Marriott launches Tall Tales, Long Lenses

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If you’re one of the many who cherish Bow Valley wildlife and are concerned with our environment and conservation, John Marriott’s new book will be of interest.

The hardcover coffee table book Tall Tales, Long Lenses: My Adventures in Photography frames the first 20 years of Marriott’s career and is filled with many of his most popular images and a number of anecdotes of his life in the field.

Marriott will launch his new publication with a free event at artsPlace in Canmore on Wednesday (Dec. 6) at 7 p.m. and the Whyte Museum in Banff ($5, free for members) at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Dec. 7). The multimedia events will feature readings, a slide show and storytelling.

Images in Tall Tales range from a cover closeup of mighty B.C. grizzly Frank the Tank to a never before published, barely recognizable image of a black wolf on the train tracks in Banff; one of Marriott’s greatest learning errors.

When it comes to Frank’s image on the cover, the final word on its use came about through online voting. Much to Marriott’s relief, it was the photo he preferred.

“It’s the image I wanted on the cover,” he said, “and I was getting worried because a lot of people were voting for other images. It came down to a wolf, a bear and two ravens in a peoples’ choice vote and Frank won by five per cent. It was very close. A lot of people thought he looked too intimidating, but that’s what I liked about it.

“It’s a classic misconception about big male bears. Frank looked tough and mean, but he was easygoing around people and didn’t get into trouble. And that’s one of the things I love about living in this valley, you don’t get to see these big bears like him in most areas.”

In relation to bears, Marriott also uses his book to call for an end to the grizzly hunt and creation of more protected areas.

“There is a conservation theme that runs through the book,” he said.

Tall Tales, which features a forward by former NHL goalie Kelly Hrudey, runs the gamut of Marriott’s career from first tentative beginnings with a Kodak Instamatic when he was six years old to images captured in 2016 – these include black, grizzly and polar bears, wolves, owl, elk, pine marten, caribou …

Among the anecdotes he shares is a favourite regarding a trip to the Yukon when he bumped into Trapper Ivan, a 75 year old character who caught a ride with Marriott to his cabin while hitchhiking on a dirt road.

Trapper Ivan regaled a young Marriott with tales of the Yukon to the point, “where I thought he was just taking advantage of a greenhorn,” he said. “I was in his house for about six hours, looking at all this stuff he had in his cabin, as he told me about this huge bear he had killed.

“At the end, I wasn’t really believing him anymore, but when I walked to his front window there were these huge paw marks on it that he’d left there. And at his door, there was a huge deadbolt gouge in his doorframe from when the bear was trying to smash through it.

“After all the time I was there with him, I didn’t take his photo – that was an epic fail. But I went back three weeks later and got that.”

This type of tall tale, sprinkled among the chronicle of Marriott’s career, was just what he wanted with his new book. There are plenty of coffee table photography books around, he said, “but I put some strategy into it to get people to read it; pull quotes and interesting stories.”

The initial seeds for Tall Tales, Long Lenses were planted in 2003 after his trip to the Yukon where he encountered Trapper Ivan. After sharing some of his tales with friends at Banff’s St. James’ Gate, “they said ‘you’ve gotta write about this.’ I went home after that and wrote the title of the book.”

Since then, the book became a labour of love, with a self-imposed getaway (no cellphones, TV or interruptions) to work on it. Then there were decisions as to whether to self-publish and whether to have it prior to this Christmas season, or have it ready for 2018.

“It was a much larger project than anything I’ve done before,” he said. “But I’ve had some great help from small businesses and many people in the valley like Kristy Davison, who helped with editing.

“And there were times I wondered if it would pay for itself. It’s a labour of love, but you still have to pay bills.”

After a Western Canada book tour with Tall Tales, Marriott’s next projects include a trip to Bathurst Island in the Arctic, where he’s set up an expedition with Weber Arctic Expeditions to photograph Arctic Fox, wolves and Peary caribou.

After that, on the books is a five-year secret project that will be unveiled in due time.

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