It wasn’t until Desirée Patterson had her camera stolen in Paris that she realized she wanted to be a photographer.
“That was the first time in my life that I had been without one,” the Langley-born artist recalled.
“I realized how much it meant to me to capture the things that I saw and the things that I wanted to express. It was always just a hobby, I didn’t realize how important it was to me until then.”
Paris was one of hundreds of stops on Patterson’s seven-year trek to 32 different countries. After graduating from Langley Secondary School, she travelled around the world to find her calling, just to realize it had been “under my nose” (and shutter finger) the entire time.
While the French thief awakened Patterson’s love for taking photos, a second event gave her a reason to share them with the world.
Her friend’s uncle was a travelling stock photographer, and at one of his fundraisers for a village in Africa, Patterson realized, “I want his job.”
“He was showing his pictures of the 40 somewhat countries he has travelled to,” she recalled.
“I just realized how much making images meant to me. I went there and I sat in a little chair and I said, ‘this is what I want to do, I’m going to do this.’”
Patterson moved to Whistler and opened her own photography business, with a focus on landscapes and commercial work.
“My dream was to hang out of helicopters and photograph snowboarders,” she said.
“The fine art was always just the hobby that I did for myself.”
But a car accident changed all of that.
Suffering permanent damage to her shoulder, Patterson was no longer able to take her gear back-country.
Her focus shifted to art.
“My artistry has evolved so much in that time,” Patterson reflected.
“When I first started out, I was very much influenced by my strong exposure to travel, culture and geographic diversity.
“And then living in a place that’s as scenic as Whistler put an emphasis on sustainability. Coming back to a city like that opened my eyes to a lot of the environmental issues that we face.”
Today, the 33-year-old’s talent for photography has transformed into a remarkable business with an activist voice.
“Now I create more contemporary work specifically to encourage discussion and dialogue regarding sustainability and preservation,” she said.
In her latest work, Patterson has shot local models in-studio and morphed their images with landscapes of New York City, clear-cut forests and oil refineries to create juxtapositions that will start a larger conversation.
“I really strive to do things that are original that I haven’t done before — that really means a lot to me,” she said.
“I don’t like to copy things, I like to have my own voice. What I’m trying to create is extremely complex and it’s really hard to find all of the elements that will go into it.”
A large part of Patterson’s passion comes from her travels, where she’s witnessed some of the world’s most affluent, and the world’s most impoverished.
“I’ve been to a lot of third world countries and those impacted me in different ways,” she said.
“Cambodia inspired me in different ways than a place like Italy.
“The third world countries have shown me that there’s a lot of environmental issues going on over there because there isn’t even enough resources to take care of their people properly, so the environment really gets put on the back burner.
“That definitely opened my eyes to appreciating what we have in B.C. and really looking to protect it and to inspire ways of preservation.”
Completely self-taught in photography, Patterson is now learning metal sculptures at Emily Carr University to add a new level of dimension to her work.
“I am very much inspired by the conceptual background that contemporary art brings,” she said.
“I think it engages audiences in a different way.”
Although her 3D work is still in progress, conservationists and art enthusiasts alike have two opportunities to view Patterson’s photography in person this month.
She will be at Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre Nov. 11 until Nov. 15.
Patterson is also one of 400 artists featured at this year’s East Side Culture Crawl in Vancouver from Nov. 19-22.
Working out of the Vancouver Community Laboratory at 1907 Triumph St., she will be featuring a number of her conceptual pieces inside LED light boxes — another new element of her art.
“I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that I would make a career of it,” she admitted.
“At the end of the day it’s pretty amazing to say you’ve created a career out of your own creativity.”
For tickets and more information on Circle Craft market, visit www.circlecraftmarket.net.
Route maps and information on the 19th annual East Side Culture Crawl is available at www.culturecrawl.ca.
And to see more of Patterson’s photography, visit her website www.desireepatterson.com.
Images submitted by Desirée Patterson. Through her fine art photography, Patterson hopes to encourage dialogue on environmental sustainability and preservation. Top photo: this model has been shot in-studio in Vancouver, and is blended with an image of an oil refinery across the border in Washington. Bottom photo: This model has also been shot in-studio in Vancouver, and is morphed into a landscape of Manhattan Beach in California.