record highs. Many of the marinas and infrastructure surrounding the Great Lakes are out of commission with the waters as high as they are. This is greatly affecting summer tourism, which most of the small communities surrounding the lakes rely upon.
Southampton – While on the tour of Chantry Island I hooked up with the local historian, Mike Sterling. After retiring, he started building instruments that rely on geometry and mathematics at the core of their design. Mike built this Bernoulli Involute years ago and has created his own type of script music to accompany the instrument.
Southampton – Since retiring, Mike Sterling has been working in his studio above his family.
My last evening on Lake Huron was spent wandering the streets where I came across the war memorial. A cross fashioned from metallic oil on canvas, the memorial faces the waterfront and the US. It inspired thoughts about the shared history and sacrifices of America and Canada.
Lake Huron was where I got to see both northern and southern Ontario. People around the lake were just as friendly as Lake Superior and were just as interested in my project. I also kept finding people who moved up there from the more populated southern Ontario. The slower pace of the towns reminded me very much of home. You didn’t need more than one job to make ends meet in many of these small towns; one job pays the bills. While on Lake Huron, I also had the chance to get out on the water and visit a few islands. The water was just as choppy as I imagined, though the locals seemed quite comfortable in the waves. For the first time, a camera was turned on me while I was in Southampton. A local newspaper shadowed me for one of my photo shoots with the heritage society. I didn’t realize my project would draw this much interest from anyone outside of my crew of fellow photographers. The project started to feel more meaningful. Not only is this project a collection of images I photographed from my interactions with creatives in these communities, but I was bringing their story to a broader audience back home. To many people I was speaking with, this became important.