Sofie Sharom, a wildlife photographer based in Ottawa, is bringing Canada together — through the mail.
In 2017, Sharom started Project Local Love as a non-profit initiative for Canada 150. Using her bright photos of scenery and landmarks in Ottawa, she created postcards and distributed them with the help of local businesses. She saw them as a way for people to send the cards to other parts of the country, sharing the beauty of Ottawa with Canadians everywhere. Included with each postcard was a stamp to make mailing them easier — an efficient way to bring people across the nation together. Now, with citizens unable to leave their homes and visit loved ones, Sharom is once again using her art to help the community stay connected.
Now, people can simply visit the website, fill out the postcard address and message, and choose one of Sharom’s card themes and images. There are currently six Ottawa images, with more to be added soon. Sharom then hand-writes and sends the physical postcards herself. She’s working to give back to the environment as well; for every 50 postcards sent, the project will make a donation to Tree Canada’s National Greening Program — enough for one tree to be planted.
Sharom, like many Canadians, is dealing with temporary unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. While she started funding Project Local Love on her own, she now accepts donations on her GoFundMe page, which she relies on to keep the project going. Recently, sponsorship and support from Yukon and Toronto has also helped her expand her postcard themes to include those regions.
We talked to Sharom to find out more about Project Local Love and how she is conducting her work during these times.
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been taking photos for over 15 years, but I’ve officially been a photographer the past 10 years. I got my first camera in university and started out by taking black-and-white film photos. Since then, I’ve moved to digital photography, with a focus on travel and wildlife.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
What I love most about my work is inspiring people to explore the world. Whether it’s somewhere close to home or an exotic destination halfway across the world, photos have the ability to transport us to places we’ve always dreamed of visiting. I hope I can inspire people to check off those bucket list experiences and help them realize that no destination is out of reach, no goal too hard to achieve.
What first gave you the idea to start creating postcards for people?
The idea of creating postcards came from my love of travel and my passion for the visual arts. Although the world has gone mostly digital I still believe in physical tactile art, and of people interacting with art. Postcards were the most common way before the digital age for people to share messages with one another from their travels, and I wanted to bring that sense of surprise and inspiration.
Are you currently going out to take photos? If so, what has that experience been like during this isolation period?
I do go out to take photos, but have limited it to my immediate neighbourhood in the interest of social distancing. I just moved to Wellington West last year, so it’s been great to wander the streets and find cool spots to photograph. There’s a lot of beautiful street art on buildings by local artists, as well as interesting sculptures in unexpected spots that I wouldn’t have discovered had I not been forced to stay close to home.
Your postcard artworks include photos of Parliament Hill, the Museum of History, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Tulip Festival, the Experimental Farm, and the Ottawa River. Are you hoping to photograph any other areas of Ottawa?
Absolutely. For the initial postcards I wanted to have some recognizable Ottawa icons represented, however Ottawa’s hidden gems are in my opinion what makes the city special. I have a series of hidden gem postcards in the works that I hope to have available soon. This is dependent on partnerships and donations, but I’m keeping positive that with the community’s help I will have enough funding to make them a reality.
You’re expanding your postcard themes to Yukon and Toronto later this week. Are you planning to expand to other provinces and territories in the near future?
I am definitely planning on expanding the project to other areas in Canada. I have visited 10 out of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories (two of the remaining three were on my travel plans for this year), so I’m hoping to be able to showcase many areas of the country. Again, this is dependent on partnerships and donations, as funding for each postcard is what keep the project moving forward. I funded the initial set of postcards and the launch of the project myself, however I’m temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19, so there’s only so much I can contribute.
What safety measures are you taking while handling postcards that will be sent to others?
Like most Canadians, I am self-isolating as much as possible, and wash my hands thoroughly before writing each card. Scientific evidence has shown that the coronavirus only lives on paper for approximately 24 hours, and since mail delivery takes longer than that, there is no risk of potential transmission from me. To be extra vigilant with mail, I would recommend putting your mail and your postcard aside for 24hrs before reading it, or to wash your hands after handling it.
As a creator, what advice do you have for individuals who don’t know what to do while self-isolating?
Although the current situation is not ideal, I truly believe that creativity and ingenuity can flourish during self-isolation. Not everyone may turn to art as an outlet for their creativity, but there are tons of ways to improve ourselves and our lives during these times. Learning a new skill, a new language, or a new recipe is a great way to spend the time. I also think that giving back to the community is important. From supporting local businesses, to volunteering your skills, or donating to local charities, giving back is therapeutic. I can honestly say that writing all these positive and heartwarming messages on postcards is helping me to stay hopeful and positive every day. I feel lucky to be able to help people connect, it feeds my creative soul.