We see and hear about The Vancouver Police Department through the lens of the news and media, but rarely through the eyes of the officers themselves. Behind the scenes, there are many moments of tenderness, happiness and beyond—each showing a different side to the VPD that is relatable and unfiltered.
For over 7 years Julie Scott has been photographing the VPD, exploring the different facets of policing in Vancouver. In her new photo exhibit, Keeping Your Community Safe, she provides snapshots into the world of policing, highlighting the admiration and respect she has for the men and women who serve. Last week, we had the opportunity to interview her and learn more about how she came to create this collection of photos, what inspired her work and what she has learned from her experiences.
Here’s what she had to say:
Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?
I have a varied professional background. I’ve been a paramedic, mechanical engineer, security guard and registered nurse. Most of my nursing has been spent working at the Vancouver Jail where I worked very closely with VPD officers. I currently work as a Violence Prevention Specialist. I’m married and I have a furry son named Snoopy. I’m currently training for my first marathon. I work so I can afford to travel. My favourite country so far is Greenland.
Can you explain how this photo exhibit came to fruition?
I met Chief Palmer at an Odd Squad event where I suggested that it would be great if we could have an exhibit showcasing the hard work that the VPD does. He immediately connected me with Andrea Wright from the Vancouver Police Foundation who fully supported having a show. She then connected me with the Vancouver Police Museum who made it happen. This event could not happen without the generous support of the Vancouver Police Foundation and the Vancouver Police Museum.
Why did you get involved with the VPD?
Frequently, the VPD is portrayed in social media and in the news from a negative perspective. My goal from the very beginning was to offer to the officers’ images of them working that they can be proud of. Images they can confidently show their friends and loved ones. My images show the strength of the officers’ character, the confidence in what they do, and the fun they have while they’re doing their job.
How many years has this project taken you?
I’ve been volunteering my photography services with the VPD Public Safety Unit since 2013. I’ve spent thousands of hours archiving thousands of photos over the 6 years. It was an impossible task picking the photos for the exhibit as I love every one of my photos. Every photo has a story and meaning behind it.
What were some of the most impactful moments you experienced while taking these photos?
At last year’s training, the officers went out of their way to make me feel like I was one of them. They had me gear up and walk through the wall of fire. They gave me a gas mask and had me experience the CS gas with them. They gave me a shield and threw blocks of wood at me. I have never felt so appreciated. Granted, I have worked very hard over the six years and volunteered thousands of hours to develop their trust and friendship. I’m now at a point where they protect me like a big brother would. I couldn’t be happier.
What did you learn from this experience? Has it changed the way you perceive the VPD or policing in general?
I have always had profound admiration for the work that police officers do. That admiration has only gotten stronger by my being allowed to see the true emotions and reactions that they experience while working. Police officers see things on a daily basis that are sometimes horrific and traumatic. They have to process these experiences while continuing to do their job in a professional and sensitive manner. I don’t think I could do this, so I have deep gratitude that they are doing it for me. They sacrifice so much of themselves to keep our communities safe.
Any advice for photographers looking to capture a scene or energy?
Take candid shots while scrutinizing the activities of your subject. Anticipate behaviour and the emotions that are linked to that behaviour. Candid shots are honest, sincere and often emotional, and they are original as you will never see that moment repeated again.
Do you have a photography process? If so, what is it like?
I believe that the best images come from candid moments. I never ask the officers to pose for me. Sometimes they naturally take poses but, generally, I make my settings so that I can capture moments quickly and effortlessly. I watch everything. I notice every detail, every movement and every expression that happens while the police officers work. I have to move very quickly, frequently running with all my gear to catch the moments as they happen. Once I capture the moments, I convert the images to black and white because this medium highlights emotion and drama spectacularly well.
What is your favourite camera?
I use a Canon 5D Mark III and a 6D Mark II with professional “L” series lenses. I would like to use Canon’s top professional body, the 5d Mark IV but it’s a bit too expensive for my budget. Unless the VPD wants to buy it for me….
Why should people come and see this photo exhibit?
My images showcase the many facets of the Vancouver Police Department. From stunning use of force to dramatic ceremony, visitors to the exhibit will get an opportunity to see a side of the VPD never seen by the general public. It’s taken me years to develop relationships with these officers so that they trust me and allow me to capture their most honest and true selves. Policing at its core deals with every human emotion, good and bad. As a result, a warning that some images may appear aggressive. Policing does involve use of force when necessary. The images are an accurate portrayal of police work, and although this may be hard to see, this is the life of a police officer with the VPD.