Sometimes inspiration comes unexpectedly, and that is exactly what happened to Gerald A. Fuller last spring.
The photographer from Little Mountain woke up one morning while visiting Victoria, turned to his fiance and told her he needed to photograph totem poles. “I don’t know what compelled me, but I knew I had to do this,” he said.
So he went out and snapped, focusing on sections of the poles instead of them in their entirety. Unbeknownst to Fuller, who had been a “closet photographer” for nearly 20 years and continues to make his living as a landscaper, those photographs would quickly start to get attention. People began to notice in the following weeks when Fuller met a couple directors of Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre in Duncan while he was there snapping a number of poles. Fuller said they were so drawn to the work that they asked if he could provide some art cards for their gift shop later that same day.
He didn’t even have a business card at that point, but he filled the order.
From there, things “happened really fast.” In May, he printed a handful of images for a portfolio and went to the Quality Inn Resort Bayside asking how he could display a photo in their lobby. Instead, the Bayside offered to rent him the whole wall from June to August.
“He does beautiful work,” said Helen Corcoran, catering manager at the Bayside and the one who co-ordinated with Fuller.
Fuller accepted and had 30 days to present matted and framed photos for the show. However, he had one problem: the only photographs he had were those in his portfolio. “I had absolutely nothing,” he recalled. So, after “freaking out” he started taking more and more photographs and learned how to frame and matt them from tutorials on YouTube.
The work payed off. People started buying his work and he hosted another show at the Bayside in October.
“Everyone loves it,” said Corcoran. “He gets enquires at the front desk all the time.”
“People are excited,” agreed Fuller. In particular, he noticed that people are interested in talking with him about the totem poles themselves. He said customers have come to him saying he’s opened up their eyes to totem poles. Thanks to the tight and narrow angles he shoots, they’re now looking closer at the poles and seeing the individual pieces instead of glancing at the whole thing.
Jane Davidson, who has had Fuller’s work for sale in her Parksville-based Gallery of Artists, also feels the photographer is doing more than creating nice images. “I feel he’s doing what Emily Carr did,” she said. “He’s documenting the poles.”
Fuller’s work, however, has also gotten some negative attention around copyright. That is, some people (who Fuller did not identify) were concerned that Fuller did not have the right to profit from images of other artists’ work. So, not wanting to step on toes, Fuller sought legal advice. “I had to do my due diligence … I did not ignore it,” he said.
In the end, however, Fuller’s lawyer found out the photographer is not breaking copyright because he’s only photographing poles in the public domain.
Still, Fuller wants “to make it clear that I’m not out to disrespect. If it was true (that he was breaking copyright), out of respect to the carvers I would not do this at all.”
So, it was out of this respect that he now credits the carvers on his Facebook page. In the description of each picture Fuller posts on the social media site, he includes the biography and website of that pole’s artist. He’s also started to add the mythology behind the carvings in the images. Followers are responding well to this attempt to go “beyond the photograph” as it’s an extension of the information he gives when speaking to people in person.
“I don’t know where this is going, but I know it’s exciting. I know something is coming.”
If you’d like to view Fuller’s photography, visit his websites gafullerphotography.com and facebook.com/GAFullerPhotographyFuller. He’ll also have another show at the Bayside from Jan. 1 – Feb. 28, 2015.