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When Creativity Soars – The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered

WHEN CREATIVITY SOARS –
THE CANADIAN ROCKIES:
REDISCOVERED

By Sean McIntyre

Banff-based photographer Paul Zizka isn’t shy about speaking out about his struggle to pursue the creative process in the age of social media, where it’s easy to follow a recipe and create popular images. His latest book, The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered, is a testament to that journey and the quest for creativity.


Self-portrait at Moraine Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Paul Zizka’s rise to internet stardom was about as steep as the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks that form the bedrock of his photography, but just as a musician can develop a specific sound or a writer settles for a distinctive voice, Zizka’s signature style became a blessing and a curse.

Sure, the Banff-based adventure photographer was initially thrilled by the online fame. Media outlets around the world came calling for interviews. The extra attention boosted his online persona, offering him unprecedented chances to connect with photographers he’d long admired, travel for shoots in distant locales such as Namibia, Iceland and Scotland, and make extra cash to help support his young, growing family.

Life was good. Everyone loves to be liked.

Yet it wasn’t long before Zizka felt something was amiss. He’d hit upon the perfect recipe for social media success, but the more he strove to satisfy the growing appetite for his images on the likes of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, the less plugged in he became to the creative process that began his photographic journey.

The Canadian Rockies Rediscovered by Paul Zizka.

“Most times, the temptation to get that ephemeral attention fix instead of focussing on creative endeavours got the best of me,” Zizka writes in the introduction to his latest book, The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered (published by Rocky Mountain Books). “I think I simply started letting online recognition strongly dictate the value of my work as an artist.”

Zizka says his photography continually slides along a scale that stretches between personal pleasure and public approval. When his photographic excursions became dominated by the need to generate likes among his social media followers, Zizka realized his photography had become detached from personal fulfillment.

So he changed course, electing to “put creativity first,” heading into the wild to explore and experiment, connect and create. Fuelling his creative stoke meant exploring new places, experimenting with techniques and rediscovering the enthusiasm of wanting to share the marvels found in the mountains he calls home.

Winter descends on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

The 200 images featured in The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered are a result of that journey, and it appears the trip was well worth it. Zizka’s work extends beyond the stunning landscapes one might expect from a seasoned mountain photographer. His images evoke the splendour of the region through all its many guises. Alpine lakes, frosted treelines, icy caverns and waterfalls flowing and frozen. The northern lights dance across the frame. A lone wolf keeps watch over Vermilion Lakes. Wind sweeps between alpine ridges. Townscapes and human forms, be they self-portraits or Zizka’s mountain companions, reveal the intrinsic connection between the residents of a mountain town and their backyard. Images capture moments in time yet convey the motion and change that continually act upon the landscape.

Zizka says compiling images for the book was a sometimes painful process that began by amassing about 5000 images he’d taken since publication of his first book, Summits and Starlight, in 2013.

Then began the cull.

“The main goal was to provide a different perspective on the Rockies,” he says. “When you change your perspective, go a little further, go to a place at a different time or under a different set of conditions, you’re guaranteed a fresh take on things.”

Ice climbing at Haffner Creek. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Seeing these images printed in book format, he says, instills a personal pride, an appreciation for the complete photographic process and a sense of permanence that’s easy to forget in the era of smartphone photography.

“There’s still so much value in seeing printed images,” he says. “The printing process provides something tangible, otherwise you never see them at their best.”

The photographer’s resurgence from the creative doldrums hasn’t appeared to have affected his online cred. Zizka’s photos have been viewed more than 17 million times by more than 13,000 followers on 500px. Approximately 200,000 people follow Zizka on Instagram, 340,000 on Facebook, and he’s established a Twitter audience of nearly 8,000 fans.

Though it has the potential to stifle creativity among artists who aren’t vigilant, Zizka admits a social media presence is essential for any professional artist.

Swimming in Hargreaves Glacier, Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Joining an online community of photo enthusiasts from around the globe can, he concedes, be the catalyst to push oneself to head out and capture spectacular landscapes. And that’s one of the reasons Zizka has teamed up with some fellow photogs to create offbeatphoto.ca, an online community established to inspire professional and amateur photographers through online interaction, web resources and workshops.

OFFBEAT strives to breed the same sense of awe and enthusiasm that encouraged Zizka to pick up a camera so he could share pictures of his new home with his family back east. It’s the same kind of enthusiasm he sees among many of the pros he works alongside as well as the amateur photographers who visit the Rockies every year. It’s the creativity he rediscovered in himself, the same feeling he believes we all have inside of us waiting to emerge.

“It’s always great to see people who thought they have zero creativity encounter these ‘aha’ moments,” he says. “Creativity can easily fall off people’s radar; it’s not considered a crucial part of our lives. We easily forget how much it can improve our lives.”

Editor’s Note: Paul Zizka is the Photo Editor of Crowfoot Media’s Canadian Rockies Annual, and his wife, Meghan Ward, is the Editor-in-Chief/co-founder at Crowfoot Media. A freelance writer was intentionally chosen to write this article in order to provide readers with an unbiased perspective.


Sean McIntyre is a journalist based on Salt Spring Island, B.C. He spends much of his spare time in the Coast Range, often trying to catch a longing glimpse of the Rocky Mountains.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on CrowfootMedia.com are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.