Four photo exhibitions celebrating two decades of Celtic Colours now online

“When they told me that they wanted to put together four photo exhibitions to run concurrently, opening in four months… I basically told them they were crazy,” recalls Cape Breton photographer Steve Wadden about his first meeting with Celtic Colours to discuss a 20th anniversary photo project.

“Then, when I looked around the room at these people who have been putting on more than 40 concerts in nine days every October for 20 years, I quickly realized that they didn’t think the idea was crazy at all, they were dead serious. We chatted some more, and eventually I thought to myself, ‘this is just the level that Celtic Colours operates at’, and I wanted to be a part of it. I said, ‘sure… I can do it’.”

And so Wadden went through almost 20 years of images from the Celtic Colours International Festival, sorting through and organizing more than 25,000 digital photos and prints into exhibitions based on themes emerging from the whole collection.

The resulting series of photographs was organized into four unique exhibitions each focusing on a different theme.

Black & White Night, originally presented at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, is a collection of the greatest black and white photographs from the Celtic Colours archive. These photos cover the history of the festival and is a tribute to the power of black and white photography.

“Very early on I decided I wanted to do a black and white show, based on the fact that the quality of the work was really outstanding,” Wadden notes. “They’re all artistic, they have a good raw emotional component to them. It’s more of a photographer’s curation.”

Featured at the J. Franklin Wright Gallery in Port Hawkesbury, The Family Album, on the other hand, includes personal pictures from people’s private collections, lending an insiders’ perspective on the relationships, collaborations, and family of the Festival.

“Even with the photos that were taken professionally, you can tell it was more from the hip, off the cuff, more organic and definitely more raw,” explains Wadden. “They were the ones that, of anything in the collection, really had the ability to make you laugh, make you cry, make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.”

A Woman’s Touch, presented in partnership with Parks Canada, was shown at the Chéticamp Visitor Centre in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and features photos of some of the influential and inspirational women who have performed at Celtic Colours over the years.

The fourth collection in Wadden’s curatorial debut was also his first solo exhibition. Spirit of the Festival was featured in Inverness County Centre for the Arts. Shot in 2015 during filming of the documentary of the same name, this series of photos goes beyond the perspective of seeing artists on stage to giving a glimpse backstage, behind the scenes and into the audience.

To explore the storied history of Celtic Colours through the most visually compelling, intimate and telling photographs from the Festival’s files click here.