Ian Willms Selected for World Press Photo 6×6 Global Talent Program

by Photo Life

© Ian Willms // Elk in Jasper. A herd of elk feed a couple of hundred metres from the route of two Oil Sands pipelines, which run through Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta, on 10th September 2017. The Canadian government and Kinder Morgan built a new high pressure Oil Sands pipeline through the park in 2008.

World Press Photo Foundation has announced the six photographers from North and Central America selected to participate in the fifth edition of the 6×6 Global Talent Program: Dylan Hausthor, USA; Ian Willms, Canada; Mariceu Erthal García, Mexico; Nydia Blas, USA; Tomas Ayuso, Honduras; and Yael Esteban Martínez Velázquez, Mexico.

Canadian Ian Willms was nominated by Søren Pagter, the photojournalism department head of the Danish School of Media and Journalism, who said, “Ian Willms is a talented landscape photographer and he is able to show both the beauty of the land and how it is being destroyed. At the same time, he tells intimate stories about people. It is great to see a photographer who is both a personal storyteller but who can also make us see and understand environmental issues.”

Chaired by Lars Boering, Managing Director of the World Press Photo Foundation, the selection committee included Juan Brenner, photographer and independent art director (Guatemala); Ana Casas Broda, photographer, editor and co-founder of Hydra + Fotografía (Spain / Mexico); Barbara Davidson, photographer (Canada); and Loup Langton, freelance photographer and editor (USA).

© Ian Willms / Water Intake. A water intake pipeline runs from the Athabasca River, near Fort McKay, Alberta on 28th April 2015. The Oil Sands industry consumes three barrels of fresh water for every one barrel of oil produced.

Ian Willms’ project As Long as the Sun Shines focuses on the oil sands developments and the 39 Indigenous First Nations in the region.

In 1899, Treaty 8 was signed by the Queen of England and 39 Indigenous First Nations in the Oil Sands region. The signing chiefs were assured that the ecology of their territory would be preserved for “as long the sun shines.” The Oil Sands, in northern Alberta, Canada, are worth tens of trillions of dollars, but developing them is more energy- intensive and produces more environmental contamination than any other industrial project on Earth. For over a decade, doctors working in the Indigenous communities located near Oil Sands developments have been reporting rising rates of cancer, birth defects and other health problems amongst their patients. The Indigenous Peoples here are no longer able to sustain themselves off the traditional economies of hunting, trapping and fishing, which had previously nurtured their lives for thousands of years. Further west, numerous communities across Alberta and British Columbia are dealing with the impending expansion of Oil Sands pipelines, built to get the country’s oil reserves to foreign markets. Oil spills and other forms of environmental contamination are commonplace, prompting many to organize and resist future developments. These communities do not oppose all developments, but they want an equitable stake in economic benefits and influence over how and where development takes place.

© Ian Willms / Dez in his room. Dez (7) plays in his bed in Fort McKay, Alberta in 2015. Dez was born with an underdeveloped heart and has received multiple open- heart surgeries. His family and healthcare professionals in Fort McKay believe that his condition was caused by industrial pollution from nearby Oil Sands developments.

© Ian Willms / A scarecrow, erected to stop migratory birds from landing in open oil slicks, on a decommissioned tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands site in 2014.

In another series, We Shall See, Ian Willms documents his relationship with his father, the last month of his father’s life, and his experience of grief and loss.

My father was always restless. Shortly after I was born, he and my mother separated. I grew up without his regular presence in my life, but we became closer with time. Later in life, he toured the continents by motorcycle. In his 65th year, a tragic riding accident left my father paralyzed and dying. I went and found him, alone in an intensive care ward. I’d visit three times daily, for as long as I was allowed. It was hell, but we were together in that hell. The last months of my father’s life brought us closer together than ever before. I taped a picture of my sister, grandmother, father and me to the ceiling above his bed — the only existing image of us all together. When he was in the hospital, I’d tell anxious friends and relatives, ‘we shall see’. Once he was gone, ‘we shall see’ became a mantra that I’d remind myself of on the hardest days. When he died, shock softened the jagged edges of the experience. It was as if my life slipped into a dense fog, and quietly changed shape forever. After losing my father, I too covered vast distances on a motorcycle. I used to travel to be like my father, but then I travelled to find him. Through living and photographing the same experiences, I am able to continue to get to know him despite his absence.

© Ian Willms / Riding leather, 2017.

© Ian Willms / New Years Day at the hospital, 2015.

© Ian Willms / Priest, 2016.

© Ian Willms / Riding for the first time since he died, 2017.


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