Photographer captures majestic simplicity of grain elevators

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Veteran journalist and photographer Johnny Bachusky has made it his mission to photograph every grain elevator in Canada.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/10/2021 (316 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Veteran journalist and photographer Johnny Bachusky has made it his mission to photograph every grain elevator in Canada.

The Lake of the Woods grain elevator — destined for demolition this fall — in Elva, is part of Bachusky’s photo collection of approximately 1,500 grain elevators in the country.

The black-and-white photo shows the grain elevator’s texture, the sky’s mottled clouds, and a landscape that beckons back to a time when grain elevators were the social hub of a community.

Johnny Bachusky The Lake of the Woods elevator in Elva, pictured here in 2007, was built in 1897 and is slated for demolition this fall.

The Elva elevator is in Bachusky’s top 10 grain elevators to photograph.

“It’s a very historic structure,” he said. “I’ve photographed Elva in all seasons. I’ve been through it a dozen times. I love that area and other grain elevators in the area. Shooting Elva and going there, I always considered it a ghost town. It’s a shadow of its former self. It’s an amazing reflection of the past.

“I’m very sad it’s slated for demolition. I understand — they become fire traps.”

Johnny Bachusky An old Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain elevator from the ghost town of Bents, Sask., in 2005. The cupola of this classic grain elevator was badly damaged in a windstorm in January 2021.

With 40 years in the industry, Bachusky heralds from a time when photographs weren’t instant; camera film was the medium, and a Pentax K1000 camera was the backbone of his kit.

His love of documenting old grain elevators came in stages, he said in a telephone interview with the Sun from Innisfail, Alta., where he is the editor of The Albertan and the online service, mountainviewtoday.ca.

“As much as I love being a journalist at the ancient age of 64, my passion is photography,” he said. “Especially in this pandemic, if and when I get time, especially in the summers, and head out on the road, it’s amazingly therapeutic for me.”

Johnny Bachusky A pair of country grain elevators along the rail line at Arrowood, Alta., in 2001.

Between 2004 and 2009, he made a commitment to shoot every standing grain elevator in Western Canada.

“When I do, I settle down. I find it peaceful and cathartic.

“I shoot ghost towns, grain elevators, old water towers … anything of heritage value.”

Bachusky has logged a lot of miles, accompanied by his favourite album by The Who.

“I’d do it on weekends, long weekends. I’d keep things simple.”

He’s photographed all the known remaining elevators in B.C., Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

“I absolutely had to see the fallen ancient elevators sitting in a field, abandoned in the last 30 to 40 years.”

Bachusky travels light, rising at the crack of dawn to catch the early morning summer light.

Oftentimes, he’ll find a site with nothing on it. But for Bachusky, it’s not the destination but the journey that keeps him hunting.

Having documented all the known heritage grain elevators in the West, he’s re-shooting those photos because he’s always striving to improve on his work.

“I’ve decided to re-shoot grain elevators in different seasons and lighting conditions.”

Once a colour photography supporter, Bachusky now shoots strictly in black and white.

His work is internationally recognized and he’s published books on the topic, too.

 

“The way they are aging is so noble. Their demise is so perfectly natural with the elements beating against it. To see these structures takes me back to a beautiful, more simple time.”

Photos Bachusky provided the Sun were shot on black-and-white film, or through the digital process.

His work and exhaustive research is comparable to none as he retraces his steps across the country one grain elevator at a time, re-shooting not only those ancient structures but continuing to document a time when life was far simpler.

» kkielley@brandonsun.com

 

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