The Saskatchewan soil was wet with rainwater from the night before, and with her fragile hip and legs I was concerned if we should even attempt a picture so early in the morning, perhaps waiting until the sun dried the soil a little and trying later in the day or the next. When I brought up my concerns to her she said, “don’t be silly.”
We arrived at the location around 6:30am. It wasn’t the exact parcel of land that she used to farm, but it was very close to it. Slowly we made our way to the spot I had marked while scouting. The ground being soft and slippery, I ran back to the vehicle and grabbed a shovel to give her something for extra support and balance. I handed it to her and walked back to the camera, and when I turned around I found her shoveling the dirt near her feet. I asked, “what are you doing?” She replied, “shovelling.” I said “I know, but why?” She quipped back, “what else do you do with a shovel.”
When the tossing of dirt ceased, I started taking pictures. During this time we conversed about the beautiful sky, the vastness of the prairies, why anybody would ever live by an ocean, if I wanted a tour of the town (for the 430th time), her father and her grandfather who both loved photography, whether I would be better off living and working in Saskatchewan, the expensive sandwiches at the new restaurant (Subway) in the town 20 miles to the south, why had I grown up to be a pest, who would ever want to see a picture of her, and that it was now getting to be time for breakfast.
About a month later I went back to visit my Grandmother and I brought a few enlargements with me. She was a woman never easily impressed and she always shied away from any spotlight that may have been directed her way. I was so nervous and curious to witness her reaction to the photograph that I could barely sleep the few nights before.
Before presenting the picture to her, she asked if I was happy with the results. I told her that it was one of my favourite images that I’d ever made, that a few photo colleagues loved it and wanted to hang in their homes but that the true test was what she thought of it.
I handed it to her, the 11×14 inch print looked like a mural in her tiny hands. She smirked, studied it carefully, ran her fingers gingerly over the pearl surface, 15 to 20 seconds of silence went by, and finally, still looking at the picture, gently said, “oh that ugly old shovel.”