Enriching the Arts

Featured Artist: Royce Howland, ASA

Near the end of the processing line in the Brazeau Collieries briquette plant, heated petroleum asphalt was combined with crushed coal, to form a dough-like mixture. The mixing and volume of flow of the material was controlled at various points, including this station just above one of the 4 gravity-fed presses. The right amount of hot mix would be agitated and fed down, where it was compressed into solid, polished briquettes by the rotating stainless steel forms. If the demand was up, each of these 4 presses ran 24x7, but today there is nobody at the wheel.

Royce Howland, Nobody at the Wheel


Born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, these days Royce Howland calls Calgary, Alberta home. He experienced travel, different lands and multiculturalism early on. By age 15 he had lived in 6 states of 3 countries on 2 continents, and had spoken 4 languages, making the idea of “home” a bit complicated. This migratory experience, along with a childhood love of the outdoors that was put aside during years of business pursuits, eventually would re-emerge as a foundational element of his photographic art work.

Royce is an accomplished technologist; however, his primary focus is the expressiveness of print. “My goal is not for audiences to see the techniques, but to see the photograph as a whole and what it portrays,” he states. This relies more on the transparency of a print – looking through the technology of the medium, to see the strength of the subject the print makes visible. “My approach to photography is rooted in the digital era. But what I hope to do is to make a print that conveys some sense of timelessness, applying modern techniques while honouring the heritage of photography, and in so doing engage the viewer.”

Royce first took up the camera seriously while exploring the beauty of wild places in Alberta and abroad. He began by portraying an escape to idealized landscapes, away from places heavily overlaid by human civilization. But he soon realized that it seems rare to be able to express the wildness of lands (real or idealized) without dealing with both the harmonies and conflicts of human presence upon them. Currently he is exploring cultural landscapes – the intersection of land as it is impacted by people, and people as they are shaped by place. This includes the question of what counts as “roots” for people who leave or arrive at a place, something he has occasionally wrestled with from an early age.

Royce is a juried member of the Alberta Society of Artists, and an accredited member of the Professional Photographers of Canada. In addition to creating and exhibiting his photography, he also writes, instructs, presents and contributes to outreach projects in the areas of photography and art.


The Brazeau Collieries site is quite large and spread out over a significant area. Deserted, it feels spacious. But viewed from certain angles, the briquette processing plant and other nearby buildings appear stacked and compressed together, perhaps delivering some of the feel of the place when it was full of bustle and operating at capacity. The geometry of the processing plant area also illustrates the economy of design of many of the facilities, which were constructed with form very much supporting function, in many cases using the gravity of multi-stories and the hillside itself to minimize the power required to move the intermediate stages of the briquette products around. The heights now mainly provide a vantage point for the occasional pigeon or raven.

Royce Howland, Working the Angles

Q&A with the ASA

ASA: Could you tell us about your influences?

Royce: I draw inspiration from a range of visual works that may seem contradictory, but I try to meld aspects of them in a way that feels right. Particular influences include the early pictorialism of Steichen, the modern industrialized landscapes of Burtynsky, the documentary projects of Salgado, the realist studies in light and perspective of the Dutch Masters (especially Vermeer), the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts movement as represented in material craftsmanship, and the harnessing of light and shadow found in much modern Scandinavian architecture.

ASA: Which body of your work would you consider most successful to date?

Royce: I feel my most successful body of work so far is my series, “Coal Oriented”. This is a collection made at abandoned coal mines in Alberta. It’s my most personally satisfying blend of composition and themes. It’s an important milestone on my personal journey to understand the divide between our modern, industrialized society and the natural world from which we have become seemingly isolated, but upon which we utterly rely. I also consider this series successful because it has brought me opportunities to connect with audiences – in part to talk about what I want to express, but even more to hear from them about their interpretations of this theme.

Standing on an aging concrete embankment near the blocked-in entrance to one of the abandoned Greenhill Mine shafts, the slight elevation gives me a view across the metal snow shed coverings over the rails on which coal cars would have run in years past, extracting coal from seams in the earth below. (In the upper left, Turtle Mountain can be seen, a storied peak in the Crowsnest Pass.) For all their simple construction, the snow sheds stand some 60 years after the last coal was brought out of the mine. Still, the forest is gradually but clearly retaking the location. A generation of trees has grown, intermingled with the buildings, and some in their turn have already died. Together with the forces of weather, and completely absent any budgets, press releases, regulations or consultations, the forest is silently reclaiming the once-busy industrial operation that humans left more or less as it was on the day the coal cars stopping rolling.

Royce Howland, Slow Reclamation

ASA and TREX Address

Crossroads Art Centre
#302 - 1235 26th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 1R7
ASA Phone: (403) 265-0012
TREX Phone: (403) 262-4669

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