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Vancouver photojournalist captures lives of people living 'off the grid'

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When the daily grind gets overwhelming, many of us might daydream about disconnecting from the outside world.

But a new photography exhibition at Vancouver’s Capture Photography Festival offers a glimpse into the lives of Canadians who have actually done it: they’ve unplugged and are living entirely off the grid.

The exhibition is the work of Vancouver-based photojournalist Jonathan Taggart who, along with Phillip Vannini, the Canadian Research Chair in innovative learning and public ethnography at Royal Roads University in Victoria, spent two years observing the lives of people who live off-grid, a term that refers to a house that is not connected to the main electrical grid or natural gas lines.

“It was eye opening,” Taggart told Metro. “People go off the grid for so many different reasons. My ideas of what is normal have been completely shattered.”

Vannini and Taggart travelled to every Canadian province and territory for their research, meeting a diverse mix of people living off-grid from across the spectrum. They also wrote a book and filmed a documentary about the experience.

While some people made a conscious decision to unplug, Taggart said others had no choice but to live off-grid as power lines simply don’t reach their rural houses.

Some people had homes that were no different from traditional suburban homes, while others chose to radically reinvent the concept of shelter, building alternative homes out of recycled materials like clay and straw.

No matter how each person approached living off-grid, Taggart said they all faced the same problems: getting water, food, making electricity and treating waste.

“It was a spectrum of experiences,” he said. “They’re all doing it in completely different ways depending on how much comfort and convenience they want to live with.”

When people see his photographs, Taggart said he hopes it helps them re-think what it means to live off the grid, especially when climate change and resource scarcity are “realities we’re all going to have to deal with.”

“There is a future out there of being less reliant on non-renewable resources,” he said.

“If we take our lives back down to the basic principles of food, water, shelter, waste treatment, yes, there are challenges. But along with that challenge is the freedom to design the systems in the way that you think are right— right for the environment and right for future generations.”

Life Off Grid: Reassembling Domestic Life is on display in the Lobby Gallery at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at 6476 Northwest Marine Dr. in Vancouver. The Capture Photography Festival runs April 2 to 29.

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