Documenting a City, One Photo at a Time: Winnipeg Love Hate

For a decade, photographer Bryan Scott has documented nearly every corner of Winnipeg, Manitoba at his site, Winnipeg Love Hate.

The site bears witness to both urban decline and renewal — from city streets and shops to heritage buildings and landmarks — including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Winnipeg Love Hate is not just a site devoted to lovely photography, it’s a visual history of a Canadian prairie city — with beauty and blemishes both on public display.

Winnipeggers have a bizarre mix of pride and self-loathing for their city, which is well articulated in a song called “One Great City,” by local band The Weakerthans. Its refrain: “I hate Winnipeg.”

How did Winnipeg Love Hate originate?

In 2006 or 2007, I had a eureka moment about myself and my photography. For the longest time, I believed I had to travel to take the kind of photos I was interested in. I was completely blind to the beauty right in my own backyard. When I finally saw what was there, I began to photograph the city. Winnipeg Love Hate began about a year after that. Before starting the site, I posted my photos to Flickr. It’s an excellent service, but I wanted a site to call my own.

Billy Mosienko Lanes and Holy Trinity Church on Main St. In 1952, Mosienko set the NHL record for the fastest hat trick, scoring three goals in 21 seconds.

Winnipeggers can immediately relate to the mixed sentiment behind Winnipeg Love Hate — how would you explain the site to non-locals?

Winnipeg Love Hate has always been — and always will be — a personal project about the way I see my hometown (and province). And it’s no secret that I have mixed feelings about it. But there’s nothing special about Winnipeg in this regard. I think these feelings of ambiguity are universal. It doesn’t matter if it’s London, Paris, New York, or Montreal; or Boise, Grand Forks, or Windsor; there are things you love about your hometown and things you hate about it. But I have to admit: in a middle-of-the-road place like Winnipeg, it feels pretty great to show others the good they’d not seen previously.

Portage Avenue looking east.
Albert Street.

What drives you to keep photographing Winnipeg and Manitoba?

I’ve been creating images my whole life. As a young kid I always had crayons and pencils in my hands, and then later, cameras and video cameras. At the same time, I’ve always been a collector. Records, hockey cards, vintage pop bottles — I’ve gone through several phases. The need to create images and a desire to collect has driven me all the years I’ve been posting images on Winnipeg Love Hate. I get a similar rush from capturing a great image and from finding that rare record I’d been searching for for years. I’m never satisfied though, and am always looking to add to the collection.

But I have to admit: in a middle-of-the-road place like Winnipeg, it feels pretty great to show others the good they’d not seen previously.

At the same time, it gives me immense satisfaction knowing that there are people out there who enjoy my photos; if it weren’t for the positive feedback I get, it’s unlikely I’d be producing as much work as I do.

A frosty morning on William Avenue, in Winnipeg’s West End neighborhood.

At Winnipeg Love Hate, you’re just as likely to see a photo of a back alley as a city landmark. How do you approach documenting the city?

When it first clicked that Winnipeg could be an endless source of photographs, I gravitated toward the more obvious subjects, namely landmark buildings and skylines. Also, my interest in graphic design (it’s actually my chosen profession) meant that things like neon signs and faded ghost-signs were also of great interest to me.

People would tell me that I had this knack for finding beauty where there wasn’t any. But this confused me, as I was photographing things I did find inherently beautiful. So I challenged myself to try to find beauty where there truly wasn’t any (by any typical objective standards).

From left, Yoon’s Discount Everything on Ellice Ave, the Nutty Club building on Pioneer Avenue, and the sign you see at the foot of the Slaw Rebchuck Bridge as you enter Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood.

At the same time, I developed this feeling that I had an obligation to document Winnipeg. It’s currently undergoing a lot of changes — some good and some bad. I’ve made it my challenge to document these changes. I’m always interested in seeing if things we consider ugly today will be considered beautiful tomorrow through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.

And these days, after having photographed practically every landmark in the city several times over, I’m most interested in taking photos that are great because they’re great photos, not because they’re simply adequate photos of beautiful places.

Winnipeg’s skyline, looking west. On the left, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. On the right, Esplanade Riel.

To learn more about Bryan Scott, visit Winnipeg Love Hate, check out his photos on Flickr, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

March 30, 2017Interviews, Photography, Place, , ,