Do you think the Prairies are beautiful, bold, filled with drama and almost allegorical in their starkness?
Are you disappointed in the way non-prairie people, and prairie urbanites, often describe the western plains as dull, boring, something to be gotten through on the way to somewhere else?
If so, you should check out the Instagram work of Jill Koop (jill_koop), who pops up an unending succession of bold prairie images that don’t misrepresent our region, but that find things in it that few eyes ever see, even when looking right at them.
“I find the older I get, the simpler the thing has to be that catches my eye…. There is just so much beauty that is just so simple, if you can appreciate that monotonous beauty of the prairie.”
That’s part of what Jill told me when I recently met her at a coffee shop.
“Anything is beautiful if you look at it the right way. It’s a state of mind, a feeling.”
Indeed, the way she looks at various commonplace rural western objects and situations makes them beautiful, something that jumps out of her Instagram work.
Her images come from little-visited places like Oakshela, Sask., and Snowflake, Man. They can be images of old churches and houses in disappearing towns and forgotten farmyards, rural store signs, or just western landscapes. Whatever they are, they exude drama and avoid nostalgia, even while engaging with scenes others often make sentimental.
You might assume she lives in the country, on a farm or in a rural home, but she doesn’t. She lives about a kilometre from me in central Winnipeg, and we both walked to the coffee shop at which we met.
How does she gather and create such a wealth of rural western Canadian images? Until recently her parents lived in Regina, and once or twice a month she’d drive there and back. On the way, she’d let her eyes wander. When she saw something that caught her interest, she’d pull off the highway and shoot it.
She began taking secondary highways and little-used routes, searching for more of what her eyes loved. The trips to Regina are why so much of her work is of eastern Saskatchewan. She has also shot in southern Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Her work shows the power of the eye over the technology.
Does she use a fancy digital camera?
“I shoot with this,” she said, holding up her iPhone 8.
“A camera would be nice.”
Does she use a computer and editing software to make her images so bold?
“I don’t have a desktop.”
She edits everything on her phone.
Is she a professional photographer who sells her work and is promoting it through Instagram?
“It’s just for fun,” she said, noting that people have asked if they can buy her work. She laughs when thinking of that.
“I don’t (even) have a website.”
It’s all just on Instagram as a manifestation of her passion for our rural prairie environment.
I’m obviously a huge fan. In fact, Jill is the Instagrammer whose work made me think of doing this series about Instagram posting.
But even if it’s not exactly to your artistic taste, it’s worth checking out if you want to see how somebody’s vision and Instagram can take our every day reality on the Prairies and make it something else entirely. Not unreal, but super-real.
In the next chapter of this series, I’ll look at a corporate Instagram account that also uses the platform to portray its reality, but in a very different way.