Where is Fort McMurray? The Camera as a Tool for Assembling "Community"


  • Andriko Lozowy University of Alberta
  • Rob Shields University of Alberta
  • Sara Dorow University of Alberta




community, collaboration, camera, visualicity, Fort McMurray


In response to the global mythology spawned by visual representations of Fort McMurray, Canada, this article examines a critical, collaborative youth project that sought oblique entry points to prevailing storylines of “community” and to what it might mean to live in the shadow of one of the world’s largest resource extraction complexes. Building on visual methodologies where participants are encouraged to produce representations of home and place, we explore the two-way dynamic of the camera as a catalyst for assembling a temporary research collective and, by the same token, as a tool for composing and assaying the contours of “community.” The project under consideration encouraged participants to learn skills of photography and to dynamically engage with other participants, researchers, and the place(s) of Fort McMurray around the creation and public display of images in both on-line and off-line spaces. Where possibilities of “community” are polarized, occluded, and/or overdetermined by the visual narratives of rapid resource development, collaboration around the camera helps to discern and speak back to the fault lines of community — including as they play out in the everyday lives of youth. Specific photos and the narratives around them are used to illustrate how the camera created and revealed iterations and relations of community across multiple scales, from the microcosm of the photography research group to the regional infrastructure of oil sands production.