By Gail Picco, December 16, 2021
Resilient: The Portraiture of Wayne Simpson, foreword by David Brosha, Rocky Mountain Books, September 30, 2021, 280 pp., $60.00
(December 16, 2021) Wayne Simpson’s first public collection of portraiture shows us nothing less than the perfection of being human. Called Resilient, the book ostensibly features people who have been around a time or two, who’ve been knocked down and got back up again, and who may have been down to the crossroad to sell more than their soul. The stories told by his portraits are compelling mysteries.
Simpson is a stay-at-home dad who lives in Elora, Ontario with his wife and two children. His mother is from Aamijiwnaang First Nation, and he has a Scots Irish father. In Resilient, Simpson captures the prime facie beauty in the human face, giving argument to the notion that suffering can give us a more profound response to the world.
But accompanying this portraiture by Wayne Simpson are the stories of his gaze. He befriends some of the individuals he’s photographed. Sheep farmer Brady Wagstaff is asked, What’s your biggest fear? My biggest fear is failing to keep the farming lifestyle alive. Bernie Binstock is asked, What’s been your greatest accomplishment to date? Surviving to the age of 69. Cheryl McKie What gives you strength? Jesus gives me strength and hope to face each day. Steve Simpson: What is the most difficult thing you have ever overcome?Being able to understand, react and respond to our laws. Brian Newman: The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.
His photos return dignity to people who have often been treated with none.
“Between the ages of 4 and 11, Leona had been assaulted by more than 40 men. She became a Crown ward and put into a hospital in London, Ontario, medicated and put in a straight jacket. What have you done to provoke a full-grown man to do these things to you?” she was asked.
Tom Wanyandie of Wanyandie Flats, Alberta, had a flat out fight with a grizzly bear who had grabbed hold of his adult son James.
“According to Tom, the bear tossed James around like a rag doll, forcing him to the ground, tossing him in the air and thrashing back and forth. Fearing that this could be the end for James, Tom yelled at the top of his lungs. He yelled all the profanities he could think of in Cree as he ran toward the bear. Without fear, and running on pure adrenalin and primal rage, Tom ran at the bear until it disappeared into the woods—and then he kept running. In fact, James started yelling for him to come back!”
Storied U.S. photographer, Ansel Adams, said, “Photography is an austere and blazing poetry of the real.”
By this standard, Wayne Simpson has given us a “blazing poetry of the real” and we’re vanquished by it. Won over. In its debt.
Resilient is a shining example of the talent operating beneath the radar in this country. Every photograph on every page is a piece of the poetry of everyday life. I loved this book, Wayne Simpson for devoting his life to the chronicling of people who are worth our love and care, and for Rocky Mountain Books who continue to ferret out the best of our country and preserve it for all of us to see.
More reviews by Gail Picco
Christi Belcourt: The brilliance of a great artist December 16, 2021
#BlackinSchool: How school reinforces racism September 12, 2021