Earl Newcombe lived his entire life on his family’s farm in South Surrey in the Greater Vancouver region. When he was a young boy, Earl helped his father build a barn. Over the years, barn owls, a threatened species in British Columbia, have chosen to nest in Earl’s barn.
In the last ten years, biologist Sofi Hindmarch visited Earl and banded the owlets, as part of her long-term barn owl monitoring project. Last year, videographer Mike McKinlay and myself completed a short film entitled Silent flight: Conserving the barn owl. The film explored Sofi’s work and the plight of those elegant and elusive birds that are fast losing their habitat.
For many years, Earl’s barn has been a refuge for the birds, and this Spring, Sofi has invited me to photograph this kind 97-year old man. The barn was still standing and incredibly beautiful. Luckily, a barn owl pair was nesting there, and Sofi banded three very healthy owlets. I felt privileged to be able to photograph Earl gently holding the baby owlets, and was touched by his laughter and positive attitude.
It was a poignant and rare moment that gave me a deep sense of the ephemeral nature of the world around us and the vulnerability of the owls. In the last few years, the area whereEarl lives has considerably changed, and many barns have come down to make room for urban development that does not include space for barn owls. I was literally witnessing a disappearing way of life.
About a month after I took the photos, Earl passed away at home in July 2016.