Heather Hughson’s photographic show

Intimate study of soon-to-be-gone penstocks

Heather Hughson first took up photography simply as a means to capture things for reference material to have later when painting in her studio.

She’d take pictures of flowers, trees and the natural beauty of the area so she could better capture it with her paint brushes when she got home.

But it became more than that, and she’s about to launch her first show of her photography – which actually explores the beauty of something man-made.

“It started years ago, when we were going for walks up at Elk Falls,” she says, “and we’d go across the bridge to the dam and we’d see these huge things going off into the distance. My husband told me they were made of wood, and that just didn’t seem possible to me.”

It turns out her husband was right, though, and the engineering marvel that are the penstocks of the Campbell River water system took hold of Hughson and wouldn’t let go.

The penstocks are the 2.66 metre wide, 1,800-metre long pipes that carry the water between the John Hart Dam and the generating station.

“It was the immensity of them that first caught my attention,” Hughson says. “It wasn’t until I examined them more closely that I became fascinated by their individuality.”

She was also fascinated by how they were engineered.

“I guess back when they were built, there was lots of wood, and there were lots of people who had the skills to make barrels,” which is essentially the same method that was used to make the penstocks, she says. “There was a beauty in the immensity of that and I needed to capture it.”

When the Hydro project was starting and they built the new interpretive centre and the new trail over the penstocks leading to the suspension bridge, “I’d be there to take pictures of the trees or the flowers or whatever [for reference later for her paintings] but I’d always end up going home with 20 or 30 of the penstocks, too,” she says with a laugh.

“It really got me thinking,” she says.

She was originally planning on paint them, she says, but she loved her photographs themselves and thought others might, as well.

“When I found out they’d be gone in two years, I wanted to give people the opportunity to see them in a different light – how I see them – and maybe have a souvenir of them to have with them before they are gone.”

She had “Penstock 1” – a closeup of the side of the penstocks, weathered and peeling – printed by PhotoTech on the back of a piece of plexiglass, “and I absolutely loved it.” So she got them to do 11 more of her other works.

She will be showing all 12 of these pieces – as well as selling individual 8”x10” prints, fridge magnets and note cards – at The Cube downtown at 977 Alder Street (next door to Misty Fin’s Eatery & Lounge) during the upcoming Campbell River home studio tour from Nov. 18 to 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on the show, “Penstock…an intimate study,” or any of her other work, contact Hughson at 250-923-3404 or by email at mageeheather@hotmail.com

And see a map of the participating artists’ studios for the upcoming studio tour on page 14 of today’s edition of the Mirror.