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Artist's statement

I count coup.

This minor epiphany arrived with the dusk of a prairie day in 1980. I'd climbed to the cusp of a windswept coulee, mere steps away from the boundary line into neighbouring Montana. A rising moon had played tag with scurrying clouds and apart from a gaggle of pronghorn antelope, who'd fled with leaping bounds before the van, my only neighbours were a coyote family yipping at the fading light.

I'd spent the summer with a vintage 8 x 10 camera tracing the location source of archival photographs and topographical watercolours on a Re-photography project. Having started on Vancouver Island and worked my way through the interior of British Columbia, I'd arrived here at the edge of Palliser's Triangle looking for the setting of long-abandoned teepee rings.

A wrangler at the Turkey Track Ranch recognized the spot from an 1800's photo I'd shown him. Looking at Gulliver, my trusty timeworn VW Camper, he said he thought I could make it going slow and easy over the rolling grassland. A quick setup of camp was followed by a leisurely span of quiet contemplation.

The solitude seemed to dampen down the march of time. In the deepening darkness the teepee rings danced like flitting shapes about a timeless fire.

What band had sojourned here? What tales of prowess had they shared in the gloaming of day? Suddenly I recalled the story of the counting of coup (pronounced koo).

Coup is a French word signifying a blow.The bravest warriors were the ones who could ride in amongst the enemy and strike a non-lethal blow with a coup stick and escape unharmed.

The earliest contact with plains tribes was by French fur traders and explorers in the 1700's who on their return to New France (Quebec) would have told of the how the various western tribes counted "coup."

Though I have no claim to being a great photographer, this coup concept struck me a blow.

All dedicated photographers approach their subjects with a focused mindset, determining the right lens, the right angle , the judicious choice of light, finger nervously tickling the shutter till (homage to Cartier Bresson) the decisive moment arrives and they count coup.

Later at the evening fire, the warriors would recall their exploits just as, emboldened, we hand around photographic prints or files that recall our artistic triumphs.

But in truth, at least for me, the greatest satisfaction comes with that magic moment when you click the shutter and instinctively you know you just counted coup.

Gordon Beck

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