Wavepool – For those unfamiliar with your work, can you introduce your project North 97 and how the idea developed?
Brittany Carmichael – During the summer of 2013, I set out to create a series based on the life of a truck driver. I traveled to Kelowna, British Columbia to meet my Uncle Ian, and joined him on a ten day trucking expedition. The trucking industry provides an essential service to our economy, and my expectation was to photograph the community that forms around this incredibly important job – a community that often goes overlooked. However, as each day passed I began to realize that my uncle’s life did not meet my expectation (gleaned from years of movie-watching) that I would soon be discovering a community of truck drivers eating dinners together at highway stops or gathering at seedy strip clubs. It became clear to me that my uncle lives a life of solitude, and his work reinforces his seclusion. The unrelenting push to get the job done means that he does not often make stops or take breaks: the sooner he delivers his load, the more he is paid. I found myself turning my camera to the road, photographing the landscape we travelled through and my uncle in his isolation.
Wavepool -Was it easy for you to embrace that realization and adjust to the unexpected lifestyle?
Brittany Carmichael – It took me a while to acclimatize to the fact that my expectations differed to how the trip actually played out. I received a grant to carry out the project, and part of the proposal involved predicting what the images would look like. I assumed I would take more portraits of truck drivers in the community and fewer landscape shots. Before I set out, I definitely had a different vision of what my uncle’s life on the road looked like, but, as with everything in life, you really cannot predict the future.
Wavepool – Can you talk about the limitations of photographing while traveling during the project? Did you find it difficult to continuously make good images while being mostly on the road?
Brittany Carmichael – My uncle never stopped the truck when I wanted to take a photo. Part of his job is delivering his load in a timely manner, so with other interferences such as road closures, traffic congestion and accidents he was not all that interested in throwing photo shoots at the side of the road into the equation. Besides, pulling over an 18 wheeler onto the shoulder of a mountain highway is not exactly an easy task.
Wavepool – Were those limitations liberating in any way?
Brittany Carmichael – I am not sure if it was liberating – it becomes challenging for me when I am not fully in control of my work. That is, however, the biggest hurdle when making work that is reliant on other people. Luckily, the highway we travelled ran along some of the most beautiful and diverse terrain in Canada. One day we were surrounded by the Rockies, and the next day, desert. If we’d been trucking along a bleak concrete highway for the entirety of the trip, the project would have become a very different thing.
Wavepool – Have you worked in a way that is dependent on others before? Would you do it again?
Brittany Carmichael – Yes, making work about people is what drives my practice. Although, there seems to be a trend in my work where even when the intention is to investigate a person or a community, as a result of my involvement as witness the outcome becomes about my personal journey as voyeur. In North 97, I set out to make a documentary project about truck drivers as a whole and it became a very personal look into my uncle’s life and the bond created between the two of us on this trip. I really did not know him very well before this; we had met only a handful of times. So instead of a document of the profession as a whole, this is a story of solitude, family and human connection.
Wavepool – What are you up to now?
Brittany Carmichael – I am living in Brooklyn and I teach a photography class at a middle school in the Bronx. I am thinking about my next move, and although I am a city girl at heart, I find myself, after a long winter, ready to hit the road again. Over the past two summers I have been working on a project in Northern Alberta along the stretch of the Athabasca River between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. The Oil Sands developments in this part of Canada has wrought an environmental disfiguration which has radically altered the lives of the First Nations and Metis people and their landscape. On my last two trips out there I canoed and camped along the remote riverbanks, and witnessed the resilience and vitality of the Athabasca River system and its people. This year I am planning on returning to the Athabasca again but I’ll stay in Fort Chipewyan for an extended amount of time. My plan is still in the works so stay tuned!
To see more, please visit Brittany’s website.