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Morden photographer brings new life to forgotten vehicles

Not everyone can see beauty in the long grass.

But for artist Wayne Benedet, 57, it is here that relics of the past – old trucks and cars – are being held in limbo until someone like him comes along to wake them again. Armed only with his digital Canon D-5 camera, a Mark ll, and a wonderful eye for appreciating lines and shape, and the curve of metal, Benedet has lately been capturing the nuance of these old friends, and bringing them back into the present.

“They jump out of the bush and yell at me, ‘Shoot me! Shoot me!’” says Benedet, who often travels the highways and byroads accompanied by his dog, Orca. “Usually I see them just out of the corner of my eye, or by a glint of sunlight on chrome. The fall is usually the best time for most of these cars, when the grass is down and they are revealed. People who have seen my work email me, and tell me about cars that they think I should come and see, something that is an old family heirloom.”

Hundreds of people have been viewing Benedet’s work just these past few months, as there are currently 33 charismatic photo images of these derelict farm trucks and vintage cars making the rounds in the province. This group of photos on canvas, known collectively as “An Old Ride,” is presently on display at the Killarney Library from April 1 until May 20, after which it will be spending the month of June parked at the Tiger Hills Art Gallery in Holland. Its final stop will be in Virden, through January, 2011.

Benedet, who holds two bachelor degrees in psychology and theology, and a masters degree in administration, has waited a long time to pursue his dream in the wild and forgotten corners of Prairie homesteads. While he was always a painter in oils, he moved over to photography almost by accident. His work has until recently been focused mainly on supporting his family, but he has shifted gears lately to fully engage his love of photography.

“It’s been my passion for a very long time. I bought my first camera in 1975, a Nikon F-2 with interchangeable lenses,” said Benedet, who also studied photography at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario (where he was born) in the late 1970s.

“I wanted to take pictures that I could paint. I found that taking pictures was so difficult – it was a real challenge. A challenge to set up the picture artistically, and set up the exposure. But today there is more latitude in computer processing of images. In my heart I am still a painter. My pictures are not done using photo-manipulation, but by enhancing what’s already there, to reflect the mood that I see or feel when I am taking the picture. I will put hours and hours of work on some of these pictures, layering them, to get what’s in my head into the picture.”

The show, also called “Classics in the Rough,” has been making the rounds for several months, with stops already completed in Winkler, Morden, Neepawa, Dauphin, Brandon and Carman. Most shows have been arranged by local art councils and groups, and the response to his images has been heartwarming. Benedet said he started taking the pictures for “An Old Ride” in 2006, and says that he’s still shooting, as more and more vehicles come to his attention. He has captured everything from 1937 International D-Series trucks, to a 1951 Cadillac Series 62 sedan, 1946 Dodge, Ford and Fargo trucks, and a 1947 Diamond T. There are 60 pictures in the entire series, and 33 were selected for the tour.

“People always tell me stories about the cars,” said Benedet. “It brings back memories for people. What I like about the show is that it evokes these memories of other times. It causes people to remember the things that happened in their lives. And Lord knows we need that. The cars and trucks are in a rough condition, and all waiting for someone to come along and refurbish them.”

A number of Benedet’s prints have been purchased by the Government of Manitoba, and hang in the government buildings in Flin Flon. They have also graced the walls of the Mennonite University in Winnipeg, and the Legislature Building in Winnipeg. And hundreds of them have been selected and are held in personal computer galleries by people who fall in love with them online.

“The Ridge Road Chevy, a 1941 Chevrolet that was originally owned by Charley Orchard, is a picture named for the location where this vehicle is located,” said Benedet. “It is my flagship photo; more than 1,000 times people have picked this picture from the website for their own personal computer gallery. I have had over 100,000 hits online of people looking at my gallery of car pictures in four years.”

The pictures will eventually be available for sale, after the final show at Virden in early 2011. Benedet said he will produce just two to three signed copies of each canvas print. Replication of his work, which includes a variety of other subjects, is handled professionally by a gallery in California.

“The production is a style called ‘gislee,’ which is an image that has been digitized on a computer and then printed using a printer onto canvas. I use quality frames, and the surface of the print is protected by an archival-quality coating that ensures the life of the print is extended, and the colours remain vibrant,” said Benedet, who has also been teaching photography part time at Red River College for the past three years.

To visit Wayne Benedet’s websi te “The Untapped Source” and view his images, go to: work is on display and available for sale at the Pembina Hills Arts Centre at 352 Stephen Street, Morden, Manitoba. It is also available at his home gallery, “Prairie Smoke Gallery,” named after his favourite flower, located at 151 Conner Hill Drive in Morden, and open by appointment. For more information about his work, contact him toll free at 866-879-5369 or at 204-822-1358.

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