Kyler Zeleny – Interview

We are delighted to be interviewing Canadian photographer Kyler Zeleny about his project Crown Ditch and The Prairie Castle. 

In the space of four years, Kyler Zeleny travelled the prairie lands of North America, driving over 15,000 km in the process to photograph and document their current realities. The prairies is an extensive region encompassing parts of both Canada and the U.S. suffering from a loss of heritage and uncertain about its future as society continues to move in the direction of mass urbanisation.

The project presents the space as an understudied region, a beast upon itself, a unique meeting of landscape, industry, and most importantly, people who are a resilient breed created by generational lessons in fortitude and fortuned circumstance.

1. Hi Kyler, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for us. First, we want to ask you what inspired you to make Crown Ditch and the Prairie Castle in the first place?

The Canadian prairies are my home, but also my muse and I keep returning to this area to make work because I’m intimately connected to it. There are also so very few projects looking at the landscapes, places and people who inhabit this giant region of North America. Every place is entitled to have a complex visual history, and it seemed like a shame for such a wonderful and vast region to go on without proper documentation. I also make work on the prairies because I’m interested in understanding where I came from, the landscapes I walked and the people I interacted with in rural areas. For me it was a way to make sense of the region but also to make sense of my upbringing.

2. Tell us a little about the practicalities behind shooting this project?

I started to shoot this project after I moved to Toronto, which seems to work well for me, and keeps my eye fresh when I return to the prairies. I’m from the prairies so I flew back over three summers, insured my vehicle and hit the road. I would shoot for a week or two before making my way back home. This process worked for when I was shooting Out West and I continued it. I like being on the road, no distractions, just me and the project, it allows me to become immersed and focused. I also find it rather therapeutic and a great break from living in a bustling city. It is medicine.

3. What would you like readers to take away from the book?

That’s largely up to the reader. I’m just excited and interested in making a body of work about the region as I understand it. A region that hasn’t had as much care and attention showered on it as it deserves. The goal was always to simply make a record of the landscapes and towns of the prairies and the people that inhabit them. So I hope the viewer sees the images and reads the texts and has a better understanding of the place I call home.

4. After your experience of traversing the prairies, how do you view its future? Are you optimistic?

I guess it depends on what factor (or factors) we are judging success by and if we are talking about small communities or its larger cities. Because of how large and diverse the region is, a question like that becomes evermore difficult to answer when you understand its complexity. The region will continue to exist and it will do just fine. The region, only settled a little over one hundred years ago is still young and so it has some learning to do. The cities will grow and the small towns will get smaller or fully disappear back to nature. That is probably the only demographic area I’m worried about, is the disappearance of small communities and the erasure of a rural lifestyle that helped settle the region, that I would say is not going to be optimistic.

5.  What place, in the mind of Canadians, do you feel the prairies has in the collective imagination?

That’s another tough question and depends on who you are asking – the banker in Toronto, the fisherman in Nova Scotia, or the oil worker in Alberta. There is no prairies in a singular sense, only ideas of the prairie that exist in plural terms. All regions are complex tapestries, a social construction that is both real and imaginary. What I layout in this book is one of the infinite ideas of the region. More importantly it is my view of the region and the one I wish to share with those that call it home and those that live outside of it. I want people to see this complex region and particularly its rural areas the way I do.

Crown Ditch and The Prairie Castle is available now. More Information