Joe Chowaniec, author of Abandoned Alberta
1. What inspired you to get into photography?
I took photography way back in high school and have pretty much had a camera since I was about 14. There was a period of time recently that I had lost interest in photography — no particular reason. In about 2010, my full-time job allowed me to meet some really inspiring photographers and hear their stories and it got me interested in it again. It quickly grew to a passion. There is something about the camera that gives you the opportunity to freeze a moment in time forever and then allow others to experience that moment.
2. What attracted you to abandoned places?
I spent a lot of time on the roads in Alberta for work and weekly trips north to visit my ailing mom in the hospital. I would not always take the same roads. I probably drove by a number of abandoned places hundreds of times, but one day as I was driving home from Fort McMurray I passed a couple of buildings and my mind started to wander as I travelled the long and lonely highway. The next time I headed out, I took my camera, I didn't rush my drive, I took photos and started the process of collecting images of abandoned places. In the beginning, the photography wasn't that great, it was more something to do to pass time. By the time 2016/2017 rolled around I was well on my way to documenting as many places as I could find and tell their stories in a visual way.
3. Abandoned Alberta is your first book. What was it like to work on the project?
It was an amazing experience from the very first message through to the anticipation of the release. The feel of pride in the final product is amazing — there is a lot of work put in by a number of people and thousands of kilometres on my car and tens of thousands of clicks of the shutter.
4. What would you like people to take away from your book?
I want people to think about the past and wonder about history not just here in Alberta but anywhere. I hope that people when they are out for a drive in their cars, on a road trip, on vacation, might take the road less travelled, drive by an abandoned place and wonder what is its history.
5. Who was the greatest influence in your life?
Photographers like Paul Nicklen, Brian Skerry, Mac Stone and Timothy Allen have provided me with amazing advice and tips/techniques. I am drawn to their work as their photos are not just photos, but pieces of art, each telling an important story. I want my work to do the same at some point in my journey. I have always admired Ansel Adams and his work — to be one per cent as good as him would be a gift. Then there are individuals like Bill Weir, an amazing storyteller always digging deeper to give the viewers of his TV shows that one more piece of information that will make a difference. I want my work to do that. And finally, my Mom and Dad for their life lessons — work ethic, respect for everyone no matter their position in life — I think they would be really proud of what my life has become.