Harry Palmer - Portrait
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“Three for Tea,” by Harry Palmer. Donated to KOAC to support its Art Auction

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Peigan Horses, by Harry Palmer (2005)

November 21, 2020

In Memoriam


(1930 – 2020)

By Michael Rae, with the KOAC team.

When we think we know a story, it is easy to assume that the story is complete, that there is nothing more to uncover. However, Harry Palmer’s extensive photographic work, particularly notable for the breadth and depth of his sustained interest in Canada’s landscape and peoples, shows us that there are many more vantage points from which to understand the diversity and beauty of this country.

A long-time supporter of the arts in Calgary, and our dear friend, Harry passed away this month.

He was a photographer of note, whose work illustrates the revelatory power of images that blur the line between documentation and art. In countless photographs, he captured cultural and environmental attitudes, perceptions, and values of our time. His lens constructed scenes of casual and enigmatic daily life incidents in Alberta and British Columbia through his collection of portraits of ordinary people and great achievers and beautiful wide panoramic shots and intense colours of our landscape. He gave us an intimate view of the periphery as well, with photographs from his extensive travels through the Arctic North.

His images were exhibited and collected internationally and by leading national institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada (The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography), the National Library and Archives of Canada, the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, the University of British Columbia, The Glenbow Museum and the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.

Two particular recognitions made him very proud: the name of “mistaki spita” conferred by the Pikanni of Treaty 7, and the headdress Chiefs Reg Crowshoe, Leonard Bastien and Herman Many Guns presented to him in gratitude for having used the power of his lens to document the lives of First Nations.

We encourage you to visit the site and acquaint yourself with his work at his website: http: //www.APortraitofCanada.ca.

As with all our artist appreciation posts, we try to provide an insight into their lives and their works, usually by asking the Artist for their thoughts. In this case we have taken Harry’s own
from his website:

” There are three sides to every photograph …. the subject, the photographer and the viewer. My personal history can be relevant to how I found and saw the images herein, however the viewer may see the image quite differently.

The author of this website is me, Harry Palmer, born in Calgary, Alberta in 1930. I had no siblings and from childhood on I lived in many places including Calgary, Edmonton, Nanaimo, Fort St John, Vancouver and Toronto. At the end of 2014 I am 84 years old and married, with five children and thirteen grandchildren.

I was graduated from the University Of British Columbia in Applied Science (Mechanical Engineering) in 1951. Upon returning to Calgary I began a career in professional engineering that took me to worksites and other business locations across North America including Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the Arctic Islands and all across Canada.

My employers included The YMCA, Canadian Western Natural Gas Company Limited, Pacific Petroleums Limited, Dome Petroleum Limited, Palmer Gas Consultants Limited(me), Golden Arrow Manufacturing Limited(president), Alberta Gas Trunkline, TransCanada Pipeline and Dome Petroleum Limited (for the second time).

In the latter years of my engineering career I was responsible for the environmental affairs of my employers. It was then that I developed the skills and concepts of documentary art photography. The art to see in context of the environment and to develop compelling images. At the end of 1984 I left the oil and gas industry to apply myself full time to my photography of Canada.

At the beginning I had help through various workshops by photographers such as Dr Harry Thompson and Paul Caponigro. I looked at the images of the great painters to understand what they were doing in the context of light, colour and composition and the overall essence of their work. From then on it was trial and error.”

We feel blessed to have had Harry Palmer’s extraordinary friendship and proud of being the object of his continued support for the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre. May he rest in peace.

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The Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre is a place for art and artists, for the curious, for the novice and for the expert alike – everyone is welcome to visit, to make, to learn and to talk about contemporary art, whether by traversing our sculpture grounds and gardens, or visiting (when appropriate) with our artists in studio or via our digital forums and workshops.

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