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Whistler is still 'Living the Dream'

Local photographer shares images of unique living spaces over the last decade in exhibit at The Gallery from Oct. 18 to Nov. 13



Back in 2009, Carin Smolinski set out to photograph the unusual places Whistlerites called home in order to "live the dream."

She was welcomed into stairwells, furnace rooms and forest squats where she exchanged cases of beer for the trouble of photographing her subjects' living arrangements. The result was a photo exhibit called Living the Dream at The Gallery at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Fast forward nearly 10 years and, it turns out, you might not know what year you're in.

"It's been an ongoing project," Smolinski says. "The only thing I would actually say that's changed is it's more normalized for people to live in vans or mobile houses. When I first started shooting, it was somewhat rare or unique, whereas now, it's absolutely commonplace."

That first exhibit attracted a flurry of interest from national publications like the Globe and Mail and The Ski Journal. "It's kind of universally appealing and something that seems so commonplace to us; everyone knows someone who lives in a closet here," she says. "We don't even bat an eye, but to other people, it's wildly fascinating someone would live in a closet."

Smolinski is gathering some of those initial photos to display alongside more recent images as part of Living the Dream—Then and Now, another exhibit set to run at The Gallery from Oct. 18 to Nov. 13.

Initially, the idea was to show the contrast between Whistler's housing situation 10 years ago compared to what it is today. But after discovering that it hasn't really changed all that much, Smolinski sees the purpose of the exhibit a little differently.

"I definitely feel that somehow I am capturing a bit of Whistler history, even though it doesn't change very much. But the style of the skis, snowboards, even those have evolved since I first started shooting. It's definitely a project (for which) I don't see any ending in sight. I'll keep going and eventually make (it a) book," she says.

The weird living arrangements might not have changed much, but many of the people have. "What I love is the people and meeting them," she adds.

"It's so cool because now I'm Facebook friends with so many of them and I'm watching how their life progresses and where they go from here."

One couple in particular stands out as an example. They bought a school bus and drove it across Canada to Whistler to volunteer for the 2010 Olympics. "I ended up photographing them through their engagement and then they moved to Ontario and got married and now they have two children," Smolinski says. "I love meeting people and seeing where their life goes."

Part of that connection with her subjects might stem from the approach she brings to the shoot; she aims not to pass any judgement on the way people live.

"The one time—and it's not judgemental—but my mommy brain came out a bit, one guy was living in a crawlspace with all the gas lines and I said, 'Can you please get a carbon monoxide detector? I'm not comfortable with you being down here and I don't think your mom would be either,'" she says.

To that end, throughout the project, Smolinski has ended each session by getting her subjects to fill in a questionnaire answering things like how many people live in their house, how many jobs they work, their hourly rate and the unique feature about where they live.

"Then I end by asking, 'Are you living the dream?'" she says. "It is resoundingly, 'Yes.'"

For the exhibit's opening party she'll pose a similar question to gallery visitors. "There will be an interactive element where people are going to be able to write the craziest place they lived and we'll write them on little wooden bricks," Smolinski says. "I'm going to also do an installation piece. I'm going to actually reproduce a living room. I have a design company and I like to create designs and sets. That'll be fun for the opening. People can lounge in a Whistler living room."

As for her ongoing project, Smolinski says she's always looking for more subjects. "If anyone lives somewhere creative or crazy or unique, I've got a six pack for them," she says.

Find her on Facebook at Carin Smolinski Photography.

Catch the opening party for Living the Dream—Then and Now on Oct. 19 at The Gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is free.