Julie Vincent is anything but ordinary, actually, in her words, she’s more of a ‘renaissance person.’
Vincent is a first-generation Calgarian, as both her parents hail from the east in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She was born and raised here, fleeing to Montreal for three years, but despite loving the new city she eventually made her way back to Calgary — the place where she feels most at home.
She’s a photographer, artist, writer, hairstylist — the list goes on. She loves being in school and has graduated from Mount Royal University five times, earning herself a few diplomas, an applied communications degree, two post-degree certificates in journalism and professional writing, and a variety of non-credit certificates. One time she was bored house sitting and decided to get her private investigation certificate — getting her license has officially been added to her bucket list.
Vincent has certainly seen and done a lot here in the city and throughout the world, but the thing she’s most proud of in her life are her three grown daughters — “They are brilliant, smart, wonderful humans!”
We sat down with Vincent to learn how she became a real estate photographer turned artist, what it was like to grow up in Calgary in the ‘60s, and what inspires her most about the city.
What’s your story?
Vincent: I guess I’m what one might call a renaissance person. I’ve worked as a dishwasher (I was 12; I don’t think it was legal…) a waitress, when that was still the term, a trained/licensed hairstylist in two countries and two provinces – and I did my training in French; in banking as a lender, and as a mortgage agent; as a journalist for a small-town paper (which I loved!)
My dad gave me a camera when I graduated high school and said, “Go see the world,” which I did. I have always loved photography as an art form, but an image I made in London, England in 1983 was the moment I knew photography was for me. Throughout all my schooling and work, I’ve always made photographs. One of my instructors at MRU, Paul Coates, was really instrumental in my path to becoming a full-time photographer. The short story is he was incredibly helpful and insightful about whatever work I was making then, and that really helped me become confident.
About 14 years ago, I was perusing real estate listings online and came across a shot of a basement— panelled walls, bowling alley ’60s basement. Whoever shot that image had photographed the length of the room, through a treadmill on which was hung the homeowner’s skivvies. I knew I could do a way better job, and that was the moment I became a real estate photographer. There were two other firms at the time, both of which are no longer around, so I am now the longest-established, single-owner real estate photography practice in the city. I love this work. It’s very satisfying to make images that make my clients’ sellers happy, and by extension contribute to my clients’ reputations for being top-shelf.
I’m an exhibiting artist — quite by accident. In 2012, I wanted to go to a photography festival in London and mentioned it to a friend/colleague who I’d been working with for a few years, who agreed to come along. We spent a week bouncing around London – during the Jubilee and also during a very rainy week. London is amazing and we shot a ton of work. Back in Calgary, we connected with our local photo festival on the off chance we could exhibit. Literally the day before, our now good friend Tanya MacIntosh had called the festival to say her store wanted to host an exhibition in her very London-esque brick-walled gallery — serendipity. We ended up doing a six-year-long international street photography project called ‘Tripping the Streets Fantastic.’
After that show ended, I was bouncing about looking for another project, when, one day, a crew turned up to build a new fence between my house and the new build next to me. They arrived with a very old dog, and a crew member with a knee injury. It was a hot day, so I brought out water for the dog, sparked up a conversation with the injured guy — and voila a new project! He competes in Indian Relay – I know; I didn’t have a clue what that was either and invited us out to the next night’s events in Strathmore. That invitation sparked a close friendship with him and his family, and the photos we took of that event and of relays over the next two years. They have been exhibited five times in Calgary and will travel to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo Japan, June to August 2022.
What was your experience growing up in Calgary?
Vincent: I’m a sixties kid. Freedom. Playing ‘kick the can’ in summers until the street lights came on. Walking to school, banana-seat bikes with high-rise handlebars, our local candy shop ‘Pete’s.’ I was just barely aware of the events of the summer of 1969 and I remember well when The Dinner Party — Judy Chicago’s amazing installation — came to Calgary. It was a time of revolution for sure.
What makes you keep coming back?
Vincent: Having lived in a few other places, and having really loved living in Montreal, I still always want to come home. This city is so vibrant, and the culture here is complex, interesting, occasionally frustrating, but always fascinating. As a photographer, I’ve had so many extraordinary opportunities because of that complexity. I shot the PC leadership convention when Alison Redford won; I recently shot the post-civic election demonstration/protest at City Hall, and 30 minutes later shot Pupapalooza in the East Village. This city is full of contrasts.
What makes it feel like home?
Vincent: People in this city are so connected. It’s almost weird how small a ‘town’ it is despite the 1.3 million people here. I feel so at home knowing somewhere in my day I’ll connect somehow with someone who is friends – in real life – with my friends.
How are you involved in the Calgary community?
Vincent: The last 20 months aside, I’ve always sought out ways to be active in my community. I was with the crime prevention committee in my neighbourhood and I’ve been part of a few boards. I’ve had lots of opportunities to work with local artists and I’m going to be helping out a group building a community for musicians in the city (and the province). I’ve volunteered a ton — because moms with kids in dance…. BINGO!
What do you think unites us as Calgarians?
Vincent: I hope very much it is the deep and widespread connections we have to each other in this city. Where other places might have that six degrees of separation, Calgary seems to be closer to 2 or three degrees for the most part. I’m struck so often by how few ‘degrees’ there are between me and people who might at first be random strangers, but who, after a bit of conversation, are friends of friends — like in REAL life.
What challenges do you feel are facing as a community right now?
Vincent: Lately, the effects of an ongoing pandemic are certainly affecting everyone in some way or another. It’s hard to deal with uncertainty, frustration, fear, loss, and real, significant changes to our lives — personally and collectively. Frustration and fear breed anger and we can see this playing out so often in the last 20 months, but as a city, we are not so different — none of these things are unique to Calgary. Fundamentally though, I’ll refer back to the 2013 flood, Calgarians will put aside whatever personal differences they might have when there needs to be a community response.
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