There are two people photographer Leslie Leong wishes she captured on film.
One was a burly gas station attendant in Australia with tattoos crawling up his arm. The other was a foul-smelling train passenger flipping through the pages of pornographic magazines.
The man at the gas station had flowing hair and a big beard, “the stereotypical kind of outback guy,” said Leong.
She lived in Australia, where her husband is from, and spent quite a bit of time travelling Down Under.
They stopped in Iron Knob, a tiny town with nothing more than a gas station, a corner store and a post office and some houses for the town’s 200 residents.
Usually Leong has the courage to ask people to be her model for a quick snapshot.
“Most people are really willing if you’re friendly and tell them what you like about them,” she said. “I would have told him his hair was fantastic.”
But by this point in her trip, it was late in the day. Everyone was grumpy. And they just wanted to find a campsite.
Now she regrets not having his image, just like the man on the train.
Leong was on a solo adventure in Australia, carrying two huge bags from the airport to the train station.
When she finally lugged her luggage onto the train, five of the six downstairs seats were taken – one row occupied by a group of three women, one seat by the stinky man and one by his x-rated magazines.
Next to those was the only vacant seat downstairs. Leong settled for that rather than struggling to bring her luggage up the narrow stairs.
“As polite as I could, I asked to sit there.”
She was travelling alone and didn’t want to make conversation with her new neighbour on the train. He was dirty – clearly hadn’t showered in weeks – had really bad teeth, and wore a beat-up Australian bushman hat with holes and fishing hooks dangling off.
During the train ride, the “rough-looking” passenger called his father and had a sweet conversation with him, said Leong.
“It was actually quite nice and he was worried about him.”
He turned out to be a kind and compassionate person.
“What it taught me was that I had certain prejudices.”
Because she was a female travelling alone, she was too shy to ask him for a photograph.
“These things pop into play when you’re concerned about your safety,” said Leong. “For me it would have been nice to have a portrait of him to remind me of the prejudices that we all have. Not that it makes them OK, but we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.”
That’s ironic coming from someone whose work is often judged solely based on esthetics.
“I don’t care,” she said as she sat in Baked where her work is now splashing colour on the cafe’s walls. “I do (photography) mostly to satisfy my own work.”
This is her Yukon debut, having just moved here from Australia. Before that, she lived in the Northwest Territories.
The images in the popular Main Street hangout showcase her work from the Canadian landscapes up north to the exotic scenes of Down Under.
Snow-filled portraits of dog mushers juxtapose the bright image of the Australian Kurrajong tree.
She captured the tree on a stormy day, but the sun broke through the dark sky as she was in the area. The sun’s light picked up the fresh leaves hanging off the gnarly branches.
But the tree makes for more than just a captivating photograph. It’s a prized possession for Australian farmers.
“The tree generally makes a farm more valuable because when there’s a drought, as a last resort, a farmer can cut the limbs and the livestock can feed on the leaves.”
It seems like Leong will never run dry of projects.
She’ll be teaching photography courses through the city and at Yukon College in the fall.
She’s currently writing a creative non-fiction book about her grandmother’s story.
Her grandmother, Viira Lindroth, passed away when she was 101 and a half.
Leong’s taken her grandmother’s history and made up other parts. Leong wrote herself into the story.
While she was writing the book, Leong was living in Norway.
Her husband was there on a six-month contract and Leong took some time to travel to nearby Finland, her grandmother’s hometown.
She found the old, rundown house that used to belong to her grandmother’s brother. The floor and roof were falling in.
Old black-and-white photographs were lying on a dusty dresser, Leong discovered when she pressed her nose against the window.
“I just wanted to look,” she said. “I’m snoopy.”
When she saw the rough shape of the building, she felt compelled to rescue the old photos.
So she bent back the nails on the door and trespassed.
“I guess I technically broke in,” she laughed. “I was a bit nervous about that, but I thought, no one’s going to care.”
But the neighbour did. He came over and sternly spoke with Leong, but her English and his Finnish made it impossible for her to explain her invasion of the home.
Luckily she brought a photo of her and her grandmother.
That settled the investigating neighbour and Leong was able to walk away with an old wooden butter churn, her great-grandparents’ original marriage certificate from 1899 and the rescued vintage photographs.
“Stuff like that can be incorporated into the book,” said Leong.
The writer and photographer hasn’t had much time to work on her projects. She’s been busy settling into her new territory with her husband and two sons, eight and 14.
They came here looking for a stronger community feel than what was offered in Australia.
“We found the same sense here that we missed so much.”
Leong’s masterpieces are hanging from the walls of Baked Cafe in Whitehorse. Get there quick, they’re only on display until Thursday.
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at