George Webber is a true SAIT original.
Best known for capturing the unexposed and peculiar corners of the Canadian West, the internationally recognized photographer's work can be found in books, magazines and along the walls of museums around the globe. Calgary's Glenbow Museum hosts more than 500 of his photos in their collection.
With such success, it's something to brag about that SAIT was where his 42-year photography career began.
There is a very good chance, he says, that if he hadn't taken a writing job at the post-secondary, he may have never become a photographer at all.
The man who obtained a degree in Political Science and Journalism had dreamed of being a writer. More specifically, a journalist.
One fateful day
"I really, really, really wanted a newspaper job," Webber says. "I got an interview at the Calgary Albertan, which is now the Calgary Sun … I thought I did a good interview, but they didn't offer me the job. I was just crushed."
Later that summer in 1974, Webber saw a posting for a SAIT writing position. He got the job, and well, the rest is history.
"I was doing some research in the SAIT library, I opened up a book of photographs called The Decisive Moment by a French photographer named Henri Cartier-Bresson. And when I closed that book, I knew I wanted to be a photographer ― it was a life-changing experience."
An informal education
Webber began borrowing cameras and practicing darkroom techniques. He bought his own camera after leaving his writing gig at SAIT.
He returned to SAIT as a staff photographer in 1980 and captured the institute's visual story for the next 22 years.
While weekends and summers were reserved for other work ― Hutterite colonies, badlands and Calgary's East Village, to name a few ― Webber says his role at SAIT was where he learned the ropes and truly honed his skills. He learned almost everything he needed to know about photography from colleague Ron Burton, a SAIT staff photographer from the early 1970s - 1992.
"I had decades of support and the opportunity to learn, master my craft and work with it. Everything I know about photography, I learned at SAIT ― it was like my school as well as my workplace. That's the special thing and I am so grateful for that."
A significant contribution to SAIT's first 100 years
Between Burton and Webber, the two photogs captured a combined 40 years of SAIT's history, which makes up a good portion of SAIT's centennial book, Shapers, Makers and Originals: The Story of SAIT's First 100 Years, hitting the shelves of SAIT's Bookstore on Sept. 23.
Webber also played a major role in the making of the book, produced by Kingsley Publishing Services and written by historian David Finch. The photographer helped source and organize over 100 years of images from the SAIT archives and Alberta's Provincial Archives and took photos for the contemporary portion of the historic book.
Although Webber continues to teach continuing education at SAIT and contributes to LINK Magazine, he says the book was an important and deeply meaningful culmination of his time at the post-secondary.
"This September, it will be 42 years since I first walked through the doors of this place. It means a lot to me," he says.