ALS-stricken photographer in Comox Valley issues e-book

Seeing things in black and white has come very naturally for fine art photographer Blair Polischuk.

PHOTOGRAPHER BLAIR POLISCHUK has released a free e-book edition of his lifeʼs work to raise awareness about ALS.

PHOTOGRAPHER BLAIR POLISCHUK has released a free e-book edition of his lifeʼs work to raise awareness about ALS.

Seeing things in black and white has come very naturally for fine art photographer Blair Polischuk.

When recently diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), the decision for Polischuk to release a free e-book edition of his lifeʼs work to raise awareness for the elusive disease was not a hard decision to make.

Polischuk has lost over 95 per cent of the function of his arms and hands to the neurological disease. His book, Archetypes, features 46 classical black and white photographs originally developed in his home-based darkroom and produced between 1995 and 2010.

With introductory comments contributed by fellow black and white photographer and musician Bryan Adams, photographers John Sexton and Freeman Patterson, Archetypes has being released as a free e-book in conjunction with ALS month in Canada and will be available from a variety of online sources.

“ALS is an incredibly rare disease, affecting only two out of 100,000 people. Approximately 300,000 people around the world are struggling with this disease and less than 5,000 are living here in Canada. At this time there is no cure nor effective treatment,” said Polischuk.

“Needless to say I was shocked to learn of the diagnosis.”

Polischuk, who has held various occupations from a professionally touring musician in the ’80s, banker and entrepreneur, was first inspired to pursue photography by the surreal sandstone sculptures and rugged west coast topography of Hornby Island.

“The low tides revealed a topography of surreal sandstone sculptural forms. Little did I realize at the time that this magical place would soon awaken the visual artist within me and would form a foundation for what was to be my lifeʼs photography,” he said.

In 2004 after a move to the Comox Valley, Polischuk began constructing a state-of-the-art darkroom in the basement of their family home after he attended many workshops, seminars and classes by the masters of black and white classical photography and printing.

During this time he developed a profound appreciation of what it felt like to be a full-time professional artist by building a dedicated gallery in his home, mounting exhibitions and participating in shows and festivals. His work was coveted by art lovers, who added his original hand-crafted works to their collections and by resorts and businesses, which would decorate their walls with his images of the West Coast.

In the years that followed, Polischuk would be given what he considered to be “the most rewarding” occupation of his lifetime. The opportunity to share what he had learned about the art and business of photography to students at the college level in the Professional Photography Program at North Island College.

Polischuk met and taught a student returning to school as an adult to learn and fine-tune the art of classical black-and white photography.

Dana Herriott chose to work with Polischuk in his local darkroom on her two-week practicum selecting him over any other photographer in North America.

“Blair had a way of teaching that just simply inspired me to better my own photography” said Herriott. “We had a common understanding and a shared passion for traditional photography.

“The way he sees in black and white, the shadows, the detail, the depth, I wanted to learn how to capture and convey that as well, he was and is an incredible mentor to me and we speak the same language, that is a gift.”

It was during their time in the darkroom in the spring of 2008, Polischuk made a statement to Herriott about her artistic ability and passion for the medium.

“He made a fleeting statement one day while we were printing and listening to great music. He said something to the effect of if something ever happened to him, he wanted me to have his darkroom. I laughed it off but noted the compliment in the statement for sure.”

In early 2012, Herriott received an ambiguous phone call from Polischuk summoning her to his home, as he “wanted to catch up”. She noted by the tone in his voice something was up but was devastated and humbled to learn of his condition and his offer to be a man of his word as he offered to entrust his creative sanctuary, his darkroom, to her.

Herriott has since become Polischuk’s  personal assistant, aiding in administration of his business, photography and daily tasks.

With symptoms of ALS showing up for the first time in the summer of 2010, Polischuk could no longer pick up a camera, let alone a piece of paper. His career path had shifted from that of an active mid-career fine art photographer, to an artist living and working with ALS.

“I truly believe everything happens for a reason,” Polischuk stated. “Hearing I had ALS, a disease that has no cure nor effective treatment, was devastating.

“As I worked my way through the various stages of grieving it occurred to me that I had a window of opportunity, a gift of time, to not only focus on family and friends, but also assemble my lifeʼs work in a format that could be easily shared with the world,” he added.

Polischuk created the e-book of his life’s work and distributed it for free through iTunes to raise awareness of the disease.

“As I worked my way through the book I realized that this project was very therapeutic. Perhaps it could also serve as inspiration to other people who may be facing a similar challenge,” he said.

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