first house

Decades ago, I discovered some stunning abandoned sights while wandering Southern Alberta’s backroads with my 35 mm camera. These works of country art fascinated me back then and I’m still under their spell today.

old building

Elaine on Assignment

When I took some of these photos, I was shooting black and white Kodak film that I developed and printed at the SAIT Polytechnic photo lab darkroom in Calgary.

My photography instructor wasn’t impressed with my interpretation of his assignment. Technically, the exposures were less than stellar, but more importantly, he said, I hadn’t gotten up close and personal with the old buildings.

If I remember correctly, he branded my group of photos as lacking imagination. They were just documentation.

True, I had kept my distance.

I attempted to explain that climbing fences and skulking around structures without permission was called trespassing. Those of us with rural roots don’t appreciate people who have the audacity to do that.

That was one reason I shot from the gravel road, usually looking over the entrance gate rather than seeking unusual and eye-catching perspectives hidden from view.

Dust to Dust

However, that wasn’t the sole reason I chose to include the environment surrounding these weathered structures. The stories of these aging homes, barns and granaries were entwined with the hills, the grass and the trees surrounding them.

I reckoned before long Mother Nature would reclaim those little patches of ground that hardy Albertans, through backbreaking labor, had cleared to build a life and earn a living.

It would be only a matter of time.

If They Could Only Talk

To me, the images of these vintage backroad beauties were striking and evocative. Each in its own way rivaled the glamor of fanciful statues in uptown parks or dazzling displays of brightly-lit cityscapes.

Even though my instructor didn’t see what I saw – or feel what I felt – it didn’t matter then; it doesn’t matter now. My pictures are likely all that remain of most of these rural relics. That makes my vintage shots even more meaningful than when I photographed them all those years ago.

Perhaps that’s why I carefully packed these images of abandoned buildings on Alberta’s backroads every time I have moved over the years.

So what did this photographer look like back in the days when she was roaming Alberta’s backroads? See for yourself! One of my classmates took this portrait for another of our SAIT photography assignments.  

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Here are a few more memories from my youth in Alberta:

Elaine Thomas
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