Rural scenes around Williams Lake like this, a van with a flat tire abandoned by the highway, fascinates Casey bennet and make up the core of his show Hubcity. (Casey Bennett photo)

Photography helps lakecity man heal relationship with Williams Lake

Casey Bennett has used the lakecity to both discover what he’s passionate about and refine his craft

Discovering what you’re passionate about is an important part of everyone’s life and photographer Casey Bennett has used the lakecity to both discover what he’s passionate about and refine his craft.

Bennett was born in Grand Forks, B.C. near the Washington border and grew up there until he was about 16 when his parents moved up to the lakecity. Currently, Bennett works as a project assistant with the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin since June of 2019 and as a freelance graphic designer for a variety of small businesses and non-profits in the lakecity and Downtown Williams Lake.

His interest in visual art started at a young age while watching his grandfather paint on his parents’ patio quietly constructing an image out of nothing. As a child, he was also into animated movies, too, so he took up drawing at a young age. His father, meanwhile, was an amateur photographer when not out ranching and would take pictures of landscapes, sunsets and flowers which a young Bennett loved pawing through, holding up the negatives to the light.

“I eventually grew out of the drawing phase and I wanted to become a filmmaker. Movies were my big thing when I was in junior high,” Bennett said. “My friends and I would go make crazy weird movies (with my dad’s camera) and I really just enjoyed the process of writing it, staging it and filming it.”

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This desire to be a filmmaker stayed with him until he was 24 when he went to the Gulf Island Film and Television School on Galiano Island where he did a one-month media producers program that didn’t prove to be the experience he had been hoping for. Bennett feels that he wasn’t fully prepared and, rather than come out of it ready to make his own Citizen Kane, he was instead disheartened and had lost interest in filmmaking.

Returning to the lakecity disappointed, Bennett went through a ‘depressive phase’ as, up until that point, filmmaking had been everything he’d been working towards in life. During this time of existential dread Bennett began working at Gibraltar Mines and remembers thinking “this was going to be it, this is where I’m going to be until I retire.”

It was at this time a friend lent him a little point and shoot camera during a barbecue and Bennett just went ballistic with it, snapping dozens of photos. Going through them his friend said he was amazed by what Bennett had captured and that’s when things began to pick up creatively for him again.

For the next few months, Bennett saved up his Gibraltar cheques and bought his first digital camera, which he then began experimenting with as much as possible, making a lot of mistakes. At that point, he didn’t worry about form or technique — he was just out in the community doing something he loved.

At 25, Bennett left the lakecity and moved to Victoria where he started to develop both his interest and skill in photography by shooting concerts, weddings, freelance editorial work, commercial projects and more.

Over the next two years, he hustled wherever he could and poured all his effort into each job, be it for a magazine, a mall opening or whatever else he came across. As a natural introvert, photography proved to be a great excuse for him to step out of his shell and talk with people, like when he and a friend set up a portable backdrop in downtown Victoria and asked random pedestrians if they could take their portraits.

“That experience (in Victoria) itself really helped me to build myself up and push myself. It was always a ladder of progress.”

After those two years he moved to Vancouver to attend graphic design school where, after a year, he moved back to Williams Lake in 2015 where he has been living ever since. While he loved the years he spent doing pure freelance work, he realized he was beginning to burn out and he decided to leave the editorial and commercial world of photography and strictly focus on his personal work. In recent months, his personal projects have developed into photo galleries he’s starting to display at shows around the world.

One of these is Hubcity: a project that grew out of his return to Williams Lake and his journey of trying to make sense of the community that, in the past, he’d had such negative experiences with. As a teenager, he said it was difficult to grow up in and he had some personal issues that made it difficult for him to consider himself a part of the community. He always saw it as a place to “escape,” not to live in.

However, when that “gravitational pull” the lakecity seems to have caught hold of him and he began shooting this project, he said nothing could have been more therapeutic. By exploring the town he discovered his own identity and how he fits within the fabric of Williams Lake which, while it may not always be evident in the photographs, was present in his intent.

“This was just me taking photos to keep sane and keep my anxieties low and creativity high. So this was just me going out every weekend and picking random spots around town and then just photographing them. I’m mostly drawn to really rural areas and isolated items, there’s a story behind why there is a minivan parked by the side of the highway with a flat tire,” Bennett said. “It’s personifying items really.”

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As time went on and he went through his negatives, as he now shoots on a Mamiya RZ67, he began to piece together sequences and little stories based on composition, light and symmetry. Bennett began to focus on these implied narratives and began shooting “with a purpose” while researching other photographers techniques.

The chance to showcase Hubcity came about quite randomly when a Victoria-based company called Camera Traders, his personal favourite, reached out on Instagram and asked him if he wanted to show his work at their gallery in Market Square, the heart of downtown Victoria.

He jumped at the chance to get to share his work in the city he got his start in and show his Victoria friends work he felt best represented himself. On Sept. 6, 2019, despite going up against the Great Canadian Beer Festival, he had a really great experience showcasing his art, with one friend telling him “Casey, this is you” which really touched him.

Also in September, he took part in a group festival in Gonzaga, Italy, which was fantastic for him as he thought his submissions hadn’t earned a place initially.

Rather than be hung or printed, Bennett said his work was screened in an old cinema, according to some friends in attendance.

Looking to the future, Bennett will be curating his first group exhibition at the Station House this spring and plans to bring the works of photographers from around the world together.

He also intends to continue to pursue his personal projects and works towards curating more shows, making some books and just expanding his capabilities.

“I do see myself shooting photos until the day I die, to be honest,” Bennett said. “It’s been a long journey but I’m really happy with where I am right now and what I’m doing.”

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