How Meryl McMaster takes the vast Canadian landscape and makes it very personal

McMaster has become renowned for her dreamy photographs of the landscape, wearing her signature mesmerizing costumes. Here, she breaks it down.

McMaster has become renowned for her dreamy photographs of the landscape, wearing her mesmerizing costumes

Meryl McMaster. (CBC Arts)

A while back, we brought you the story of photographer Meryl McMaster as she travelled the land around Ottawa in preparation for her new body of work. (Watch that video here.)

Now, filmmaker Nicholas Castel has gone back to McMaster's studio to speak with her further, gain a deeper understanding of her work and see it in its final iteration at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto. It's all part of a recent episode of Absolutely Canadian, where you get to meet four artists working with nature in and around Ottawa.

Watch the video:

Meryl McMaster makes the landscape personal

3 years ago
Duration 10:55
In this deep dive into the work of Meryl McMaster, she takes you along as she finds the perfect location for one of her mesmerizing photographs.

The process of making one of McMaster's large scale works is involved. McMaster — who is from a Plains Cree, British and Dutch background — takes pains to learn about the land upon which she shoots her images. She says, "My work is predominantly photography-based, but I bring in a lot of different media to the images — different materials that I find, I collect. I bring them together into different large-scale props or sculptural garments that I'm wearing or my subject's wearing within the photograph. Bringing these different elements together, I hope to layer the images with meaning. I hope that the viewer kind of gets lost within the images and transported out of ordinary life and can get lost in their own thoughts."

"Dream Catcher." (Meryl McMaster)

While her images speak to Indigenous history, colonization and even the legacy of residential school, McMaster believes her work can resonate with people of many different backgrounds. She points out, "We have to be engaged and you have to learn as part of that act of reconciliation. I can help Canadians or new immigrants to this country learn about our stories, I guess, and learn about the history before they were even here."

"Lead Me to Places I Could Never Find on My Own I." (Meryl McMaster)

In this video, you'll see McMaster at work both in the studio and the outdoors as she prepares for her show Meryl McMaster: As Immense as the Sky, which was at Ryerson Image Centre this summer. And you'll learn how much her work has helped her to learn about herself as well as the land.

Find out more about Meryl McMaster here. And stay tuned to the CBC Arts feed in the coming weeks for three more segments from Absolutely Canadian.

"Wingeds Calling." (Meryl McMaster)

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT). Watch more videos here.


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.