George Webber explores Calgary’s “forbidden zones”

Acclaimed documentary photojournalist George Webber, has been coordinating the continuing education photography classes, as well as teaching them, at SAIT for the past 20 years. NICOLE SANTERRE PHOTO

George Webber may be an acclaimed documentary photojournalist, but the SAIT instructor is one of the most genuine and unassuming people one might meet.

For the last 20 years, Webber, 59, has been the co-ordinator for SAIT’s continuing education photography programs. When he’s not busy teaching, he’s scouring southern Alberta for great photographs.

“It seems like an inexhaustible source of inspiration to me,” said Webber.

This inspiration began when he was a boy, collecting “bags of dinosaur bones” in the badlands of Drumheller until age seven. These early moments shaped the eye of his work.

“It’s been like 30 years of kind of going back and trying to re-attach or sort of re-discover or re-see the things that had meant so much to me as a child.”

A book by early French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson eventually inspired Webber to become a photographer.

“I liked the way he was able to capture life as it unfolded: Very simply, intuitively and directly.”

Webber himself has published five books, his most recent being Last Call. It features images during a five-year period focusing on the east side in downtown Calgary.

“I was interested to see if I could penetrate into this sort of hidden forbidden zone of Calgary.”

His next work, In This Place: Calgary 2004-2011, will be available in November. Featuring photographs taken during the time period when Calgary’s population reached and exceeded the one million mark, . The book focuses on people and places from the 1960s and ‘70s that will eventually be replaced.

Documentary photography is “uniquely equipped to capture these fleeting disappearing things,” said Webber.

Of his earlier work, “there is one particular photograph, though, that I think to me is maybe the most stirring because of the back story behind it.”

The image, his mother’s favourite, features Mr. and Mrs. Chew from New Dayton, a small town south of Lethbridge.

“The husband and wife didn’t see each other for 55 years,” said Webber.

All his subjects “have some aspect of their life that is instructional.” He finds there is always the opportunity to “gain insights.”

Well- known photographers such as Bruce Davidson and Diane Arbus provide Webber with “an ongoing inspiration to try to, you know, in my case, do more intimate,powerful, honest photography.”

He finds the best way to produce a moving piece is to “identify for yourself the subject that you feel powerfully about,” whether it’s “something that you love or something that terrifies you.”

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