Farming and Photography with Alana Paterson

Capturing perspective and sustenance from Mother Nature…

Nestled in a Canadian coastal mountain range is the magical valley of Pemberton, which serves as the part-time residence of farmer/photographer Alana Paterson. Splitting time between a studio in Squamish and her Pemberton farm, Alana more often than not takes to camping out of her pickup truck. Her easy-going outdoor vibes have only enhanced her ability to understand and capture beautiful moments. Others have taken notice of Alana’s talents, as well – Brixton, Snowpeak, Urban Outfitters, Poler Stuff, Levis…as well as magazines like Thrasher, Desillusion, Kinfolk, Monster Children and Western Living. We caught up with Alana Paterson on the farm to chat about creating, and what it means to live a life outdoors…  

Where are you living these days?

I live primarily in the Sea to Sky Corridor of British Columbia. I have a funny set-up in that my partner and I keep a house in North Vancouver, a live-in warehouse in Squamish (where we probably stay the most) and I work on a farm in Pemberton where I stay while seeing to my duties there. I like the Sea to Sky – it’s a string of mountain villages that attract a lot of younger folks – and life! – despite being smaller and out of the city centre.

How did you get into farming and what keeps you there?

My Uncle gave me my first farm job. That was about ten years ago. I guess I stay on farms for a lot of reasons. One, it keeps me balanced. My career in freelance photography can be pretty high-pressure at times, very subjective and cerebral. I also find growing food really rewarding and challenging in its own way. Also, growing locally-sold produce is important to me. That’s not to say I don’t eat bananas but I think it’s important for people to have local options so they don’t necessarily have to be eating things shipped from across the world, especially if it can be produced locally.

You are frequently riding on boats in your Instagrams… where are you boating to?

Ha, Usually just in circles. I grew up working on the water with my dad so it’s deep in me to be out there. My partner and his brother and I have been building a cabin on their property on Gabriola Island so we are out in the Flat Top Islands a lot. We go down to Ganges or Montague harbour from time to time. Just bumming around the Gulf mostly.

You’ve been widely recognized for your photography on Tumblr and Instagram. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out and thinking about getting into photography?

Hmmm. Think – critically – about what sort of photographs you want to take. If you want to be a photojournalist, do your research about the genre. Don’t just think about being a photojournalist and then shoot food photographs because it’s a lot easier and you learnt how to do it.

When are you happiest?

I love cool weather. I dunno…I can’t explain what makes me feel great. Sometimes the universe just comes together for you, you know?

What helps you feel inspired to shoot photos and what do you do when you’re feeling blocked creatively?

Older people who have created really great lives for themselves…seeing the incredible homes, businesses, hobbies, farms, boats they’ve created and the things they achieve in their later years always gets me really fired up. You know, like neat older people. That’s my inspiration. If I feel blocked I go hang out with one of these people I admire and then I feel ok about being blocked and it usually goes away. Hanging out with older people just gives you so much perspective. Like wow, look at what they have done. It took them years. Calm down, you have time. Haha.

Living all over the Sea To Sky corridor means you spend a good amount of time in the truck. What music do you listen to when you are on the road?

I love to listen to the radio. I find something nice about not being in control of what comes on. On Tuesdays I get up at 5am to drive to the farm, and the one thing that gets me out of bed is thinking about the radio program I know will be on-air during that time. I’m lying…but it sounded good and the radio program is pretty great.

Do you have a favourite book?

The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.

What was the best work trip you have ever been on?

Lifetime took me to Thailand for a photo shoot – that was pretty fun.

Describe your style in three words:

Skateboarder who shops at Patagonia too much. That is 7.

What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your line of work?

Well, as far as farming goes, it’s the physical challenges – the midday heat in the valley or getting up early or being sore from a hard day and then getting up for another one. But then seeing a giant pile of organic food that you nursed from teensy tiny seeds heading off to market is pretty incredible and, honestly, one of the more meaningful things I have ever done. With photography, the challenges are far more mental. The lead-up dialog often wears me down…any work I need to spend on a computer is challenging – all the emails for quoting, pricing, usage, leasing, contracts, flights, scheduling, deliverables, image count…it’s endless! And then all the post…gah. But the reward comes when I knock one out of the park and everyone in the art department is freaking out and really excited to work with my images. When there exists a finished product that I am really proud of, and when I think I have done better then I have ever done before, that makes it all worth it. When an editor’s and my visions align, and the publication arrives and I just can’t believe how good it looks…that’s when all my reward centres fire and I know exactly why I keep one foot in a creative field.

What are you currently working on? Any photo projects for us to look forward to?

I have so many ideas for personal projects and no time to do them. This winter, when I’m done on the farm and the cabin is finished..I promise I will.

What advice would you give to the younger you, when you were just getting started with photography? Make a conscious, informed decision about the focus of your photography, and go for it. Don’t just let it happen to you, make it happen for you in the way you want.

One thing most people don’t know about you…

I only use one eye.

Thanks to Alana Paterson for showing us around the farm and Amanda Smith for the lovely photos.

Follow the author of this blog post, Caley, on Instagram for more Canadian adventures.

+Where do you find inspiration in nature? Comment below!

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mike waker
8 years ago

Very nice article.thank you.
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