Robert Berdan spent many years as a research scientist at the University of Alberta and Calgary Science Centre. But, Berdan left the field after he realized that the time commitment was not worth it. Now he’s exploring his other passion – photography – and is working to publish a book.
Berdan who has multiple degrees, including a PhD in cell biology, studied cell communication and regeneration in his research, including examining snail brain cells and looking at why they are able to regenerate so quickly. However, he says that even though he enjoyed his work, staying in research was quite the challenge.
“I loved research but because I spent so much time – 16 to 18 hour days, seven days a week were normal. In fact, I would come out [from work], and my car wouldn't run because the battery was dead because I hadn't driven it for two or three weeks,” he says. “So it took everything I had to stay in research.”
After leaving the University of Alberta in 1989 Berdan took a job as science manager at the Calgary Science Centre where he went from working 90 hours a week to 37 hours a week. This, Berdan explains, gave him the time he needed to start a web design business and pursue photography as career. When he left the science centre five years later he already had a large clientele.
The transition from scientist to photographer was an easy one for Berdan, as he had a passion for photography since he was young.
“My interest in photography started a few years after I got a microscope and I wanted to take pictures through the microscope,” says Berdan.
But one of his first photos, taken on an Olympus Home One that he got for Christmas took a much wider view. “I went out before sunrise I laid down in the snow until the sun came up. And I captured this beautiful shot.”
After taking this photo, Berdan soon realized that there was more interest in photos like this one, while there was very little interest in his microscopic photographs.
“So I began photographing other subjects in nature and so forth,” he says.
Nearly 45 years later and even with around 1 million photos in his portfolio, that first photo still remains one of Berdan’s favourites that he has ever taken.
It is that extensive experience and large portfolio that Berdan wants to share with his fellow Canadians.
Berdan is currently looking for a publisher for his first book entitled “The Art of Canadian Nature Photography: Scenic Vistas and Wildlife in Canada.”
The book is a celebration of Canada and maps out most of the places that he has traveled and taken photographs across the country.
Berdan explains that what makes the book unique is that it has 45 years worth of photos starting from his very first photo op up until now.
The book also contains a section called “Seeing and the Visual Elements of Design” which teaches the reader how to compose more effective images.
Berdan’s goal was to have the book published by Canada’s 150th anniversary on July 1. But he has come across a few obstacles that have prevented that from happening.
“It would be so perfect,” Berdan says. “So I’m trying to convince the publisher of that”.
The problem however, is that although he has submitted the book to 10 publishers, Berdan has only gotten a response from one. Although the publisher liked his pictures, he was asked if the book could just be about the Arctic.
Not wanting to change his book Berdan told the publisher, “No, it’s on Canada.”
Berdan explains that one reason he wrote the book on all of Canada is that there are many amazing places in the country to photograph — most of which Canadians don’t even know about.
“I get calls all the time: ‘Where do I find such and such?’ It’s in my book,” he says. “A lot of it.”
Berdan however appreciates that publishing a book requires publishing companies to take a lot of risks. “Getting a book requires the company to invest a lot of money as well on their part and they're taking a chance,” he says. “They don't know what's going to sell.”
Dr. Wayne Lynch a fellow photographer, who wrote the foreword for the book, says that while the book is an interesting project, not all publishers and readers will see it like that.
“Even though Rob might have an interesting project and might interest some people, it might not interest enough people.
Undaunted by the lack of response by publishers Berdan has submitted his book to a literary agent to help him pitch the book to publishers.
His backup plan is to self-publish- even though one company estimated that it would cost him $30,000 to do so.
Despite all these challenges Berdan remains determined to publish.
“I will get it out there somehow some way,” he says.
- By Bill Atwood