97-year-old photographer Thelma Pepper to be recognized with Saskatchewan Order of Merit

Thelma Pepper's work captures the spirit of Saskatchewan and its people, all in black and white.

Saskatoon photographer well known for portraits of older women

Saskatoon photographer Thelma Pepper is one of the 2018 recipients of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. (CBC)

Thelma Pepper says the key to a good portrait is putting your subject at ease.

"The best photographs are those when you are not knowing it is being taken," Pepper said.

Pepper's assertion is backed up by years of wisdom. She is 97 years old. This month, the Saskatoon photographer will receive a Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Thelma Pepper

11 years ago
Duration 1:29
Thelma Pepper, 91, shares her passion for photography, Dan Kerslake reports.

Faces of Saskatchewan

Although she was born in Nova Scotia, Pepper's work somehow captures the spirit of Saskatchewan and its people. In particular, she seems uniquely adept at capturing images of older women in black and white.

It's the expression on her face.- Thelma Pepper 

"I tried colour, no, it wasn't for me," Pepper said. "It didn't show the real facial expressions."

Thelma Pepper says this portrait is her favourite of all that she has shot. (Thelma Pepper)

Pepper's favourite shot is of an older woman standing stern against the backdrop of a weathered farmhouse. Her eyes tell stories of a hard life, surviving a war and witnessing the worst of humanity. 

"It's the expression on her face. Every time you see it, you see something different," said Pepper.

Pepper came to photography after raising her own family. Her newfound time led to her reading to residents of Saskatoon's Sherbrooke Community Centre.

"I wasn't reading to them, they were pouring out their stories to me," she said. "These pioneer women, they taught me so much."

Those lessons spurred Pepper's desire to document the wisdom and the dignity of seniors through her photography, an effort that was captured in a National Film Board of Canada production.

Award winner

Pepper is no stranger to awards. She spoke with CBC at the age of 91 after being nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award. 

In 2014, she received the lifetime achievement award for her photography at the Lieutenant Governor's Arts Awards. The Saskatchewan Order of Merit will be given on May 23rd at a ceremony in Regina.   


Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.

with files from Saskatoon Morning