With the camera as a creative conduit, Heather Pollock is able to incorporate her elegant flair, with a fond admiration of the female hockey heroes that are forging an exciting new era with the evolution of the professional game. Whether at the rink or in another setting, it serves as a canvas for Pollock’s brilliance.
While Pollock’s portraits of the new-look Markham Thunder can certainly be classified as a “game-changer”, presenting its stars in a new surroundings, they emerged as an imaginative yet inspired revelation, simultaneously contributing to the exciting sense of momentum leading into the new season.
Gaining a remarkable popularity on social media, Pollock’s photos were proudly showcased by numerous Thunder players, appreciative of her visuals. Undoubtedly, the acclaim regarding said photos added an exciting new dimension to Pollock’s stature, as such a fascinating portfolio enhanced a much richer body of work. Although Pollock is modestly self-effacing about such tribute, there is a proud feeling of achievement in the fact that she helped contribute to a new chapter in the splendid legacy of the Thunder.
“Delightful! I am entirely unfamiliar with the world of "popular", and I originally joined Facebook just so I could play Scrabble. Surely, any popularity has far more to do with the connectivity of the players and their supporters than my photography, but I am happy to be a small part of it.
With the CWHL, we are witnessing the growth of something monumental. I really believe that. Excellence for the sake of nothing but excellence. Even if you don't envision its impact in the macro, the micro will be utterly profound for some young ladies. Utterly. Profound.
Twenty years from now, it will be heart-warming to hear stories from women whose lives were influenced by the CWHL and the players in it. The self-confidence forged. The scholarships earned. The lifelong friendships created.
Powerful is the new pretty. If I can help one teeny tiny little bit with that, amazing.”
With a keen, artistic eye, Pollock’s appreciation for visuals first had its origins during her teen years. Devoted to educating herself, the mastery of her craft incorporated the old-school elements, learning to develop film through the use of a dark room. Resourcefully utilizing a room in the family home as a makeshift dark room too, cleverly develop photographs, it emphasized her assiduous approach towards edification.
While technology has advanced the potential of high quality photographs by a quantum leap, the more traditional ways were essential in helping Pollock appreciate the medium. While such a pleasant pursuit evolved into a career for Pollock, its purpose as an outlet to express her happiness and joy, finding creative purpose and professional fulfilment is one that relates to her initial love of the lens.
“When I was in high school I had a part-time job in a photo lab. The whole photographic process became quite fascinating to me and I started hobby-shooting. My folks let me use their basement bathroom as a darkroom (they have always been cool and supportive like that). I never thought it was something I would do as a career, though.
For years, I worked in a different industry, but I really needed an artistic outlet. I started taking some part-time photography classes and remembered how much I loved it. I miss the mystery of film -- it was like magic when the images started to appear in the developer -- but I have learned to embrace digital.
Life is short. Do what you can to be happy. Please.”
Of note, Pollock’s fascinating vision mirrors the ground breaking work of another sensational female sporting photographer. Candice Ward, whose superlative portraits of the WWCFL’s Calgary Rage, helped raise awareness for the women’s tackle football team, subsequently becoming an invaluable marketing tool.
Undoubtedly, both Pollock and Ward are helping to portray the women of sport in an empowering milieu, employing a combination of confidence, beauty and strength. Their creative influence, emanating from opposite sides of the country, mirrors the rising relevance of women in sport, which sees roles beyond athletic competition, but in management, coaching and public relations.
Considering that Ward is also a recreational basketball player, Pollock’s love of sport also extends to active participation, gracing the ice with a group of women’s hockey competitors north of Toronto. It was also in that same milieu where Pollock’s athletic endeavors took on a heightened sense of enthusiasm, filled with a gleaming jubilation. Recounting the time that she met one of Canada’s greatest women’s players from the 1990s, a pioneer who helped anchor Canada’s defense into the 21st Century, Therese Brisson would prove to become both friend and inspiration to Pollock.
Although Brisson first made her mark competing in the province of Quebec, donning the jersey of the Montreal Wingstar in the original NWHL, her status as one of the premier blueliners in the women’s game was affirmed with a memorable body of work on Canada’s national team. While later years would result in a relocation to the Greater Toronto Area, pursuing a Master’s Degree at York University, while suiting up for the Mississauga Ice Bears and the eventual Oakville Ice, Brisson remains a celebrated figure. Definitely, a subject of admiration among the hockey community in her adopted home, it would also set the stage for a highly memorable chance encounter with Pollock,
“I am a rec hockey player -- my love for the game far outweighs my actual ability to play it -- but a handful of years ago I found myself on a pretty darned good summer pick-up team. One of the players was Therese. After a couple of shifts, I said something entirely charming to her along the lines of ‘Holy crap, you're Therese Brisson and trying to handle one of your passes is like trying to play ping pong with a medicine ball’.”
While Brisson was reputed among the pioneering women of the early years of Team Canada for the incredible ability to skate backwards at a very rapid speed, she is equally admired for her kind demeanor and generosity. Those elements made a very strong impression on Pollock, who was the recipient of a very pleasant surprise, as Brisson’s benevolence enhanced a personal milestone,
“Over the season, we got to know each other better, and she found out that my partner and I had a baby a few months prior. One day a van pulled up outside our house and a lifetime supply of diapers - boxes and boxes and boxes - were piled into our living room. I will forever be thankful for that thoughtful gift.”
With the upcoming Winter Games signifying the 20th Anniversary of Nagano, the first tournament to feature women’s ice hockey in the Winter Games, Brisson was part of that legendary team, gaining a place in hockey immortality. As the opportunity to be part of the inaugural Winter Games roster resulted in a podium finish at Nagano, she would subsequently gain a spot with Canada’s roster at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. Contributing towards the squad capturing their first-ever gold medal at the Games, one filled with tremendous emotion, it allowed Brisson the chance to make hockey history twice.
Graciously appearing in front of Pollock’s camera, garbed in the iconic Team Canada jersey, it summoned a magical time for Brisson, bringing to light the peerless prestige that came with elevating the game to greater heights. While Pollock was in awe of her subject, the revelation of Brisson’s journey, elevating her game to world-class status, was one that enthralled, bringing to light a pair of unsung heroes that were instrumental in her development,
“I have been fortunate to photograph some pretty great athletes -- musicians too -- and every single time I am warmed by their humility. Maybe it's a Canadian thing? They're so very talented, extremely hard-working, and committed to their craft, but so self-deprecating about their own formidable skills.
For example, one day I asked Therese about prepping for the Olympics. I was expecting some tales about the sacrifices made and the hard work she put in, but instead she talked about two arena employees at the University of New Brunswick (where she was a kinesiology professor) who showed up at the campus rink every day hours before their shifts started so she could have private time on the ice.”
Undoubtedly, the chance to photograph such an iconic individual pays tribute to a fascinating time for female sport in Canada, enlightening a new generation of fans about those who helped set the foundation for today. Simultaneously, it also evokes the sense of national pride reached through the impact of the Nagano Games, as a nation felt a strong emotional investment in the journey of a group of wondrous women wearing the Maple Leaf. Its aftermath served as a catalyst for women of all ages to take up the game, of which Pollock was certainly part of.
“When I was a young kid, every chance I got I played hockey on a pond near my parent's house in Aurora. I loved it. I loved the crunchy sound of blades on ice, I loved that it was a gathering place for friends, I loved that my boots (that we used as goal posts) would be filled with snow when I went to put them on. (I was less fond of the painful frozen-foot walk home.)
Yet, as an older youth and an adult I did not play hockey at all. Watching those games in Nagano reminded me of my love for the sport. I picked up a stick again, and apparently so did thousands of other women. I am so happy we did.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
All photos by Heather Pollock