Monday, August 15, 2016

The Tragically Hip Photographic Journey

The Digital Photography program at Lambton College prides itself in the working professional photographers who make up the talented faculty.  We strive to bring our real-world experiences back to the classroom.  In the next few weeks we will be posting more on what our faculty has been doing over the summer months.  
Richard Beland

Lambton College Digital Photography program coordinator Richard Beland is creating a photographic record of the historic tour by the Canadian Icons - The Tragically Hip.

The news in late May that front man Gord Downie, 52, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer was a shocking revelation for fans across the country.   For Beland (who has covered the band for decades) this tour is more than work--it is a personal journey to capture this courageous event

We asked Beland to reflect on his connection on the Hip, in the past and during the last few dates of this epic tour.

Richard Beland creates images of The Tragically Hip. Photo by Troy Shantz

Q:  For whom are you photographing The Tragically Hip's - Man Machine Poem tour?
A: The images I am capturing on this tour, which is likely The Tragically Hip's final run of Canadian concerts, are for its career spanning photo archive. So, in the end, I am shooting for The Tragically Hip, for its management team, and for myself!

Q: What is your history with the band?
A: I'm really humbled to say that my personal and professional
history with the band goes back a long way. I first saw the band perform-- as a young(ish) fan of its music-- in support of its Road Apples album in August/December of 1991. However, my first bonafide opportunity to photograph the band came about in Europe at the Torhout-Werchter Music Festival in Belgium, during the Summer of 1993, when the band was touring behind the Fully Completely album. I was primarily at the festival to work for Faith No More, but I had been given access to shoot all of the bands on the bill, including Metallica, the Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, Sonic Youth, Neil Young, and The Tragically Hip. The rest is history.

Once I returned home to Canada from my European assignments, I met with The Tragically Hip's management and, at that point, a strong and rewarding relationship was launched that has continued throughout the years. I have now photographed the band in concert over 150 times, including its performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and each time the band was a revelation to me.

Some other high points I have enjoyed working with the band include photographing the album art work for their In Violet Light album, earning a Juno nomination for my photographic contribution to Gord Downie's solo album Battle of the Nudes, and hosting a career retrospective exhibit of my images of The Tragically Hip entitled "Colour of the Night".

Photo by Richard Beland
Q: What does it mean to you to be so connected to the Man Machine Poem tour, especially since it is such an historic event? 
A: It's both a privilege and an honor that I will always cherish.

Q: Is this more than just another photographic assignment or job?
A: To be honest, I try to never look at any occasion for photography as "just another job" and, certainly, the chance to shoot the Man Machine Poem tour is no different. But it is a complicated matter. After all, The Tragically Hip is one of Canada's most beloved bands and, by the greatest of coincidences, their music is part of my personal and professional life as well as our nation's cultural history! When I think about this opportunity, I cannot help but think of the lyrics from one of the band's most popular tunes, Ahead By A Century: "No dress rehearsal, this is our life"! But, to answer your question more directly, I prepare myself for this assignment or job as I would for other shoots even though I remain acutely aware of the importance of this tour and my role as a photographer blessed to chronicle it. I'm just doing my best to not let the enormity of the moment freak me out!
Photo by Richard Beland
Q: Are you covering the entire tour?
A: ​The band and management were generous enough to offer me the chance to shoot the entire tour. However, as I now have two young children, the logistics of touring for me are much different than they were a few years ago, and I don't want to be on the road for a month. So, I'm photographing the two Vancouver shows, the London show, two Toronto shows​, and single shows slated for Hamilton, Ottawa, and the final stop in Kingston.
Photo by Richard Beland
Q: Has the project been difficult, emotionally? 
A:​ Yes, in such a huge way. On a personal level, it's extremely emotional and, at times, overwhelming. In fact, I've had at least one introspective moment every night thus far. My mind drifts, I get choked up, then I smile and then my eyes fill with tears. Kingston is going to be a very uniquely bittersweet concert for me. On a professional level, though, I want to create the best and most memorable images I can, so I'm looking through the camera lens and viewfinder with a watchful eye that is always guided, I hope, by my training, my experience, and my determination under difficult circumstances.

Q: You are recording history, does this affect how you are approaching the tour?
A:I am doing my best to relax and breathe, which is something that I typically find challenging to do, while at the same time I embrace my job of capturing history. I'm concentrating on the lighting, the music, and the expressions of the band I want to capture. I'm approaching all of this very seriously, so I can do the very best job that I can do. But I'm listening and watching the show as a diehard fan as well. I want to ensure that I have memories that go beyond digital images; I want lasting memories that will live forever in my mind and my heart.
Photo by Richard Beland

Photo by Richard Beland
Photo by Richard Beland


  1. What a great insight into Richard's professional life. A great teacher and father who gives balance to his two passions. What a way to leave behind a message greater than this, "I want to ensure that I have memories that go beyond digital images; I want lasting memories that will live forever in my mind and my heart." I believe he is achieving this in everything he touches.

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  3. Good read. Thanks. Nice to see all is well Richard!

    How come you're not on FB?

  4. Really awesome post. Interested in learning photography. Want to know more about technical photography. Shaw Academy offers Free online photography courses. Learn all the latest techniques on our online photography classes today.


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