Be alert, be astonished, share your astonishment. I can’t remember where I first came across this advice from fine art and travel photographer Trey Ratcliff. But I do remember it sparked an immediate response. It’s like he articulated the mission statement for the Beakerhead photo crew!
The artists, scientists and community partners who create the amazing mix of Beakerhead events, installations and activities make it easy to execute on that creative brief. Most of the 2016 photo crew returned for another year, including our fearless co-leads. And thanks to a couple of studio lighting/flash photography workshops, we were better positioned than ever to showcase Beakerhead 2017.
Shooting Beakerhead is like running a marathon at sprint speed. Between Wednesday morning and midnight Saturday, I shot 16 installations or events – some of them more than once! By the time I finished developing and submitting the last of my photos Sunday night, I’d put in more than 60 hours over 4 and a half days!
My first assignment was at the Calgary Municipal Space Station (aka the Calgary Tower), where I followed a group of elementary school students into space. Despite double-checking with their teacher that they all had signed media consents, I’m going to leave it up to Beakerhead staff to share those photos, as appropriate.
Later Wednesday morning, I headed to Fort Calgary for First Flame, the official kick-off event for Beakerhead 2017. The main attraction? Serpent Mother by Flaming Lotus Girls.
It was pouring rain, which made for a flat, grey backdrop and some orange reflections in the mud. I tried hard to keep my camera out of the rain. But wind-driven rain had me repeatedly cleaning my glass and drying the camera. Although marketed as weatherproof, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is not! Later that day, the power switch stopped working. So for the rest of Beakerhead, I had to pop the battery in/out to toggle the power. (The same thing happened just over a year earlier. Fortunately, my husband purchased the extended warranty we he bought the camera for me, so it was repaired under warranty both times.)
I spent the rest of the day at various Engineered Art installations, returning to the University of Calgary Thursday morning to photograph a second day of very short run exhibits (they changed out every few hours). The chance to speak with the university students about their projects made the two days really interesting. But for me, the most fascinating installation was Diane Landry’s solo exhibition at VivianeArt, especially the light sculptures from her Mandala series.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, I was downtown at Four-to-Six, an interactive STEAM market. There were tents for bacteria painting, generating electricity by pedal power, storm chasers, a giant tub of oobleck , temporary art installations, music activities and more. Being in the right place at the right time meant I came a way with a shot of Beakerhead co-founder Jay Ingram signing a copy of his latest book.
I wrapped up the second day of Beakerhead 2017 as one of two photographers assigned to the Night Light Walking Tour – a guided tour of several major Beakerhead installations. The guide incorporated a science icebreaker and a couple of other group activities that the group really enjoyed. Purple is my favourite colour, so I couldn’t resist photographing Bow Wave during the tour.
I took the long route to the LRT station to head in, so that I could photograph the Reconciliation Bridge all lit up in Beakerhead colours!
I was really glad to have a good part of Friday to process photos from the first couple of days. Later in the day, I headed back to Four-to-Six, which was much better attended than the day before. Then it was time to head across the Bow River to photograph a ticketed event. Soundscapes of the Weaselhead was an amazing mash-up of music, spoken word, visual arts and dance!
First up on my Saturday schedule? Introduction to Virtual Reality at the new Riddell Library and Learning Center at Mount Royal University – a beautiful space. Lucky for me, Mary Anne Moser, co-founder and President of Beakerhead, stopped by to try out Oculus Rift :)!
Beakernight was my final assignment for Beakerhead 2017 – one shared with every other member of the photo crew. Sixty thousand attendees requires all hands on deck!
I spent much of the evening at Rings of Reconciliation, listening to speakers and watching people get up close to the dream catcher-style sculpture.
Beakernight installations were centered at Fort Calgary and across the Skipping Stone Bridge on St. Patrick’s Island.
I contributed one of my favourite photos from Beakernight to Calgary’s social media campaign to win Amazon’s second headquarters.
Perqs of Volunteering with Beakerhead
The most obvious perq for volunteering time and energy is that you meet like-minded people – energetic, community-minded geeks! Some volunteers work year round on the overall planning of Beakerhead. During Beakerhead, their ranks are bolstered by social media, onsite interpreter, event, photography/videography, support and other crews. Several times over the spring and summer, community partners open their doors to Beakerhead volunteers. In 2016, I joined a group of volunteers at the Calgary Zoo. This year, I took part in Archery Games, escaped a Locked Room, and learned the finer points of beer-making on the Big Rock Brewery tour.
For the Photo Crew specifically, there’s team training (social media, flash photography, studio lighting) and informal meetups (tea and talk, brunch and 10-pin bowling). For the professional and aspiring professional photographers on the team, the big surprise benefit this year was a one week gallery show at VivianeArt. Crew co-leads Katie Novak and Penny Breedon did a fantastic job curating a cohesive show, Resolve Photo did the printing and we even had an official show opening!
Notes for Next Year
Building on lessons learned over the past few years and the flash photography training The Camera Store generously provided to the photo crew, I employed on-camera flash for the first time this year. Overall, I was happy with the results, but need to figure out rear sync flash before Beakerhead 2018.
Another area to continue developing competence is people photography. I have improved in this area over the past 4 years, but still have the tendency to try to fade into the background which means I don’t often ask people to look towards the camera – something that can make the critical difference between a decent photo and a really good photo!
The very best thing about volunteering with the Beakerhead photo crew is working with and learning from the rest of the crew; they are fantastic and their photos inspire me to keep honing my skills.
Have you ever volunteered with a community group? What did you like about the experience? And what did you learn from it?