As a young boy, Fred Cattroll knew he wanted to be on the front page of the newspapers he delivered on his paper route. Unsure of what would make him famous enough to be on “page one,” Cattroll decided to become a photographer, hoping that, at least, his photos would make the headlines.
Cattroll’s talent ended up going far beyond newspaper headlines and, today, his collections can be seen in the National Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Photography, the National Art Centre and, most recently, the First Peoples Hall in the Museum of Civilization.
Nine years ago, the Museum of Civilization first approached Cattroll to see if he was interested in donating his photographs to the museum. Since then, they’ve kept trying and, in 2010, Cattroll finally agreed.
“One Friday afternoon, I drove very slowly to the museum to deposit my lifetime collection of negatives, slides and prints. From my first photos on the streets of Belfast, 35 years ago, to the apology from Pope Benedict XVI, they now are safely stored in the vaults at the museum,” says Cattroll.
“It was an odd feeling to leave the museum, like leaving your baby on the doorstep but it’s been a wonderful journey,” he adds.
And, as Cattroll tells the story, it’s a journey that began with his paper route job delivering newspapers. “I knew at this moment, the reason I wanted to experience the front page, was because I wanted to experience history.”
Intent on pursuing a degree in photography at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, Cattroll quickly learned that being accepted into the program would be no easy feat.
“I figured the best way was to go to a war zone so I headed to Northern Ireland during the Troubles,” he says. “I didn’t even know how to change the film in my camera and I had no press pass but I was on the streets of Belfast.”
His work appeared in Britain’s famous Sunday Post newspaper and, upon his return, Cattroll completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in still photography from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now a university). “It was the best four years of my life,” he says.
Today, Cattroll has amassed an impressive list of credentials – three decades of photographic assignments that have become a reflection of Canada itself. In one assignment alone, Cattroll produced a collection of 14,000 images of Canadian landscapes for Parks Canada which are still being used today by Heritage Canada.
Other examples of high-profile photo shoots that bear the Cattroll name include:
- Official photographer for the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly in Calgary, Alberta. This contract included the development of a tribute video for the outgoing National Chief.
- Official photographer for the Assembly of First Nations delegation that traveled to Rome to photograph the historic meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
- Photographer for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the responsibility to photograph the proceedings of the commission’s work which occurs in seven locations across Canada.
- A cross-Canada photo-shoot for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to develop a photo collection of Canadians for the department’s career website profiles.
- A continuing project with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to develop a library of photographs representing a wide range of Canadians at work.
- Official photographer for the National Art Centre orchestra tours. This work consisted of capturing and providing daily images to the international media, such as the London Times, the Washington Post and the Ottawa Citizen.
- A contract to provide the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada with the services of photographer on an “as and when required” basis to photograph official activities, such as ceremonies, dignitary visits, and inaugurations.
- Official photographer for the Aboriginal Human Resource Council.
- Freelance photographer for the Ottawa Citizen and MacLean’s magazine.
Cattroll’s photography is well known for its intimate human touch. Seductive in simplicity, his pictures are subtle interplays of light and image, carrying messages of intelligence, honesty and elegance. In many ways, Cattroll’s unique photographic style is an extension of himself. Physically distinctive, at 6’9” tall, he has a comforting warm manner that quickly puts people at ease.
Cattroll also has a passion for the theatrical arts and played Chief Bromden in the playOne Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the Kanata Theatre. With his characteristic grin, he also dressed up in a ballerina’s tutu to attend a function at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.
Although he was born and raised in Ottawa, Cattroll is proud of his Cree heritage and still has family in South Indian Lake, Manitoba.
“The lifestyle of a photographer is very nomadic so it is similar to my Aboriginal grandfather who was a trapper,” says Cattroll.
“My grandfather had a dogsled and I have Air Canada…and the drum has been replaced by the Blackberry.”
Despite the success of his 35-year career, Cattroll continues to take assignments that keep him flying across the country.
“My work has allowed me to witness life everyday…I’ve seen and heard horrendous things but it has made me a better parent and a better Canadian,” says Cattroll.
“I know how fortunate I am to live in this country.”
And, in return, Canada knows it is fortunate that one young Aboriginal boy got a paper route.