Engage with Nature-Based Solutions

Emrys Damon Miller: Creek Documents

Emrys Damon Miller is a communications strategist, graphic designer, and visual artist living in Victoria, BC. He’s the director of Rocketday Arts, a small, boutique studio that focuses exclusively on projects that aim to build a healthier planet. Rocketday’s projects directly address several local and global issues: over-consumption, the threats to ecological health, war, poor education, and the need for spiritual and cultural health in quickly changing world. Emrys has helped lead the visual design industry, serving as a local President of the Graphic Designers of Canada, participating in international congresses from Habana to Nagoya, and presenting at the 2017 World Design Summit in Montreal.

The Artwork

Rocketday has collaborated with Engage with Nature-Based Solutions on several projects. In 2023, Emrys created a series of photographs and sketches of Bowker Creek, in Victoria, BC. The resulting images document the creek’s strengths and struggles, and provide an image resource for conservation and restoration communities.

“The activity of drawing can help us observe more slowly and deeply. When drawing, you often notice things you don’t otherwise see. 

“Drawing landscape can be a kind of meditative process. Drawing requires just enough attention that it can focus you, and quiet your thoughts. You become calmer, more present, focused on a slow process of observation and making marks on paper. It’s an activity that’s still and gentle, building a relationship between yourself and the space you’re within.”

Emrys’ images show the intricacies of life along the length of Bowker Creek, including the flora and fauna of the area, areas where the creek has been culverted and urbanized, and ecologically-intact areas where biodiversity and native species are present, as the creek wanders through neighbourhoods in urban Victoria and Oak Bay.

“If done slowly, the act of photography can help the photographer to witness more detail. As we compose a photograph in a forest, we may notice tiny plants along a stream, the texture of bark, different colours of lichen, how the sunlight breaks through openings in the tree cover. Slow photography can focus our attention on the details of the space we’re in. After we’ve been taking photos for several minutes, we become more present, and everything else fades away.”

Images can be powerful storytellers, acting as both documentation, inspiration, and conversation openers for nature-based solutions. They capture the feel and intensity of a place more thoroughly than written description sometimes can. And they are universal – interpretable and understandable by both young and old, in any language.

The Workshop

Emrys held a workshop for the University of Victoria’s Community Mapping (Geography 380) students. The workshop introduced students to photovoice, a participatory technique that allows communities to photograph the positives and negatives in a region in order to work towards social, political, or environmental change. Photovoice has been used as a participatory research technique in communities around the world.

Emrys then took students through the basics of good photography – light, composition, focus – in order to equip the students for the field trip portion of the day. Students were invited to roam the campus taking photos of Bowker Creek, capturing light, shadow, various species, places they felt safe, places where accessibility was an issue, places ripe for restoration. Upon their return, photos were loaded on a large screen. Students explained the story behind each image (a key facet of photovoice workshops), and discussed the image’s aesthetic considerations.

“Urban planning, landscape architecture, and ecological restoration can all be informed by what we observe in natural systems and landscapes. We can look for “nature-based solutions.” But the first steps is to inspect our spaces with care. In addition to technical surveys, I believe that the personal activity of slow photography and drawing can deepen our understanding. In addition, the resulting images can help a community discover a place, discuss it, and plan for it.”

Emrys’ workshop helped equip students to hold their own photovoice events in the future, to engage with community through this type of citizen observation and image-making and use this to spark conversations about climate change and nature-based solutions, and to think more deeply about how to capture a landscape or region in order to begin to affect positive change.

Resulting Resources

One hundred of his best photographs were gifted to the public domain, so that the Friends of Bowker Creek, Peninsula Streams Society, local school teachers, local government, and others can use the images. Browse and download the images from Flickr.

In addition, a display will be exhibited at the University of Victoria in February 2024. Download a PDF of the display panels here.

Listen to an audio recording of Bowker Creek, created by Alex Steinitz.

#forest #parkland #stream #urban
#biodiversity conservation #stream restoration