Borderlands: Interview With Mark Vitaris

  By Ryley Smith

 

Living in the beautiful prairies, there is a lot of history, soul and culture. From where the majestic Rockies touch down to the rolling foothills, into grasslands that stretch on for ages, there is a richness to this land. Mark Vitaris started a project, Borderlands, which has now become a photography book full of passion and beauty. Borderlands was just released only a few short months ago, and we wanted to take the time to interview Mark on his process, progression and the overall importance of his book.

Milk River Natural Area, Alberta.

What Inspired you to do this project? Did you have a vision?
Borderlands, was inspired by the austere beauty and timeless quality of the northern Great Plains. It evolved from several previous projects and exhibitions, most notably a Land Beyond the River (2010), and Buffalo Hunting (2016). Both studies influenced my vision for this project. Over time, Borderlands began to chart its own course to form this body of work.

Welcome to The Borderlands, Alberta.

Has your style of photography helped to shape this project or shape the way you presented your work within the book?
I’d say that Borderlands exemplifies or showcases my style of photography more than my style shaping the way it is presented in the book. I endeavour to see beyond clichéd themes and search for meanings that linger on in a scene. I’m constantly looking at this enduring landscape for the details that time is slowly erasing. Doing this, I feel connected to the spirit of the land.

Return of Grass Woman, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.

Did you encounter any unexpected turns (both negative and positive) during the process of the project and book production?
Yes, there were many on both sides of the ledger, but for our discussion, I will address the positive turns. You may have noticed that Borderlands contains no photographs of people. Yet serendipitously, people continually appeared during my travels to point me in unexpected directions. The results garnered photographs and narratives that added a dimension to the book that I had not originally thought about. Weathered Line and Orion’s Belt are examples of that occurring.

The Road to Gyp’s, Glacier County, Montana.

Why did you choose Frontenac House Ltd. to publish your book?
I didn’t choose Frontenac House Ltd, I was approached by them. The person responsible for Borderlands becoming a book was David Scollard, publisher emeritus at Frontenac House Ltd. David has been a patron and supporter of my photography for over thirty years. He was aware of my project and felt very strongly that the Borderlands should be published. I owe David a debt of gratitude.

Immigration Gap, Cardston County, Alberta.

Your book has some luxurious aspects to it (ie. Italian linen cover), what inspired you to put that kind of detail into the book? How does this add to the images within the book? Do these details have any additional meaning?
From the outset, I wanted to produce a book that “itself” was a work of art. By that I mean, I wanted someone who saw Borderlands, on a bookshelf or a table, to be drawn in by its cover; compelled to pick it up and open it. The cloth linen of the hardcover is purely tactile. The borderlands are dusty, gritty, and rough. When you pick up Borderlands I want you to feel something of the texture of the place. The photographs are printed using four-colour separation instead of tri or duotone printing, which adds a rich feel to the quality of the black and white images.

Dooley, Montana.

Although this is quite early to ask, given you just published Borderlands, but are you interested in pursuing another project or book?
In light of present-day international travel restrictions, it may be a while before I can pursue any additional work related to my Borderlands Project, in the United States, but suffice to say that like most artists, I am always working on more than one creative project.

Blackfeet Land, Near Browning, Montana.

You mentioned (on the website) that Borderlands (both the book and the project) as almost a starting point for a bigger artistic conversation, can you elaborate on this concept?
The book Borderlands is a part of a larger project entitled, The Borderlands Project (www.theborderlandsproject.com). My intention through the project is to tour the book throughout the land that I photographed, taking it back into the communities and sharing the creative process with the people I meet and present to. From that, I hope to learn more about the land and the people in order to create new art, both photography and mixed media works. I see it as completing a circle of art, whereby I continue to create works from the interactions generated from the sharing. It has already begun, as I have just returned from two weeks of travel through southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta.

Near Mary Lake, Alberta.

Is there another important information you’d like our readers to know about your
project/book?
Yes, I would like your readers to be inspired by Borderlands, to explore the richly diverse cultural heritage of the Great Northern Plains, to walk the land and feel the sun and wind, and to embrace the spirit of the land.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Alberta.

Borderlands has now been shipped to 14 Countries, 17 US States and 7 Canadian provinces, with just under 200 copies sold since its release in March 2020. Also, it is now available throughout Southern Alberta and Sask. If you would like to purchase Borderlands, click here!

Click here for more information on Mark’s project Borderlands. 

 

Featured in this blog:

Mark Vitaris: Borderlands

 

Ryley Smith

Ryley Smith

Ryley graduated in 2018 from the U of C, with a bachelor in Sociology. With a strong love for writing, and having dabbled in photography, she wanted to take her curious mind and put it towards a more fun and creative future. In her spare time, Ryley finds herself camping, skiing, and fishing. She also loves craft beer and interesting food, ideally together.