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Light & dark

Winnipegger's photo blog explores two sides of our beloved, reviled city

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/8/2010 (2551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The lines and textures of Winnipeg's grand old buildings -- banks, churches, apartment blocks, halls of learning -- can be gorgeously photogenic.

But decaying warehouses, abandoned theatres and streets devoid of pedestrian life are constant reminders that this city's boom years are long past.









We've got magnificent examples of neon and painted signs from decades gone by, but that's partly because economic stagnation prevented many commercial buildings from being torn down or spruced up.

Winnipeg: we treasure it and despise it. We escape it and then, in some hard-to-articulate way, we miss its ugly/beautiful, gritty/graceful character.


"That's something that all Winnipeggers can relate to," says photographer Bryan Scott. "Everybody's got those mixed emotions. The love and hate are kind of wrapped up in each other."

Scott, 36, is attracting a following with his blog Winnipeg: Love & Hate (, on which he invites the world to explore "the most beautiful, most repulsive city in the world" through his photography.

Launched two-and -a-half years ago by the part-time, architecture-loving lensman, the blog has grown to some 1,300 images.

"I hope that the photos presented here depict a Winnipeg that often goes unseen and unnoticed; a multi-layered, architecturally rich city that is more than just the snow and mosquitoes for which it is (sadly) most well-known," he writes.

About 200 visitors engage with Scott's images each day. The photos are usually captured downtown, empty of human life and dominated by architecture or signage. People write comments describing them as "magical," "stunning" or "hauntingly beautiful."

The site receives hits from all over the world, but is most visited by current Winnipeggers and homesick ex-Peggers in cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

"Some of the posts go viral and spread like wildfire," says the dark-haired, mild-mannered Wolseley resident, who spends an average of two hours a day shooting and editing photos.

"I've gotten a lot of emotional responses. A recent one said (the photos) brought tears to her eyes. I think that kind of thing always comes from the expats -- the people who hated Winnipeg, and now that they've gone, they miss it. I think most of my print sales come from those people as well."

Prints can be ordered, starting at about $28, through Scott's linked arrangement with the website

Scott shows signs of becoming a Henry Kalen for the Facebook generation. Kalen, the much-respected local architect/photographer who died in 2004, has been a major influence. "Without his work, I don't know if I would have started shooting Winnipeg. I owe a lot to his book (Henry Kalen's Winnipeg) and his online archives at U of M."

Winnipeg: Love and Hate is stylishly designed by Scott, who works full time as a graphic designer for an advertising company. It includes a rotating roster of quotations about Winnipeg, from wildly optimistic endorsements from the "Chicago of the North" boom years to Guy Maddin's quip, "Demolition is one of our few growth industries."

Scott's biography is pure Winnipeg. He grew up Jewish in Tuxedo, his father the owner of the Wescott Fashions garment factory (makers of Great Scott jeans), his mother a homemaker.

There are other artists in the family, but it took Scott a while to find his path. He earned a BA in film studies at the University of Manitoba, then a degree in architecture (environmental design). That's where his passion for photography and the built environment really took hold. He then went to Red River College and earned a diploma in graphic design.

He doesn't vow to stay in the Peg forever (he confesses that Chicago is his favourite city) but he tied the knot this summer with Jennifer Upton, a fashion buyer. They're moving into their first house in the still-affordable Scotia Heights neighbourhood.

"It's hard being a 30-something creative-minded person living in Winnipeg, after seeing so many people leave," he admits. "I would say 80 per cent of my professional friends have left."

Scott, who shoots with a digital Pentax K-7 camera and is self-taught, processes about half his images with a technique called HDR (high dynamic range). "HDR allows you to expand the tonal range... so you've got detail in the dark spots and bright spots in the photo," he says.

As he puts it on his blog, "It brings out details and textures that get completely lost with traditional images."

HDR can lend photographs a painterly, surreal or supernatural quality. In many of Scott's photos, it makes the sky appear dramatic, buildings look majestic and mysterious, and interior lighting seem to glow invitingly.

Some people hate HDR and find it artificial, Scott freely admits, but "I think I do it fairly well. After years of experimenting... I use it to add a special something, without hitting people over the head."

John Paskievich, another local photographer whom Scott greatly admires, finds the HDR gives some of the Winnipeg: Love and Hate photos a mood of foreboding.

"There's kind of a gothic quality," says Paskievich. "They're disturbing, how he manipulates the light. It gives a kind of 'release the hounds' look... I expect hounds to be running out, either from the University of Manitoba admin building or the North End Salisbury House."

Scott says about his subject choices, "I kind of just chase the light. Lately, I've mostly been going out when there's something spectacular about the sky. I never really know where I'm going."

Scott, who plans to publish a book of his photographs, says he has received the odd complaint that Winnipeg: Love and Hate encourages a negative view. He disagrees.

"I think the overwhelming majority (of the photos) would fall into the 'love' category. A lot of the comments I get are that I've somehow, magically, managed to find the beauty of Winnipeg."


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