Chelsea man's photography project goes with the flow

A Chelsea, Que., man is using a huge, homemade camera to follow the ever-changing flow of Chelsea Creek, an art project he says may never end.

Harry Nowell uses a huge, homemade camera to chart the ever-changing course of Chelsea Creek

Harry Nowell says his Watershed photo project began 16 years ago with strolls with his dog 16 along the creek that runs near his home. (Christine Maki/CBC)

What started as a short walk along the creek near Harry Nowell's west Quebec home in 2001 has turned into a passion project with no end in sight.

Nowell says he's photographed about 20 kilometres of Chelsea Creek, and he's built a 23-kilogram camera out of plywood and fabric to do it with.

"The further I go, the more I admire and appreciate the old technology, the simplicity of it and the challenges inherent in getting a perfect photo when you don't have a darkroom," Nowell told Ottawa Morning's Christine Maki.

An example of Harry Nowell's photography, taken with his homemade camera. (Harry Nowell)

Nowell said he's drawn to how the creek shapes the landscape as it runs from the Camp Fortune area to near the Alonzo Wright bridge over the Gatineau River.

He said the little waterway's power can be quietly deceptive.

"One of the Gatineau Park parkways was taken out by this little creek. The culvert collapsed and the road collapsed and it took them about a year to rebuild it," he said.

"It's neat to see the progress of [what] the water affects … this 'little' creek has taken out major engineering and infrastructure."

He said he also wants people to think about their impact on nature.

"I want them to think how they connect to the water. If they're skiing in one of the parking lots and they toss their water bottle, it has an impact on the creek," he said. 

Harry Nowell's photograph of Fortune Lake, taken in 2014. (Harry Nowell)

Nowell's photography is on display at La Fab gallery in Chelsea for the next week.

Though he's never taken a canoe down the creek, he said he jumped in for a swim once, with his dog following along. Nowell estimates there are approximately five kilometres he hasn't yet photographed, and said what's left is more rugged and challenging than the rest.

Still, he said the nature of his project means even once he reaches the creek's end, he won't necessarily have finished. 

"It all changes," he said. "While I'm still in the area, still healthy, alive and active, I don't foresee ever stopping shooting this beautiful body of water."

Harry Nowell poses with his homemade camera and some of the photos he's taken with it. (Christine Maki/CBC)