About - A Conversation with the World: Calgary

A Conversation with the World seeks to identify and reinforce the commonality of our humanity.

The project was conceived in 1984 in San Francisco, California. At that time I proposed to document individuals encountered at random with recorded interviews and photographs.

During a number of incarnations of this project, I asked Professor James Wylie, at the Cooper Union for Arts and Sciences in New York City, New York to consider a series of questions that could be directed to individuals preceding each photographic portrait. The questions were authored to address the essential issues relative to human existence.  I believe that given the opportunity to respond in a relatively candid manner, the responses would act as a kind of template by which one could measure the universality of the human condition.

In 2009 Professor Laura Swart, with the support of the University of Calgary, invited me to conduct interviews with the First Nations population of Calgary. I found the interview process profoundly significant to the revelation of personal stories, traditions, struggles, and observations of culture held by the generation of individuals that have descended from a great nation of people with a rich and enduring heritage. Because of the imposition of western culture many individuals from this nation have had extreme difficulty, in not just assimilating culturally and overcoming the injustice of that imposition, but articulating any resonant definition of a true self as many of their ancestors were forced to endure unimaginable hardship at the hands of invading Europeans. Through the course of ill-conceived guidance, First Nations people have been forced to attempt to adopt the customs of a culture based on a system of values that is inherently misaligned with their own. The collaboration between Professor Swart and myself attempts to establish a fluent literary voice for this population based in an oral tradition using the visual arts as a starting point. As we establish a dialogue within the context of the interview process, participants voice their opinions, tell their stories, and articulate the florid illustrations of their deeply traditional past. In essence, the individuals that participate in this project have the opportunity to have their voices heard and even pose questions to the population at large using written language and pictures, effectively transcending Native and western culture.

I was consistently and profoundly moved through the course of this interaction as I also encountered poignant and moving stories from the decedents of the first explorers to enter this region. I was honored and humbled at the degree to which people shared stories, gave their time and carefully and thoughtfully folded me into their lives. It is with deep gratitude that I wish to thank all the individuals who shared their insights and the few moments that it took to collaborate portraits. Without such efforts we would all remain unenlightened, uninformed and untouched.

This website has enjoyed the support of the University of Calgary and the School of Arts and Architecture at the Pennsylvania State University. To the individuals who deliberated the gravity of this endevor and found favorably to assist in its perpetuation I am deeply grateful.