Photographer Mark West, right, shows off the book accompanying his new exhibition "Remarkable People" now showing at the Smithers Art Gallery until May 8. (Thom Barker photo)

International photojournalist discovers Bulkley Valley rife with remarkable people

New Mark West exhibition runs until May 8 at the Smithers Art Gallery

As a photojournalist working for British and international magazines, Mark West has documented a lot of remarkable people from the Baduy people — a reclusive tribe in the remote jungles of Java (Indonesia) — to Don Pascaul, the last shaman of Todos Santos in Guatemala — to participants in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

West, who has made his home in the Bulkley Valley for the past 12 years, also spent four months in the early 1990s travelling among the training camps of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and northern Iraq, a group that was later blacklisted as a terrorist organization by NATO.

West has a bit of a different take having found the people involved deeply rooted in their cultural traditions and determined to reinstate Kurdistan as their own autonomous homeland, a conflict that continues to this day.

Photos of the people he met in Turkey and Iraq were the subject of a powerful 2017 exhibition at Lalazar Café in Smithers.

Since then, West has turned his attention to, and his lens on, the people of the Bulkley Valley.

His new show, “Remarkable People” opened at the Smithers Art Gallery April 6 and runs to May 8.

OUR TOWN: For a while I decided I was going to be a country star, but then I (thought), ‘if I become a pop star, I’ll be way bigger’: Elena

“I was getting back into photography and I was shooting pictures to sell to newspapers and magazines back in the UK and a friend of mine said this would be a great time to have an exhibition as we come, hopefully, out of this pandemic period,” he said. “It’s a great time to celebrate the people of the valley.”

The collection of 50 plates documents everyone from Sikh millworkers in Houston to Witsuwit’en hunters and trappers to the DJ duo GOBE (Gigantic Oscillated Bass Explosion).

“I just started finding things visually that caught my eye and then as you get to kind of explaining to people what you’re doing, they go, ‘oh you must go and photograph that person or this person who’s doing this,’ and it just kind of snowballs, it’s kind of uncontrollable,” he said.

The photos were mostly taken in 2018 and 2019, but just as he was getting ready to launch the exhibition, COVID-19 hit and set him back a year. That gave him a chance, though, he said, to really refine the show and also put together a high-gloss accompanying book.

“The valley is full of these remarkable people and I think sometimes you can live in a community for a long time and you never get to know the person 100 yards down the road,” he said. “They’re all over the place, this is incredible. I kind of stumbled across this guy who builds black powder rifles… in his shed.”

OUR TOWN: A tale of two journeys: Couple united by fate in the Bulkley Valley

That said, West believes he has barely scratched the surface.

“It is one of those projects that would just go on forever,” he said.

West studied documentary photography at the prestigious Newport School of Documentary Photography in Wales under renowned photographers such as Daniel Meadows and Clive Landen before pursuing photojournalism.

However, when he and his wife Melissa (West) decided they wanted to have children, he ended up switching to teaching photography.

Once their three children were born, it was once again decision time.

“We originally moved here to give our kids freedom, some space,” he said. “Moving from England, it’s really congested and it’s been a great move, we’ve never looked back and we love the valley, it’s a great place to live.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Demonstrators lined Hwy 16 May 5 to mark the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Deb Meissner photo)
VIDEO: Smithers gathering marks Red Dress Day honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Approximately 70 people lined Hwy 16, drumming, singing and holding up placards

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

The road to Telegraph Creek (Hwy 51) was closed April 15 due to a washout. On May 4, the road was opened to light-duty passenger vehicles during specific times. (BC Transportation and Infrastructure/Facebook)
Telegraph Creek Road opens for light-duty vehicles

Road has been closed since April 15 due to a washout

FILE – Residents of the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory southwest of Montreal continue to monitor a blockade leading to blocked railroad tracks that pass through their community as they protest in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Sunday, March 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe
B.C. Supreme Court rejects Wet’suwet’en bid to toss LNG pipeline certificate

Opposition last year by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs set off Canada-wide rail blockades

On any given day, Brenda Mallory can be found holding court in her front yard on her acreage near Tyhee Lake. (Thom Barker photo)
Spice of Brenda: Our long-time columnist gets frank (when wasn’t she?)

Brenda Mallory has packed a lot of creativity into her life

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read