Ian Willms

6x6 North and Central America Talent:
Ian Willms, Canada

“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.” - Søren Pagter, Denmark, photojournalism department head The Danish School of Media and Journalism and 6x6 nominator

Ian Willms is a founding member of Boreal Collective and NAMARA Represents. He works internationally and resides in Toronto, Canada. His visual practice resides within the gulf between photojournalism and contemporary photography.

As long as the sun shines

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. 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 are no longer able to sustain themselves off the traditional economies of hunting, trapping and fishing. Oil spills and other forms of environmental contamination are commonplace. The communities do not oppose all developments, but they want an equitable stake in economic benefits and influence over how and where development takes place.

We shall see

“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