Photographer concentrates on the timeless details of his craft

‘Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust,” said Morgan Whibley, turning off the darkroom’s lights.

‘Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust,” said Morgan Whibley, turning off the darkroom’s lights.

“And watch yourself — that’s pure selenium. That shit’ll mess you up.”

I tried not to move or touch anything and just listened to the music that filled the room — Delia’s Gone by Johnny Cash.

“The first time I shot her, I shot her in the side….”

“Ha!” came the laughing voice out of the darkness, “the first time I shot her.”

Slowly the crooked teeth of Whibley’s distinctive smile came into focus, shining crimson in the red light.

My eyes began to adjust to reveal the rest of him, looking like a butcher in a long black apron and moving deliberately between the trays of chemicals as he developed a photo.

The picture was of the folk music pseudo-stars, Dandelion Wreath.

It was Tuesday morning — only three days before Whibley’s first solo show at the Yukon Arts Centre community gallery.

“It’s the way I work,” he said, taking out another piece of photographic paper and cutting it to size.

“It has to come down to crunch time for everything else to be forced out of my head and then all I think about is chemistry and density and times….”

The show, Conversations, is a series of hand-printed black and white portraits of Yukon artists.

The only thing that’s consistent about the project is the camera that Whibley uses — a medium-format relic from 1957 — and the equally ancient printing methods.

The actual shots are as varied as the artists whom they portray, he said.

“I just go and meet these people — talk to them and hang out with them — and the shot presents itself.”

It’s the first time that Whibley has done a series of shots solely for artistic merit.

As a freelance photographer he normally does commercial or commissioned work.

“I never consider myself an artist,” he said.

“I always consider myself to be more of a tradesperson.”

It all goes back to Whibley’s father, who was also a professional photographer.

“We never hung out wearing berets, smoking cigarettes or acting like artists,” he said.

“My father always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth, a Hawaiian shirt half open and his hair all messed up.

“He looked like a retired GI on shore leave or a mix between Johnny Cash and Charlton Heston.”

Growing up in darkrooms, sorting through negatives, Whibley couldn’t help becoming a photographer himself — despite the fact that his father told him he should be a doctor or lawyer if he had any brains.

But the young photographer never realized how much he had learned from his father until he went away to Algonquin College in Ottawa to study photography seriously.

“All the stuff on aperture, shutter speeds, sensitivity of film, composition and stuff — these are things that I’ve been listening to in the background since I was a child,” said Whibley.

“You almost learn it by osmosis.”

When he was just 13 years old, Whibley’s father also gave him the aged Yashica-Mat camera that he used for the portrait series.

“It’s traveled all over the world with me, it’s been overseas, it’s been here, there and everywhere,” he said.

“It’s 51 years old and everything still works perfectly. You buy a digital camera today and you get maybe a good two years out of it and then you might as well just throw it in the garbage.

“It’s just a camera that I have a lot of attachment to.”

While he doesn’t have any problem with digital photography, Whibley enjoys the more traditional format.

“This reminds me that it takes time to create something beautiful and that you have to concentrate and work at it,” he said, dipping another piece of paper into the chemicals.

“If there was a market for this type of thing, this could support me, but we live in a world where things must be done right away, returned to you right now and at the lowest possible price.

“You get old crafts like this that slowly get consumed by the times.”

But the rich images that film produces are still superior to digital, he added.

“And people don’t feel as threatened as say if you had a 300-mm lens on a SLR, which you happen to hold like an assault rifle, and you stick it in their face.”

Because the viewfinder is located on the top of his little camera, Whibley holds it at chest level with a wide, open stance.

It makes people feel more comfortable, he said.

“Instantly it helps the portraiture because the camera itself is a conversation piece that relaxes the subject.”

The inspiration for Conversations was coming to Whitehorse over a year ago and quickly meeting many close friends throughout the arts community.

These friends include Mario Villeneuve, who is letting Whibley have free rein of the darkroom in his Takhini East home.

“This is the first run, the first set out of the darkroom,” said Whibley.

“The first round is very much the people that I met in a short period of time and the people that I really connected with.

“But I want to keep doing this as long as I’m in the Yukon.”

Whibley doesn’t want the clichéd shots of a painter painting or a musician in the studio with the headphones on and a guitar in his hand.

“I want the people,” he said.

“These are all born out of conversations I’ve had with people that I spent time with to kind of find their character.”

Conversations is hanging at the Yukon Arts Centre from June 27 to July 27.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read