by Zosia Czarnecka
My grandfather, a prominent architect in Poland and Europe, taught me to never see an everyday object as ordinary. We used to play a game where he would hand me something plain and tell me to think of three unique uses for it. A fork would become a comb, a weapon, and a musical instrument. Then he would tell me to draw it and create a story around it. He pushed my creativity to its limits and then some. He instilled a fiery curiosity in me that continues to motivate me in my pursuits. He would take me on bike rides, balancing me precariously on the handlebars such that he couldn’t really see where he was going and we would usually end up getting yelled at by some old lady with a dog, or an irritated driver. As we biked, he challenged me to notice something new about a street or view every time we passed it. I learned to notice colors, materials, shadows, emotions, and shapes in a split second. Coupled with my imagination, I was able to turn even the most mundane space into a wonderland. I had learned to see the ordinary as extraordinary.
This ability to see outside the lines is what first drew me to the UrbanYEG Instagram account. This community of mystery photographers, capturing the beautiful essence of our city’s soul inspired me to explore Edmonton to its fullest. But UrbanYEG isn’t your average photography account. It is a community of photographers supporting one another in their pursuit of art, challenging one another to capture the unique, and encouraging one another to continue photographing- regardless of whether or not they are recognized for their work. The account owes its successful composition to Chan Rin, a professional photographer who first noticed the need for a common space for local photographers to share their work. Founded in the spring of 2015, UrbanYEG is more than an album. It is a network of creatives pushing one another to reach their full potential in a city that still struggles to recognize individual art. As Edmonton works to put its name on the map of artistically-recognized cities, we often focus too much on attracting famous works to our small gallery or commissioning public centerpieces by Canadian geniuses rather than acknowledging the local talent at home. In Chan’s words,
“Just because your photography isn’t being displayed in the Art Gallery of Alberta doesn’t mean that it’s not good or doesn’t have value.”
UrbanYEG proudly boasts its 20 000 followers but that’s still not enough to get these photographers the recognition they deserve. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend one of their For the People By the People parties – an evening get together for creatives to come out from behind their Instagram handles and discuss ideas in person. The idea was simple and genius – invite the artists and showcase a series of speakers about mental health to carry on with UrbanYEG’s spirit of support and community. I was disappointed by the low turnout to the event – I so often hear locals wishfully dreaming about a more inclusive artistic community in Edmonton. So where were they all? My optimistic spirit blames it on it being a Wednesday and our newly-revived Oilers playing a game that same evening.
I would love to see UrbanYEG host a showcase – print and magnify their members’ favourite pieces and show the public the side of Edmonton that they haven’t been paying enough attention to. This tight-knit group of volunteers could become the living gallery that they so desperately need in Edmonton to get their message across – there is beauty in these grey streets and our community has so much talent to offer. While they work on growing their network and expanding their reach, I am confident that Chan has created something permanent that will one day put Edmonton on the map not only for its art and creativity, but for its strong community spirit and advocacy.
Even if you don’t follow the team on Instagram, it’s possible you’ve seen them out on one of their many artistic missions to capture Edmonton’s heartbeat on their digital canvases. They host get-togethers to unite like-minded photographers and motivate one another. With mental health part of their central mandate, UrbanYEG volunteers for organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Ribbon Rouge, HIV Edmonton and Edmonton Public Schools to provide photography mentorship and educate about mental health issues through art.
UrbanYEG may still be searching for its exact place in our city, but I’m excited to watch them grow and expand to gain the public recognition their members deserve. I hope that someday soon, the Art Gallery of Alberta will proudly advertise a showcase of local photographers, capturing our city and transforming the ordinary Edmonton into the extraordinary.
Photography courtesy of UrbanYEG photographer Axel Arenas (@bboyakzel).