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Flyover: British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. An Aviation Legacy

By Sage Birchwater

Review By Jay Sherwood

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 180 Winter 2013-2014  | p. 191-192

In his latest publication, Chris Harris views the Cariboo, Chilcotin, and Coast region of south central British Columbia, the base for his numerous books, from a new perspective derived from a series of flights over the region. Flyover continues Harris’s trademark large-size book style with many arresting photographs, several of them full page. Harris describes the book’s purpose to be “photographing a visual narrative of the aviation industry and legacy in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast” (5), while also capitalizing on a new vertical viewpoint for his photographs: “I loved the aerial perspective for the different way of seeing: fresh, new, inspiring, and invigorating. Most of my flying time was spent searching for those decisive moments when subject matter and light unite to form beauty” (7).

The excellent visual quality extends Harris’s reputation as one of British Columbia’s outstanding outdoor photographers. Rich in colour and detail, the photographs provide an excellent perspective on this vast and thinly-populated region of British Columbia. In a section called “Beauty in an Unknown Landscape” (170-181), Harris describes some novel photographic techniques he employed. “By shooting downwards and eliminating the horizon, I had lost all understanding of the landscape.… What I wanted to do with this landscape was invite people into the images, to look deeply at the form, colours and textures, and be visually stimulated and intrigued” (180). Since this is one of the strong elements of the book, making it more than just a geographical record of the area, Harris might have included this section on photographic technique early in the book. In a concluding section, Harris writes: “I searched for a way to portray to the world the land’s vastness, remoteness, and beauty, the very elements that drove these pilots to fly there in the first place” (208). However, the dominant motif in the photographs is summer and blue sky. With almost no photographs taken in wintry or stormy weather, the book lacks a sense of the variety of weather and seasons. Moreover, the book contains very few photographs of the airplanes that transport people to places where they work or live.

But Flyover is not just a book of photographs. It contains more text than Harris’s previous books, much of it provided by Sage Birchwater, long-time Williams Lake resident and author, who interviewed several pioneer pilots to derive the aviation history of the area. He also outlines the prominent aviation families and the role of aviation, both airplanes and helicopters, in the Cariboo, Chilcotin, and Coast today. While Birchwater’s text includes interesting historical narrative, there are only a couple of historical photographs, making it more difficult to get a sense of the aviation legacy that is the book’s subtitle. The second half of the book contains chapters on the role of aviation in the region’s industry; but again, the photographs are all contemporary. In the last part of the book the text consists mainly of short sections on a variety of topics that do not relate closely to the photographs.

Despite some shortcomings in Harris’s photographs and Birchwater’s text, Flyover provides an innovative and intriguing perspective of British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.

Flyover: British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. An Aviation Legacy
By Chris Harris and Sage Birchwater 
105 Mile Ranch: Country Light Publishing, 2012. 224 pp, $39.95 paper