Mining photographer braces elements to get the shot

cathie_9950Whether it’s means kayaking, snowmobiling or coming into a site by chopper, Archbould Photography founder Cathie Archbould is one person who always gets her shot. Her commitment to traversing great distances, partaking in unusual transportation and pretty much doing whatever it takes to get on site is one of the features that has helped set her apart from other ordinary photographers – and one that has helped establish her as the premier on-location photographer for mining companies all across Canada’s great north.

Testing the waters
“I was always interested in photography,” explains Archbould. “I took my first photography course in high school. It was the one thing that I always stuck with, the one thing that was consistent for me.”

After high school, Archbould attained a Bachelor of Applied Arts at Ryerson University in Toronto. She debated about returning to her native Victoria but opted to stay in Toronto and get a job.

“I was working at the Toronto Star,” she recalls. “It was the early 1990s and there was a real downturn in the economy. A lot of media jobs were let go.”

Luckily for Archbould, a small newspaper in Whitehorse was looking for a photographer to fill the newly created position at the Yukon News. She applied, got the job and moved up north.

“I had a huge student loan to pay off so I needed a job,” she says, adding that she was young enough to be adventurous about where that job could be.

That sense of adventure has never left. And although Archbould did eventually move back to Toronto, she lasted only about six weeks.

“I went back up to the Yukon,” she says. “I just couldn’t live in Toronto anymore.”

All the while, Archbould continued to build her freelance business, with clients like the Associated Press. Her photos graced the front covers of several media outlets over the years, including Canadian Press, The Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail – to name but a few.

Harley-36816-2Going it alone
In 2000, Archbould left the newspaper (by now, she had been working for the Yukon’s daily for a number of years). She started Archbould Photography and found immediate clients in the government and tourism industry.

And then things changed.

“I got a call from a client I had worked with in the past who offered me a job to go into a mine site and do some still photography of the First Nation people who were working at the mine,” recalls Archbould. “It was a good job that required me to drive about three and a half hours north to get to the site. I decided to take the assignment.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“Once I had that in my portfolio, it just opened up the door to all sorts of companies,” says Archbould. “My name went through the mining industry like wildfire and mining photography became my forté.”

Today, mining photography represents between one-quarter and one-third of Archbould’s business. It’s a mainstay of what she does and who she has become.

And part of who she has become is her key ability to make an immediate connection to the places and people she shoots. Archbould’s easy manner and natural curiosity have helped her excel in a way that nurtures a better connection to the subject.

“A lot of the people who I photograph aren’t necessarily at ease with facing the camera,” explains Archbould. “I often have to rely upon my instincts to get them to relax. It can be by talking about the site, the business or even about where they are from, how long they have been in the north and why they like it in the Yukon. The goal is to set them at ease so I can get that perfect shot.”

reclamation-2All in a day’s work
On average, Archbould’s photo shoots take anywhere from one to three days on site, never mind how long it takes her to get there.

“Last week, I was trying to get to the exploration site of what is going to be Canada’s largest open pit mine,” she explains. “The pilot spent two hours trying to fly in pockets of visibility to get to the camp before finally giving up. I was choppered in to take the shots this week instead.”

Archbould jokes that over the last 14 years, she has spent a lot of time in small aircraft or helicopters – not to mention dark, underground spaces.

“A lot of my work means going underground,” she adds. “There was one location where I had to descend 19 storeys underground in a very tiny elevator.”

Luckily, Archbould isn’t claustrophobic – or frightened of flying – or frightened of just about anything.

Two years ago last October, Archbould was travelling to a location shoot – this time by the traditional method of an all-wheel vehicle – when she hit a bad spot.

“I had left Whitehorse pretty early in the morning so that I could get to the site before the roads became dicey,” she explains. “But the roads were pretty bad so I turned around and decided to add some weight to the truck and put on new snow tires before making another attempt the next morning.”

The 300 pounds of sand in the back of the truck and the new snow tires made a huge difference and Archbould was able to get to her destination, which was about a two and a half-hour drive north of the city.

“I was at the mine for two days and took plenty of shots,” she says. “After spending the night, I headed out very early in the morning so that I get on the road before it started freezing. I was about an hour into the drive – and already thinking about what I was going to make for dinner – when I hit some black ice. I went into a spin and rolled the truck twice before ending up in the ditch.”

Luckily, she was unharmed.

“Even though I was in shock, I still managed to grab all my gear and equipment and pile it up by the side of the road,” states Archbould. “When another vehicle eventually came by, the driver helped me load everything in his vehicle. He drove me into the next small community, where we discovered that I had glass in my hair and eyes. There was a bit of damage to me and the equipment but I was very, very lucky.”

AtcoTagishTower_AP03985-2Through water, snow or sand
Another interesting location shoot required that Archbould be up to date on her paddling skills.

“There was one client that required me to go on a 10-day canoe trip to reach the camp site,” she explains. “I have also travelled by ATV, which was kind of cool.”

Archbould is also willing to stand in the heat for hours on end, alongside many whining corgis no less. This particular shoot, although not mining related, saw her covering the Queen at the Victoria Commonwealth Games.

“I had been shooting her for days and got some pretty bland expressions for my efforts,” notes Archbould. “But when the Queen drove through the long line of corgis, her face lit up. It was an expression of pure glee.”

And an expression that Archbould managed to capture forever – and one that resonates with own self.

“I feel fortunate every day to be doing what I’m doing,” states Archbould. “I love what I do, and to be able to do it here in the Yukon especially, is extremely satisfying.”

And although Archbould gets plenty of adventure during her work days, she is not one to sit around aimlessly on the few days she gets off.

“When I’m not working, which is happening less and less often, I do a lot of fishing, canoeing and sea kayaking,” she enthuses. “I also like to cross-country ski and snowmobile.”

And with that, Archbould is off preparing for her next adventure. She is booked solid for the next 14 days, is toying with the idea of taking a couple of days off after that before plunging back into a full work load that will take her right through to the end of September.

It may be a thankless job for many – but somebody has to do it. And Cathie Archbould, thankfully, is more than happy – and grateful – to be that somebody.

To view more of Cathie’s stunning work visit

By Melanie Franner


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August 19, 2014

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