A place to call home 

Living the Dream exhibition takes a look at Whistler's 'creative' living arrangements


What: Living The Dream photo exhibit

When: Saturday, Feb. 20, 9 p.m.

Where: Southside Diner (Creekside)

Cost: Free

Anyone visiting Whistler couldn't be faulted for thinking that locals live large; with all of the multimillion-dollar mansions scattered throughout the community, it's hard to believe that there are people living in saunas, sharing one bedroom with four other people, or couch surfing for months on end.

But locals know better. The reality of the situation is that it can be tough to make ends meet and the pre-Olympic rental situation has been particularly tough.

Photographer Carin Smolinski has called Whistler her full-time home for almost three years. She's been hearing about Whistlerites' "creative" living arrangements since moving to the area from Vancouver. Smolinski is a portrait photographer by trade, but has a passion for travel photography and photojournalism.

She's been formulating the idea of shooting Whistler living conditions for years. Recently she decided to explore these stories a bit further through the lens of her camera.

"Everyone knows about it, but to see these spaces and actually talk to these people and see the perspective from people in these creative situations," she trailed off with a laugh.

Smolinski reached out to the community with posters, offering a six-pack of beer to anyone who let her come in and shoot their home and lifestyle. She was inundated with calls and e-mails - and not just by people looking to score some free beer.

"When I started I thought that, because on my posters... I wrote that I'd give a free six-pack of beer to every house that I photographed," she said. "...But when I give them the beer, they're always so surprised and thankful."

Funnily enough, what Smolinski discovered living in the nooks and crannies of the community wasn't all dark and depressing, though at first, she thought that might be what came out of her exploration. Instead, she found stories of hope and creativity, of people who were doing what it took to be "living the dream."

"They just want to share their stories and how excited they are to live in Whistler and to be living their dream," Smolinski said.

On one occasion, Smolinski went to shoot a guy who was living in a sauna, only to discover that he had a "roommate" living at the other end of the utility room, right below the pipes. How does he like his bedroom?

"I love the sound of the water," he responded.

"Overwhelmingly, the feeling that comes out of it is that people are so stoked to be living in this town," Smolinski said.

Whistler residents - ski bums and others - seem willing to make sacrifices to ride, ski and play outdoors.

"Also, there's the really creative people, like this one young couple that have driven across Canada in a school bus that they renovated all the way to volunteer for the Olympics."

Then, there's the guy who lives in his camper. And just last week, she rappelled into a cabin on a very nearby mountain that a guy lived in for three months last winter.

"That was amazing," she laughed.

One couple lives in a one-bedroom apartment with eight bikes. Their two-wheeling hobby was taking over their house, so the man built a huge platform to sleep on, with room to store the eight bikes below. Now, they climb a little ladder to get into bed.

"The other thing is that the project's not only just about kind of out-there living situations, its about being creative with what you do to make things work to live here," she explained.

Since advertising the concept a few weeks ago, Smolinski has done many shoots and the Southside Diner has agreed to exhibit the collection.

She was amazed to discover "how absolutely happy and over the moon like 95 per cent of the people are with their living situations. " She had each participant fill out a questionnaire, which included one final question: "are you living the dream?"

The responses include variations of "hell yes!" and "no, I'm not on EI." Surprisingly, just one group she visited described their situation as "unhappy."

The project and process of visiting the homes of these "amazing and wonderful" locals and exploring this hidden side of the community has also restored Smolinski's interest in photojournalism.

"When I decided to do this project, the flame reignited and it's just taken off," Smolinski said.

Now, the project continues to grow and evolve. What started as a small exhibition has transformed into a book project, as more and more locals continue to reach out to Smolinski to have their photos taken.

"There are just so many photos and I already have shot more that aren't included in the show," Smolinski said. She's recently heard of an "Ewok Village" of six treehouses that are connected by rope bridges.

It sounds like she's going to have a busy spring.



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