HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — To make our world a better place, we must take time to smell the roses, take a walk, grow a garden, laugh, cry, and enjoy more of life together.
Those are Stella Sware’s words of wisdom, the words her daughter-in-law, Jodi Sware, published in a book called The Wisdom of Our Elders.
Sware, a photographer with a business called A Thousand Words, asked about 80 elderly people to express the life lessons they’d like to share with others.
Then she matched each message with a photo of the person who provided it.
The result was a book rich in both photography and message.
“I asked them, ‘if you could give one message to future generations, something that you’ve learned over your lifetime that could help make our world a better place, what would it be,’ ” said Sware.
Darell Goodrich, 85, had this to say:
No. 1: Do what you do, well.
No. 2: I found out at an early age the world doesn’t owe you a living.
No. 3: Hard work never hurt anybody.
No. 4: Whatever job or task in life, whether it be work or play, put in your best effort.
Keith Parke shared this view: “Some people always want to live on the mountaintop in their life, but nothing grows on a mountaintop. Only at the very bottom of the valley is the fertile land where things grow well. As in our life, at the lowest point is where we grow the most.”
Said Sware: “I tried to photograph them in their own environment, somewhere that they loved or doing something that they loved.”
Most of the book subjects live in the High Prairie, Alta., area where Sware farms with her husband, Stan, and where she has a studio in town. The farm is home base and with three of their four children living at home, her time is often limited. Inability to travel widely is what focused her attentions on local people in her first book.
“I shoot a lot of my portraits at our farm. I guess it has led me to a lot of my subjects in my book. There are a lot of farm families because that’s who we know. The people in the book, so many of them were the early people in the province. They came from other countries and pioneered here. Their stories are really incredible.”
Now Sware is working on a second book with a similar theme: Wisdom of Marriage. She is targeting couples who have been together for at least 40 years.
With 18 years as a photographer under her belt, Sware said the books provide respite from shooting family portraits and weddings.
“It’s just something that I love doing. It’s very fulfilling. I sometimes burn out doing photography so these projects are more to kind of fill me up.”
The first book and the second one now in process have prompted more ideas for future projects, though Sware wonders if she will live long enough to complete them all. They are wisdom projects: the wisdom of grandparents, the wisdom of mothers, the wisdom of best friends and perhaps even the wisdom of farmers.
Sware said she has made a small profit on the first book but it hasn’t made her rich. Nor is that her primary goal.
“I came to the realization that of all the wonderful relationships in my life, I most valued and missed the relationship with my grandparents,” Sware wrote in the artist statement for her book.
“I was a young adult when they passed on and would give anything for the chance to have a conversation with them now … to pick up the phone and ask my grandma’s advice or opinion or just hear her words of encouragement when I’m having a tough day.
“I feel that by the time we are old enough to realize how important their words are, they are often gone. I was motivated to start a personal project as a means to stay inspired and creative while balancing my demands as a portrait photographer, wife and mom.”
Through photography, she sought to show what her subjects are like inside, not just physically.
“I saw that the wisdom of these people was present not only in their words but in their faces, bodies and spirits,” Sware wrote.