Bill Pennell, who lived in Gray Creek from 1973-76, was an avid photographer, capturing stunning black and white images with his large-format view camera and a 35mm Leica.
Gray Creek Store owner Tom Lymbery remembers Bill and Biz Pennell, and renewed the friendship when they visited to take more photos and trigger Bill’s memory in preparation for writing Early Exposures: A Photographic Memoir.
“I hadn’t see him after he left, but knew him well when he was one of the hippies in the 1970s, as well as Biz his girlfriend then and his wife after 43 years,” Lymbery said on Friday. “I spent some time reminiscing with them when they visited.”
Among his favourite photos, Lymbery said, are an image of The East Shore Mainstreet publisher Ingrid Baetzel as a baby in the arms of her parents, Doreen and David Zais, posed in front of their log cabin.
Lymbery also singles out for mention a photo of Steve Metcalf and a friend “who wintered in a tipi—we sold them the smallest possible stove but it was still too big for the tipi.”
In part four of Early Exposures, Pennell explains how he ended up in Gray Creek.
“In the fall of 1973, I finished and defended my PhD thesis at McGill, agreed with my supervisor, Max Dunbar, to publish some papers, and then instead of setting off on a search for professional advancement, I rebuilt a 1952 Ford truck and drove westward to British Columbia to take up life as a homesteader. I had bought a fifth interest in an old farm, Caribou Ranch, in Gray Creek, near the shores of Kootenay Lake, and was set for another adventure. I had a new girlfriend the Australian Girl, who turned out to be a misadventure with me, but at the time I was riding high in the romance department.
“The old truck made it across Canada to Gray Creek, and soon I was installed in a little cottage surrounded by ancient apple trees and a view down to the lake. Building structures with wood, gardening, food preserving, socializing, and a little tree planting to make money sums up the experience—except that the Australian Girl left after six months and later I met my wife, Elizabeth, and my future daughter, Sara. Sara was one year old when I first met her.”
The 14 photographs, with accompanying written memories, that comprise part four provide a warm and thoughtful look back at what was a very short period in Pennell’s life. He went on to live in several countries around the world. Pennell said he returned to Gray Creek for a short visit three years after he first left, and then not again for more than 40 years, when he was putting together Early Exposures.
The book is a beauty, and a fond and fascinating look back at the author’s past. Early Exposures: A Photographic Memoir is available at Gray Creek Store and Black Bear Books.