Interior Images
By Laura Jones

A Friendly Icy Business

There’s a one-of-a-kind gallery near Toronto’s Broadview subway station where visitors can appreciate museum-quality photographs of Canadian ice huts. Those who meander into the Richard Johnson Gallery will find the gallery owner’s enthusiasm to be contagious and his photographs captivating.

Richard Johnson grew up in Montreal liking cold snowy winters, so spending two months of the year photographing in the cold didn’t intimidate him. “At age 15, my first camera was an instamatic," he remembers. "The results were disappointing. The photos didn’t look like what I had seen.”

Thankfully all that changed as technology evolved. Today, Richard is a successful photographic artist whose work features different types of ice huts. But photography wasn’t his first career; Richard studied interior design at Algonquin College and engineering at Carlton University. Initially he used photographs to document interior design projects but he wanted something more permanent than designing businesses that needed redesigning. “Photographs last longer than businesses,” he notes. Since 2008, he has felt “drawn to the basic building form of the huts,” he explains, going on to describe his work as “a huge swath of lifestyle.”

To house his artwork, Richard chose a building that dates back to about 1900 and was included as a venue in the 2016 Toronto Doors Open. The location features offices on the first floor, printing equipment in the basement and a moderately sized exhibition space for Richard's photographs.

I look on the map for crazy funky names, like Baie des Ha! Ha!, take back roads, and I found a mecca for ice fishing. I’ve photographed about 900 ice huts from coast to coast across Canada. - Richard Johnson, owner
Richard Johnson Gallery uses the wall to organize and display photographs.

Museum Quality Photographs

Besides buying photographs of ice huts to collectors and museums, customers can also rent or buy the photos to stage real estate. Richard is also available for traditional architectural photo shoots.

To maintain high quality results, Richard controls every aspect of his work. “As a photographer you have to print your work yourself," he explains. "You can’t understand how it looks from a monitor. To get it to the real world, you must do it yourself. ”

Having photographed ice huts in 10 provinces (and with the territories still to come), Richard has much to say about ice huts. “They’re not attached, just four walls, like a womb.” Huts are portable, as they must be removed before the ice melts. Some are trailers, tents, or wooden boxes – store-bought or home made, rental or owned."

And while people aren't visible in his artwork, their spirit is. “You know about people from the colours they choose, how they care for and decorate their property, how the property weathers," explains Richard. "It’s like a lighthouse that represents them."

While some locations feature isolated huts, ice villages may have a few hundred, with ice roads, street names, hydro and even a restaurant. “It’s more than ice fishing," Richard describes. “There’s snow sculpture, ski-doos, hockey rinks, and kite skiing. It’s outdoor recreation for whole families.” The village series photos are panoramas that are beautifully printed and eight feet long.

At Richard Johnson Gallery, the village series photos are panoramas that are beautifully printed and eight feet long.
At Richard Johnson Gallery, the village series photos are panoramas that are beautifully printed and eight feet long.

Canada’s Ice Culture

Richard  is interested in photography as an educational resource and easily shares his knowledge with gallery visitors of all ages and knowledge levels. His photos are a "study of the architecture of Canadian ice huts," he explains, describing the huts as "unique structures shown in the landscape." They are Canadian history in the making, and show an adventurous Canadian challenge. “What attracts us to a hut is to recharge, be alone, be with other people – alone but not alone.”

Richard's services go beyond the exhibition of the architecture of ice huts; he is also a respected architectural photographer specializing in high-end commercial assignments for designers, architects, and retail business owners.

Even if ice doesn’t appeal to us, we know the importance of the land to Canada’s identity. Ice fishing is as much a part of Canadian culture as heading to cottage country or south to beaches. The Richard Johnson Gallery offers insight into this culture. “My photos go beyond the life of the subject,” says Richard. “They contribute something and are a legacy to leave behind.“

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