By Elizabeth Balsom
Kym Shumsky is an amateur photographer who, two years ago, challenged herself to photograph 100 strangers. Shumsky turned her compilation of photographs into both a show and a book, entitled Les Nôtres: An Ottawa 100 Strangers Project.
Shumsky, who studied journalism at Carleton University, had a goal in mind: to capture the emotion that is often lost within a photograph. She hopes to tell the viewer who the subject is, and their story. She has captured images of subjects in both intimate and public settings, and has brought together a community of people who would have otherwise not known one another. The result shows people they’re more beautiful than they think, and raises money for a great cause.
What inspired this project?
Honestly, the camera. I’ve always been interested in photography going back to my days in journalism. My husband gave me a camera, so I went from there. It takes a lot of practice. You have to calm people down, and they have to trust you. It’s the same dynamic as journalism, telling a story.
How did social media factor in?
The reality is that if you’re approaching people on the street, that probably means they are going somewhere, and I knew I didn’t have enough time. I needed a more structured environment [like with social media]. You have a community of strangers online, but after the fifth or sixth person I contacted on Twitter [to be a subject], [strangers] said yes [to being involved].
Who are the people photographed?
There are one or two friends included in the photos, because in the early days I wasn’t sure what it took to be a photographer. Some of them were just people on Twitter who wanted to be involved in the project. Paul Dewar, who is my local MP, is included.
Why did you choose them?
Some of them are heroes. We live in a political town, and I have great respect for what these people do. Ottawa is a government city, and politicians are a large part of the community. The others are an extension of me being profoundly curious. I write stories in my head before I’ve ever met them. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m just trying to get my words out.
What did you learn from this project?
One of the most interesting things is how people perceive themselves. I was going through the process of sharing their journey with them. Sometimes it’s incredibly powerful and sometimes it’s not. The act of photography has taught me a lot about how hard people are on themselves. People are a lot more beautiful and interesting than they think. A lot of it is expression and movement, and it can’t always be captured on film.
What’s your favourite image in the show?
I love them all. The diplomatic answer is my husband. Darcy got me the camera and I dragged him to the shoots for help and moral support. He was my lighting model so I had hundreds of shots of him. As I was getting closer to number 100, he still hadn’t asked whom I was going to photograph. I was a guest on a radio show discussing my project, and beforehand I caught him on the phone and told him to find a radio close by. I explained on air that I chose him for number 100, and how I couldn’t have done it without him. It was very emotional.
What can people expect from the exhibit?
Visitors will see all of the 100 strangers. The images do not have words attached to them like they do on my website and in my book. That’s my value-added as an artist. Go to the show if you want to give to a charity and have something to eat. Buy a piece from the show, and a portion of the cost goes to charity [Operation Rainbow Canada, a medical non-profit that performs surgery on lip and cleft palate for children in third world countries].
Why did you choose this charity?
I was born with bilateral cleft lip and palate, and here we have treatment for it. It had a powerful effect on my life. I can’t think of the people who aren’t able to benefit from the same treatments in other countries. It’s important to be able to smile. There are such barriers when you’re born with cleft. It’s a great charity that goes out and does surgery for cleft.
Do you think you’ll create another project similar to this in the future?
My husband says “please answer no.” [Laughs] Probably, I really enjoy travel photography. I’ve done a lot of travelling but not with a good camera. Even if I can’t travel, the act of capturing people and spaces is great. I think to myself, “Can I tell a visual story of Ottawa that’s compelling?” But it’s a vision on the horizon.
Les Nôtres: An Ottawa 100 Strangers Project is on now and runs until June 3 at Irene’s Pub, 885 Bank Street, 613-230-4474.
Les Nôtres is available in softcover for $60, and e-book for $15, through Shumsky’s website, Le Mien. Individual prints are available for purchase at Irene’s Pub and Shumsky’s website. Portions of the sales go toward Operation Rainbow Canada.