The Photography of Vera Saltzman
This article originally featured in the TYPOLOGIES edition of photoED magazine.
Discovering Self: The Photography of Vera Saltzman
For Vera Saltzman, photography had been a passive interest until a fateful, midlife decision upended her life, compelling her to chart an entirely new, unknown course.
Born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Vera left behind both the Maritimes and her comfortable career in human resources to relocate to Nunavut with her husband, a Staff Sergeant with the RCMP.
Finding herself emotionally and physically adrift on the barren edge of the continent, in the small remote hamlet of Clyde River, Vera turned more seriously to photography to explore and define her new identity. Overlooking Baffin Bay, Clyde River has a population of roughly 1000, is only accessible by air or water, and as the crow flies, is approximately 1300 kilometers from the western coast of Greenland. Winter temperatures can drop to -50C, and according to WeatherSpark.com, there is no daylight from late November to mid-January.
Struggling to forge relationships in her new home, Vera used her camera to help build a bridge with the local Inuit community, to make new friendships, and to establish a visual record of those personal exchanges.
After two and a half years there, the couple moved to the relatively burgeoning town of Iqaluit to live and work for the next two years. Vera’s aim was to develop her photography into deeper, less touristy narratives. With a rudimentary, first-generation digital camera, she set out to document her interactions with this unfamiliar community, and primarily, its elders.
After their long stint in the North, Vera and her husband returned south in 2007, this time to Ottawa. She joined a local camera club, and through their activities, discovered the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO). A spark of interest ignited, and Vera plunged into full-time studies, completing the portfolio development program. Her work focused on issues of identity, as well as the development of themes revolving around sense of place, the passage of time, and the fragility of life.
On the move again in 2012, they left for Saskatchewan — ultimately to the place where all her collected photographic experiences would converge, and where, she describes, “everything clicked”.
Living an hour from Regina, Vera often travelled through the vast, open, sparsely populated prairie. One ubiquitous sight was the totemic grain elevator found dotting the landscape. Just as lighthouses are associated with the Maritimes, Vera felt that grain elevators represented a cultural marker for the Canadian prairies. With a photographer’s eye, she observed them like subjects of a portrait, and one by one, with no particular map or plan, she began to document them.
Over the course of several years, Vera built the Grain Elevator body of work into a considerable collection, and along the way, mastered the art of typology. Shot with the detachment found in ‘straight photography’, devoid of any romanticized editorial style of deep blue skies and blazing sunsets, Vera’s desaturated images convey her own faint melancholy. Their solitude, mass, and simple shapes resonated with her sense of isolation.
Vera admits this was a sad time in her life, yet photography provided an outlet for expression. Despite the loneliness, she says Saskatchewan has been very good to her — in that, she discovered an artistic style that spoke to, and from, her heart, and affirmed her photographic path. Also fortuitous by dint of location, SaskArts acquired the entire set of eighteen pieces of her earlier series, ‘O Human Child’.
Vera’s quiet inspiration is written on a small Post-It note stuck to the wall above her crowded desk at home. It’s a quote from the late folk singer/songwriter, John Prine: “I was trying to write something so sad; it was pretty.” Vera and her husband currently live in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. For how long, remains to be seen. ~ Peppa Martin
Born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, photography has long been a “back burner” interest for Vera, but she didn’t become serious about it until she moved north to Nunavut. Struggling to fit in, she turned to her photography to build a bridge between herself and the Inuit, a friendship of sorts – a visual record of an intangible exchange.
After returning south, Vera studied full time at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO), completing their portfolio development program. Through her work, she focuses her attention on issues of identity and the development of a “sense of place,” the passage of time and the fragility of life. She currently lives in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.
Vera received the top prize in the Saskatchewan Prairie Light Photography Festival which resulted in her first solo exhibition at the Godfrey Dean Gallery, Yorkton. She has also received two Applied Arts Awards for creative excellence and her series “The Shacks” won a place in the international journal The Creative Quarterly. She was a finalist for the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards (International), a top 200 finalist for Photolucidia’s Critical Mass (International) and short listed for FotoFilmic 18 (International).
Her work has been displayed nationally, including in Photoville FENCE (Calgary) Art Toronto, and the Ottawa Art Gallery. She has also shown her work internationally, in Oregon, San Francisco, Spain, and South Korea. It has also appeared in numerous publications and online sites.
She is represented by Slate Fine Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Peppa Martin is a gallerist, curator, art advisor and artist consultant, reviewer, career professional photographer, and independent writer on art and culture. Her Vancouver based gallery, Truth and Beauty closed its physical space in 2020. Peppa is a member of The COVERT Collective.
The Commotion is her new modern, all-digital platform and art network. Truth and Beauty’s spirit ascended to ‘the cloud’, residing as a full-spectrum, commercial virtual photography salon operating in a sustainable, fully accessible sphere, online.
~ Posted by Rita Godlevskis