By Lawrence Powell
They're ordinary people doing things ordinary people don't ordinarily do.
That pretty much sums up Geoff Butler's take on members of the Annapolis Royal Volunteer Fire Department. And he should know. He's been chumming around with them for almost a year, and what started out as admiration grew into much more as he attended training sessions and even followed every firefighter to their daytime jobs.
When Butler first heard that the ARVFD was celebrating its 200th anniversary this year he started thinking about the firefighters he knew. He knew a few of them but not all of them and he figured it was the same for the rest of the people in the community. The anonymity of bright yellow turnout gear, helmets, and breathing masks isn't very revealing -- yet they're the guys who could save your home or even you life.
That prompted the artist to put down his paintbrush and pick up his camera.
"I wanted to take photos and let the public know who they are," he said Saturday at Chapel Gallery in ARTsPLACE. With hammer, level, and tape measure in hand, he was mounting an exhibit of dozens of photographs he's taken over the past 10 months.
Study in Volunteerism
The exhibit is a study in diversity, volunteerism, dedication, and lots of hard work. Butler captured both sides of individual firefighters -- their day jobs and their hundreds of hours of training.
Included on the department's roster are all walks of life -- from a pastor, a funeral director, and an environmental monitor, to musicians, farmers, and paramedics.
"There are really quite a range of occupations, that's for sure," Butler said. "Some of the guys were a little camera-shy at first."
But Butler went to the department's weekly training sessions and captured some of the intensity and seriousness of firefighting. One shot shows two firefighters participating in an ice rescue training exercise. The firefighters are actually in the water with thick ice all around them.
He's watched them practice driving, tying knots, studying first aid, and even setting up ladders at the proper angle.
Before long, Butler fit right in with one firefighter giving him the ultimate compliment when he said "we don't even know you're there."
At their day jobs, Butler's photo's are well-composed and lighted and speak volumes of the subjects: A guy among large round bales; a local shoe maker with a flaming leather sole; paramedics in front of an ambulance; a sheriff with a pair of handcuffs; several Valley Waste employees at work.
ARVFD Chaplain Herb Anderson looks out from the pulpit in his photo, and former chief Rick Smith stands with clipboard in hand next to a fire alarm and fire extinguisher. He's now a deputy provincial fire marshal.
The project has been a departure for Butler who usually paints (oils and acrylics) and writes. He's used his SLR Pentax K-10D mainly for taking photographs of his art after carefully setting up tungsten lighting.
"I have a better appreciation when the alarm rings now, " Butler said, noting it rings any time night or day and in every kind of weather. It's been quite an eye-opener."
Butler isn't a firefighter himself, but he could now pass for one -- at least on the street: "They gave me a jacket."
The exhibit can be viewed now during ARTsPLACE hours. The exhibit official opening is on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. The show runs until November 20.