If you enjoy the portraits that make up the People of Whistler exhibit at the Whistler Museum starting on Dec. 14, you have Eric Poulin’s broken ribs to thank.
The local photographer (who’s also a pharmacist), found a passion for snapping photos on outdoor excursions — particularly of the night sky — but it wasn’t until he was sidelined by an injury in January 2015 that he started to consider turning his lens to faces.
“It was my first time with a stay-at-home injury,” Poulin said. “To pass the time, I started reading up on shooting portrait photography and started dabbling with that.”
It wasn’t long before an idea for a project began to percolate. “I’ve gotten to know a few of the seniors in town and some of the stories they tell me about the good ol’ days are pretty amazing,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘people in my generation need to hear these stories.’ I had this idea for quite a long time about doing a portrait project, but it was daunting to go to these people and say, ‘can I come to your place and take your picture?’”
But after some enthusiastic feedback from his photographer friends, Poulin decided to push past his discomfort and pursue it. The first portrait he took was of long-time local and former Whistler Mountain president Peter Alder. It turned out not to be daunting at all. “I’ve known him for a while now,” Poulin said. “He’s a very welcoming, open guy.”
That was followed by another long-time local, artist Isobel MacLaurin (“anybody who knows Isobel knows she’s very friendly and open. She was very interested in it as well,” he added) and the project started to take shape.
The thread tying the series together: everyone featured is deeply entrenched in the community and have made a big impact on it in some way. (Though not all are seniors, he’s careful to point out.)
It wasn’t until Poulin had around eight to 10 portraits finished that he spoke with former Whistler Museum programming coordinator, Jeff Slack about the project. “He (said), ‘this is amazing. We need to do this,’” Poulin recalled. “If the museum had approached me to do this or I was doing it for some deadline, I would’ve gone about it much quicker, but because it was this organic, passion project, I didn’t want to rush it. I did it at my own pace and I think I’m happier for that.”
While Poulin drew inspiration for the project from Fernie-based photographer Kyle Hamilton who created Faces of Fernie, his style is gleaned from celebrity portrait photographer Martin Schoeller.
He took several different photos during shoots in his subjects’ homes, but the exhibit will feature all black and white images of faces. In some cases, Poulin sat for hours chatting with them, but he opted not to include too many words in the final product.
“A heartfelt thank you to all the participants that were involved and welcomed me into their homes and shared their stories of Whistler culture with me,” he said. “I’m really appreciative.”
The opening party for People of Whistler will take place on Thursday (Dec. 14) at 7:30 p.m. at the museum. It will run until the end of January 2018.