By Martha Bowers
The Glebe is losing long-time resident, author, photographer and pilot Louis Helbig. Helbig’s partner, Kristin Reimer, has been offered a position at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, so the couple and their young son, Oscar, have decided to pull up roots and move down under for another life adventure.
Helbig was a Glebe Report deliverer for many years, a familiar face in the Patterson area. Having lived in the Glebe for about 10 years, it is with mixed feelings that they leave the neighbourhood where they have felt so comfortable. Helbig says that he will miss the sense of community here, of seeing familiar faces on Bank Street. “It is a Jane Jacobs sort of place,” he said, referring to the well-known urban planner and activist who promoted liveable cities that include gathering spaces for people that contribute to a safe, interesting and alive environment. The Helbig-Reimer family hopes to find such a neighbourhood when they move to Melbourne in January.
Having studied economic history, Helbig had a varied career working for a number of organizations in different parts of Canada where he expanded his knowledge of environmental issues, climate change and global economics. This background influenced his future direction as he began to explore innovative ways of interpreting and understanding society and our role in the natural world through art.
Although he has no formal training as a photographer, he found his footing as an artist with the New Art Festival and the Glebe Art in Our Gardens and Studio Tour and also displayed his work in other venues. He has a pilot’s licence and it was while doing some commercial photography for local farmers that he realized that there was an opportunity for capturing images from the air that present completely different perspectives.
His eye for patterns is enhanced when he views the landscape from above. His Sunken Villages series, showing 12 communities that were flooded to build the St. Lawrence Seaway, is an amazing record of what was lost and is now under water. Beautiful Destruction, his stunning photographic documentary of the industrial development in the forests of Northern Alberta and the oil/tar sands, is helping to change how Canadians and people around the world view, understand and discuss this massive project (see our book review of Beautiful Destruction in the April 2015 Glebe Report at www.glebereport.ca). There has been a strong response to his images, which depict the power and responsibility that we have towards this kind of development. It has raised awareness and prompted meaningful debate across the board between individuals with very different ideas and bringing together a range of points of view.
Helbig has been a popular public speaker and panellist, participating in the Ottawa Writers’ Festival and other events. His presence in the Glebe and Ottawa arts community will be missed but he hopes to keep in touch with local events by reading the Glebe Report online. He is confident that he will be able to continue his aerial art photography in Australia, a country with many similarities to Canada, with its vast landscapes and resource extraction industries.
The Helbig family has begun packing and downsizing in preparation for their move to the other side of the world. They will hold a Studio Closing/Christmas sale from December 3 to 6 at 1-149 Patterson Avenue. But don’t expect to get a good deal on a small airplane. Helbig is not sure what he will do with his antique airplane. It may end up in a museum in Europe or he may pack it up and take it to Australia!
To see images from Beautiful Destruction go to beautifuldestruction.ca.
Martha Bowers is an organizer of the Art in our Gardens and Studio tour and a regular contributor to the Glebe Report.