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Portraits celebrate Bow Valley women, climbers

“In their everyday actions, in their words and in their climbing, these women have inspired me to be strong, confident, courageous, vulnerable and dedicated."
Claire Cresencia - Bexx portrait
Claire Cresencia

CANMORE – The Bow Valley, says Rebecca “Bexx” Ferri, is full of inspiring women.

It was that realization, along with the words of author Brené Brown that inspired Ferri to combine two of her great passions to celebrate some of those women with an art show.

Titled Strong Back, Soft Front: A Portrait Series, Ferri’s show will run at Three Sisters Gallery on the second floor of Elevation Place Aug. 1-28.

Ferri explained that Brown's book Braving the Wilderness she speaks of women having the courage to belong to no-one, but to everyone, and, most importantly, to themselves. This is achieved, and exemplified by women doing what they love, pushing forward, being vulnerable and having the courage to live the life they want.

Ferri decided to push herself forward and find the courage to combine her love for climbing and for creating art to celebrate the strengths, and vulnerabilities, of 31 local women.

“I've had the idea of highlighting local women in our valley for a very long time,” she admitted.

Her idea began as an online photo and bio series on her website and Instagram feed – where it will continue to flourish. Then her friend, fellow artist and climber, Pascale Ouellet – one of the women featured in the series – convinced her to follow through. With that, Ferri submitted a proposal to the Three Sisters Gallery space in the same building where she works at the climbing gym as an ACMG-certified rock-climbing instructor and coach.

While she was thrilled to have her proposal accepted, Ferri admits procrastination stretched her available time to complete the project from one year to just three months, as she didn’t begin scheduling the portrait sessions and printing the 17 X 22-inch black and white images until late March.

Being able to complete the project in that short time period – while continuing to work at her other jobs, including one in sales and marketing – would not have happened without the enthusiasm and cooperation of her subjects, she said.

After making her own list and putting a call out via social media for recommendations and suggestions of women she might profile, she narrowed her list down to 15. But that number quickly swelled to 20, and then eventually to the 31 finalists.

“It was really hard to choose,” she admitted. “I had – and still have – so many women in mind for this project. I wanted varying ages, cultures, disciplines and backgrounds. I think I did an OK job; the ladies’ ages are between 10 and 73 years, and each one has a very different story to tell.”

To capture their portraits, Ferri reignited her passion for photography. After graduating from Guelph University with a geography degree she attended Sheridan College, where she earned a diploma in applied photography.

The program pushed her to her “utmost limit” to create and display photos in a limited timeframe, and she thrived, graduating at the top of her class. She then spent six years living on the B.C. coast and travelling the world, shooting images whenever she could.

Over time her passion for photography faded as life took her in other directions, but since moving to Canmore in 2012 to take a job with the Alpine Club of Canada, and more recently, working for artsPlace, she’s rediscovered her joy in creating.

For this project she used a Nikon d7000 with a flash, natural light and a few reflectors.

“The skills I learned from the past just came back to me,” she said. “It was fun to reignite this passion and get back into the groove of shooting portraits again.”

While her Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom skills needed a refresh, that came easily after spending a few hours at her computer. She printed the images herself with the help of a friend in Cochrane, and while it was “super stressful,” it all worked out. She covered all the expenses associated with her project out of pocket.

Now with the opening date fast approaching, Ferri said she looks forward to sharing her project that highlights her subjects’ individuality, natural beauty and their reasons for making climbing part of their lives.

“In their everyday actions, in their words and in their climbing, these women have inspired me to be strong, confident, courageous, vulnerable and dedicated,” Ferri said.

While she’s excited to see the photos hanging beside each other, she’s equally excited to continue with her project online long after her show has run.

“I want to keep shooting and highlighting all the amazing women in this valley of ours,” Ferri said. “This show is a great opportunity to get to know some local faces in town. These women are courageous, strong and dedicated to their sport – climbing – and they also make a hard-earned living here in this Valley.

“This project is not just for me alone or my message to share, it is our contagiously awesome local women’s message to be heard.”

Strong back, Soft front: A portrait series opens at Three Sisters Gallery in Elevation Place on Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and open to all.