From the Archives

This post originally appear, January 24, 2012.  Thank you FB Memories for reminding me.


I was there when he took his last breath. I held his hand and waited in anticipation of an exhalation that never came. And in that one final breath in, the life-force left his body and James A. Bannerman was gone.

James was a client of the homeless shelter where I worked. Just after joining the team, I started an art program. One day, a box of throw-away cameras arrived in my office and I gave them to clients with the request they take pictures of their world. James was one of the ones who agreed to participate. From then on, a camera was never far from his sights. Whenever he wandered the streets of Calgary doing what he did everyday, picking up bottles along the riverbank, he would take photos. “Bottle pickings my civic duty,” he used to tell me when I’d pass him as I walked into work in the mornings. “I’m helping keep the city clean.”

Photography became his way of life.

That little box of a camera became a conduit for him to express the light and darkness of the city all around him. He became indefatigable in his ‘picture-taking’ as he liked to call it.  Homeless for over 15 years when he received that first camera, picture-taking became his passion and, he laughed, maybe even his retirement plan. He became so immersed in his art that eventually, he saved up enough money from his odd jobs and bottle collecting to buy himself a digital camera, and then a laptop. And his picture-taking became an insatiable desire to express his awe of the world around him. Whenever we held art shows James would always turn up. A man of view words, he struggled to connect through words to those who passed his booth. He didn’t need words to speak. His photos spoke for him and to the hearts of those who purchased his work and gave it a home.

And then, cancer came and within months he was gone.

But not his photography. Not his view of the world  he inhabited that he captured tirelessly where ever he went throughout our city. He didn’t take photos of people. He only took photos of buildings and bridges and water flowing in the river and frozen footprints in ice and the patterns of a manhole cover and an image of a street through the broken glass of a bus shelter.

James A. Bannerman had an eye for beauty and next week, on the day that would have been his fifty-fourth birthday James A. Bannerman’s first solo exhibit will open.

Yesterday, I met with the curator of the exhibit from The New Gallery (TNG) and two individuals who are part of hosting this year’s inaugural, This is My City Festival to finalize the selection of photos that will appear in the exhibit. As we sorted through Jame’s photos, looking for just the right one’s to include in the Plus 15 TNG Window Gallery that will be their home for the next two months, I shared stories of James and his indefatigable spirit and felt connected once again to this man who touched my heart in so many ways.

James would be pleased. His photos are out of retirement.

This is a difference worth making. This is a difference I have held in my heart since I sat and held Jame’s hand and listened to the last intake of his breath rattling through his lungs in the early morning hours of December 8, 2009. This is a dream I’ve breathed life into throughout the intervening days, a dream other’s have joined with me in bringing to light.

I am happy and I am grateful.




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