Ian Willms (b. Canada, 1985) is a founding member of the Boreal Collective and wandering documentary photographer who is loosely based in Toronto. His photography practice primarily resides within the gulf between journalism and contemporary art. From the baking highways of the American southwest, to the frozen railways of Siberia, Willms strives to communicate the emotional environment surrounding his subjects through a lyrical approach to photography. The indelible nature of passing time and the conflict of inevitable compromise are common threads that run throughout Willms’ longterm photo essays. Willms holds an Honours Diploma in Photojournalism and is a previous recipient of the Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent mentorship. Today we share his series, As Long as the Sun Shines.
As Long as the Sun Shines (Alberta, Canada; 2010-2012)
Within traditional Indigenous communities, the health of the people is intrinsically linked to the health of the surrounding environment. In 1899, Treaty 8 was signed by the Queen of England and 39 Indigenous bands in northern Canada. The signing chiefs were assured that their land, culture and traditional means of survival through hunting, fishing and fur trapping, would be preserved and respected for “as long the sun shines”.
Today, the Canadian government is leasing out 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of indigenous territory to the world’s largest energy corporations in order to develop Canada’s Oil Sands. The Oil Sands are currently considered to be the third largest oil deposits on Earth and are worth an estimated $1.7 trillion to Canada’s GDP over the next 20 years. While the economic benefits are plentiful, the environmental and cultural toll is dramatic.
After thousands of years of surviving from the land, the Indigenous communities of Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay now find themselves in the middle of an unfamiliar, shifting landscape. How they choose to move forward as a community will irrevocably alter the future of their identity, ecology, and economy.
As a freelance photographer, Willms has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian Magazine, TIME, The New Yorker, The Walrus and the NGOs Greenpeace and Oxfam. His works have been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council and exhibited at O’Born Contemporary, Photoville, CONTACT Gallery, Gallery 44 Centre forContemporary Photography and the Museum of Photographic Arts.
To view more of Willm’s work, please visit his website.