Former Strathmore resident Gavin John had a life changing experience last week. John was working for the Globe and Mail as a photojournalist, and had an opportunity few get; he was taking photos of Pope Francis during his visit to Canada!
John explains that he's been with the Globe and Mail for a little over two years, and has been a photojournalist for 10 years. Even with his experience, John was taken aback by the opportunity he had.
“When the Globe and Mail called me up to ask if I was willing to take this assignment... Even before I even showed up in Edmonton, I realized the gravity of what I was being asked to cover. The apology from the Catholic Church and the Pope was something that Indigenous people in Canada have been waiting a long time for, and while it's not a solution, it's a first step in the right direction,” he said.
John is from Strathmore, and he said he knew how important the event was and it was an honour for him to be asked to cover it.
“I'm a small town Alberta boy and for me, as something that you know, it's an honour to be able to be there for something like that and something that's important, not just for Canada, but kind of seeing now obviously with hindsight the importance globally .”
“When it came to the specifics of the the actual event in the apology. To say it was an emotional moment is an understatement I don't think there's really words that could describe.”
He describes being in a position to the left of the Pope on the stage looking out onto the crowd.
“It was myself and the Prime Minister's photographer Adam Scotty. We're the only two photographers that were shooting from that location. So it was something that I had told myself that when I took this assignment, I wanted to make sure that the focus of my work was on the Indigenous people at that moment. As much as this is a story about the Pope, I'm not there to get photos of the Pope. I'm there to get photos of people that he's apologizing to, the reaction, the raw emotion that I knew was going to be there. So I positioned myself in a place where I essentially had my back to the Pope that I was facing the crowds and watching their reaction was emotional for me."
He explained that it was a powerful moment in history, a time where you could see powerful men, and Chief cry.
He saw people begin to weep when the Pope began his apology.
“It's hard not to feel something. I want to make sure that my work is ethical and I I'm covering things as objectively as I can, but it's when you're experiencing things like that, you can't deny your own humanity,” he said.
He spoke of when Chief Little Child presented the Pope with a headdress. John, who is indigenous himself, said he recognized the significance of the gesture. There he stood about 3 meters away from the Pope when he was able to get one of the only photos of the gesture.
“I got the photos of Chief Little Child placing headdress on the Pope's head. It was a moment that I'd realized that I'd captured something special,” he said.
At the same moment a Cree woman, Si Pih Ko, began singing in the crowd. Tears were streaming down her face, but still singing she raised her fist in the air and finished her song and burst into tears.
If you want to see John's photos, he explained that the Globe and Mail has all of his work since he was shooting exclusively for them, but his Instagram also has some photos @gjohnjournalism.
The entire experience has been humbling for John, who says he sees himself as just a regular guy from Strathmore.
“It's it's been an honour to be able to document such an important moment, and I’m coming to realize that those photos I think will be historical photos,” he said.
John enjoys giving back to his community; he explained that he sometimes speaks at the local high school as he shares his experiences of working overseas in Iraq, and North Korea.
“I think it's important to tell kids and people who might want to do photojournalism, that even if you're a dude or a gal from Strathmore, you can cover some historical events and there's nothing saying you can't,” he said.
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