Hidden deep in the West Country of Central Alberta and just a few kilometers outside of the Banff National Park boundary, is the only federally owned and operated horse ranch in Canada.
Work Horses of the Mountains, March 2018. Photograph by Arto Djerdjerian
Unknown to many people outside of the horse community, this ranch trains and winters the horses used by Parks Canada wardens in our national mountain parks: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho. And they’ve been doing it for over 100 years.
For the past six years, Lacombe photographer Arto Djerdjerian has driven over rough roads in all kinds of weather to photograph the people and horses at the Ya Ha Tinda ranch.
Arto began his artistic career as a street photographer in New York and Montreal: sitting, observing, allowing life to unfold before him. And he brought this approach to the ranch. Composing his photographs in much the same way a painter composes a painting, Arto will tell you that he never set out to document life at the ranch. But he does acknowledge that by composing these fine art images over an extended time period, he has unintentionally become a documentary photographer.
“The Ya Ha Tinda Ranch photography project shares an intimate view of the day-to-day working life normally not seen or experienced by the public. Photographed over six years, these images carry the beauty, the grit, and landscape of the working ranch over different seasons.
My approach to photography has always been to capture what I observe. I watch and wait letting things develop in front of me; never directing, manipulating or interfering with my subjects or their activities. My process captures the intimate and aesthetic reality I see through my lens. Each image portrays a part of the narrative of this beautiful historic setting that connects emotionally to the people, horses, the sounds, smells and events.
My intent has never been one of documentation, but the nature of this project, the subject matter, the location and the number of years I photographed the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch lends itself to a documentarian aesthetic.
I believe this project to be important. There is limited photographic documentation of the activities and work with the horses that takes place at The Ranch other than historic archival photographs. I was determined to capture the historic, and the very real and rare current way of life in its full glory. These photographs provide a lasting artistic record that will always remain.”
~ Arto Djerdjerian
You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours, 2019. Digital photograph by Arto Djerdjerian
In my Element, March 2018. Photograph by Arto Djerdjerian
Going Out To Work, March 2016. Photograph by Arto Djerdjerian
In Arto’s photographs we find the mud, manure and blizzards that speak to the hard and gritty work of the ranch. But intertwined with this grit is the breathtaking beauty of the ranch’s mountain setting.
Ya Ha Tinda – The Ranch exhibit entrance
Blue skies and snow-capped peaks are a stunning backdrop for photographs of horses. This combination of landscape, horses and history creates a sense of magic, of a place apart. His photographs give us a window through which we can glimpse this very special place.
We invite you to visit the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery to look at his stunning photographs in our current exhibit, “Ya Ha Tinda – The Ranch: Photography by Arto Djerdjerian”, on display until March 5, 2022.