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I planned to conclude my Wallaceburg writers’ series this week with a column about a local business where you can get your book published. However, another opportunity presented itself.

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I first heard about Larry Towell from my good friend Mark Buchanan. Mark is a very talented, by my humble standards anyway, photographer. He invests time every day walking with his wife, former Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School and Wallaceburg District Secondary School principal and very dear friend, Roberta, and pointing his camera wherever she sees a bird.

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Mark and I were chatting about the arts and more specifically the CK Arts and Culture Networks’ heroes event in October of this year which recognizes excellence in arts and culture by residents and former residents of CK. He stated that I simply had to look up Larry Towell. I had never heard of Larry but I respected Mark, so I did a google search. Holy Moses, this man is gifted!

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As luck would have it, I found Larry’s number and when I called, he was home on his 75-acre sharecrop farm near Bothwell where he and his wife have lived and raised a family since 1988. He was gracious enough to spend some time chatting about his career with me. This self-proclaimed recluse lives a quiet life on his farm in between traveling to locations mired in conflict.

There is a great deal of information about this world-class human on the internet and I will just skim the surface here. In fact, if you want more information go to https://momus.ca/land-and-landlessness-a-conversation-with-larry-towell/.

This interview by Giancarlo Roma is far better than I could create. I will focus on a few fun facts and local stories.

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I have looked at several sites on the internet and Larry is often referred to as a “celebrated Lambton County photographer.”

However, our neighbor to the north is not where Larry was raised. Larry was born in Chatham and grew up just outside Wallaceburg in Becher where his father had an auto body business that is still in his family.

Larry attended WDSS and a junior classmate from his drama class with Mr. Dear, another gifted artist, David Farquar, recently recalled Larry created a stop motion video of a mousetrap chasing a mouse around a barn as a drama class project. David still recalls this with awe some five decades after the presentation.

As I shared this story with Larry, a note of joy arose as he cheerfully recalled the project and recalled that the video was his very first film. He noted, “Mr. Dear was good in that way, he let us try anything.”

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Larry has a full-length feature film coming out based on his travels in the world documenting mostly conflict. “As I traveled, I always carried a video camera and filmed,” he said.

The film is titled The Man I Left Behind.

The 70-year-old completed that these two films may be his first and last. Hopefully he has more to share in the coming years.

After Larry graduated from York University where he studied visual arts and creative writing, he traveled to India working at Mother Teresa’s Mission of Charity in Calcutta. It was here that the reality of poverty hit him and the seeds for a lifelong quest to understand and educate others about the impact of land and landlessness began.

When Larry returned home from India, he built a home-made raft with a little shack in the middle of it and spent two years floating on the Sydenham and writing poetry. It was a time of reflection and introspection.

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Larry is also an accomplished musician with a triple vinyl album being released. All of his songs are about photography and places he has been and to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh, the places he has been.

Larry has photographed conflicts in Central America, Afghanistan and Palestine.

For two years, he developed a bond with Mennonites and documented their life both in Southern Ontario and Mexico.

Coming out this fall is his most recent book, The History War, documenting struggles in the Ukraine from 2014 to the Russian invasion in 2022.

On 9/11, Larry happened to be in New York, when he heard the Twin Towers had been attacked. He told me he didn’t know where they were in relation to where he was staying, he just followed the smoke and started taking pictures. The police were moving people out of the area because it was a crime scene so Larry hid until they passed and continued documenting the event.

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I asked if he had always had a love of photography and he noted that he considered himself a writer and a visual artist first, only when he felt that the people in front of him were more interesting than he had done to move on to photography.

Larry is a member of Magnum, an extremely exclusive club of the world’s most elite photographers. This group has 43 members worldwide and the process of becoming a member requires three stages of acceptance and a review of the applicant’s work at each of those stages, which takes a total of four or five years to complete.

Each year there are over 1,000 applicants to the society and less than one member is accepted on average per year. No, that isn’t a typo, less than one out of 1,000. The standards are incredibly high for acceptance. Larry has been a member since 1993 and a board member for the past 15 years. He remains the only Canadian ever accepted into this group.

Larry has published 13 photo books, his images have been inspired by the award-winning film by Sarah Polley, Women Talking, and his list of awards and recognition is worth a gander on the internet. It is extensive.

Once more, the most impressive fact about an incredibly talented artist is that Larry is humble. He shrugs off compliments and deflects credit. It was truly an honor to speak with him.

Watch for his book, album and movie – all coming out soon.

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