Like many photographers, I’ve found that the COVID pandemic has been putting up barriers to creating new work. My portrait sessions were cancelled, music gigs and other events were abandoned, and travel with the camera all but dried up. I managed some local expeditions on foot or on my bicycle to photograph ospreys along the Elbow River. I also explored the landscapes of Kananaskis Country and the Badlands. Still, there were no big adventures back to Peru where I have been filming and photographing sustainability, culture and development themes for many years.
So, I decided to put my energy into writing up stories, selecting and sequencing images from some of my recent projects. The result is three books published over three months in 2020, all of which are available at The Camera Store in Calgary.
Sledding is a collection of stories, gig reviews and photographs from four years of volunteering at the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival.
I photographed 66 bands, solo musicians and stand-up comedians at ten venues across the city. Each year, it was an exciting and exhausting effort over four or five days to capture images at the evening gigs, sleep for a short while, then edit, select and download the photos to meet the 10:00 am deadline. Before the next gigs, I would write up stories for my blog and research the artists I would see later in the festival.
According to the metadata from my cameras, the last photograph I took at Sled Island was at 8:25 pm, Sunday, June 23, 2019. I was standing in the rain at the 1st Street C-Train station in downtown Calgary, waiting to head back home. I looked across the tracks and photographed The Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club. I had arrived there four hours earlier to cover the gigs and take some portraits of the volunteers, artists, and music fans celebrating with a traditional pig roast BBQ on the final day of Sled Island 2019.
In some ways, that day was like my first day as a Sled Island photographer, precisely four years previously at the same venue when I covered three bands downstairs. I adapted my settings to deal with the low light conditions, waiting to catch the spotlight transitions and capture a chord change, a wide-eyed look from a singer, or some other decisive moment of performance.
All Dressed Up: Portraits of Cosplayers
All Dressed Up: Portraits of Cosplayers explores the character within characters, stories from people performing their versions of other people for whom they have a passion.
The Calgary Expo events I attended at the Stampede Showgrounds between 2015-2017 allowed me to photograph and interview a cast of actors playing in various roles found in feature-length movies, television series, and video games, anime shows, and comic books. I was curious to see how they conveyed their creativity at these multi-planetary, family-friendly events through their hand-made costumes, makeup, and acting performances. I was impressed by their proficiency in shaping and painting Worbla and twisting PVC piping to make space-like weapons and armour from ancient lands. I was struck by the piercing, mythical eyes of a Medusa, the off-world looks of a Titan, and the fun and energy generated by a whole family getting together and playing as manga characters.
Behind the Mask
I was introduced to the Huaconada of Mito in 2018 at a fundraiser for the cultural group, Raíces del Perú, preparing for their first entry into the Calgary Stampede Parade. Although I lived in Peru for four years before moving to Canada and was familiar with most of the performances I photographed that evening, I had never seen the Huaconada. I was immediately impressed by the masks, the music and mythology behind the dance and began to plan my next project.
Behind the Mask (Detrás de la Máscara) is a collection of photographs created during the filming of La Máscara y Más (The Mask and More), a documentary about the Huaconada of Mito. UNESCO globally recognized this ancient dance from Peru for its Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010. Along with interviews and other locally gathered information, the book (written in English and Spanish) is a narrative about some of Mito’s people, their costumes and rituals that keep the Huaconada as a living tradition and a fabulous component of Peru’s rich and diverse cultural identity.
You can see more of Ashley’s photography, films, books and articles by visiting www.jashleynixon.com
Sledding, All Dressed Up, and Behind the Mask are all available at The Camera Store.