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MayworksHalifax photo exhibit puts faces and stories to workplace injuries

by Robert Devet

The spouse of a herring fisherman who drowned in the Pubnico Bay is one of the subjects of a fascinating photo exhibit on display at Pier 21 on April 28, the national day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.  Photo Trevor Beckerson, all rights reserved.
The spouse of a herring fisherman who drowned in the Pubnico Bay is one of the subjects of a fascinating photo exhibit on display at Pier 21 on April 28, the national day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. Photo Trevor Beckerson, all rights reserved.

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX –  Aftermath, the consequences of a workplace injury, is an exhibit of photos that offer a glimpse into the lives of Nova Scotians who suffered critical workplace injuries.

The show consists of pictures of eleven Nova Scotians, accompanied by a short write-up for each individual to provide a bit of context.

Each picture tells a story that begins with a life-altering accident at the workplace. In the aftermath of the accident the stories takes a unique turn, once dealing with injury, chronic pain or the loss of a loved one becomes a daily challenge.

"We wanted to put faces and stories to these critical injuries. These are real people, they don't disappear after the accident, and they are everywhere. They're in your community," photographer Trevor Beckerson tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

Beckerson has experience assisting injured workers while he worked at Canada Post prior to becoming a full time photographer and an active member of the Canadian Freelance Union, Unifor local 2040.

The project is sponsored by the Office of the Worker Counsellor, an organization with labour roots that provides assistance to injured workers in Nova Scotia, offers education on legislation and compensation processes, and engages in advocacy.

Beckerson says that Jesse Parkinson, the driving force behind the Office of the Worker Counsellor since its inception, wanted workers to realize that life-altering injuries that happen in the workplace are for real. This is the message that Aftermath wants to drive home.

"A lot of time workers say that they worked for twenty years, and have never known anybody who has lost a hand, who broke her back, who had that really severe injury, so it is probably never going to happen, it is just a statistical anomaly," says Beckerson. "What we wanted to do is challenge that impression."

Some people had relatively good experiences with the compensation process, others had a terrible time, says Beckerson. But that kind of detail would only distract from the main message, that terrible accidents happen in the workplace, and that such accidents could happen to anybody.

Documenting the lives of the subjects of the show was an intense experience for the subjects of the photographs. It required people to give up much of their privacy.

"One thing that definitely stood out for me, a lot of people mentioned that when they got injured they became kind of isolated," says Beckerson.

"They lost touch with people at work. People do not necessarily have space for people who cannot drive for more than ten minutes, or who cannot sit for more than thirty minutes at a time.  You can't go see a movie with friends any more, because you can't sit in a movie theatre for two hours. Things like that."

Nonetheless, they're not necessarily sad stories. The photos often show strong people, rightly proud of the spirited and energetic lives they live.

"A lot of these people suffered terrible injuries, that very much affected the quality of their lives," says Beckerson. "Yet many of the people I spent time with impressed me with how they managed to make a really good life for themselves regardless. They persevered."

The show is part of this year's MayworksHalifax Festival. Beckerson feels it is a good fit.

"The message is about workplace safety but we are finding an artistic means of getting that message across."

"Statistics are informative and useful. But stats are dry and not very personal. This project wants to invoke an emotional reaction in people."

Again Beckerson emphasizes that pity is not what this project is about.

"If you feel sorry for that guy and what happened to him, then you don't consider your own vulnerability. These are all just regular working people, they didn't expect this, it could happen to anybody."

The photos will will be on display at Pier 21 in Halifax, between 1 PM and 4 PM, on April 28th, the national day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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