Ice Huts | An Essay by Marcus Schubert

In the past, practical needs required people to huddle in the wilderness; during the hunt, around campfires while roasting venison and musing on their kill and the next day’s prospects, or while boiling coffee at dawn and discussing the oncoming weather, predators and guns, before herding masses of livestock across an open range. This tradition of gathering in the landscape continues, but in modern times our association with that experience is mitigated by technology, resulting in the evolution of a more leisurely aspect of wilderness camaraderie. Talk is still part of the essential experience, but is less likely about the imposing hinterland and survival, and more likely to be casual chat about politics, sports, stock markets and sex; around the crackling fire-grills of trailer parks in summer or in winter, to the hiss of propane heat and light around a small hole cut into the icy floor of a hut perched on some frozen crust of open water.

The pastime of ice fishing owes its genesis to a need for sustenance. It is handed over from people like the Inuit, whose lives depended on the scant resources offered by an inhospitable landscape. Voyageurs during our country’s early history, fished through the ice to survive an unyielding and hostile wilderness. It was lonely, patient work, and a time to meditate on the hope of future riches and comforts while engaging in slow-talk. In a few short generations, this mode of survival for transient hunters has become an annual sport, creating a (predominantly male) culture focused upon the nostalgic reenactment of the hunt and the bonds of that fraternity. 

Toronto photographer Richard Johnson has aimed his attention upon this culture of ersatz hinterland voyageurs and the unique architecture they create. In his typology* style survey, Johnson presents us with an array of variations; an exploration that is as much a record of his journey to the vast, wintry wilderness of sporting leisure as it is a striking document of the temporary, idiosyncratic structures that appear upon its pale horizon. 

In the examination of subjects as typologies[1] a rigorous process of collection is the key element in a photographer’s work. In league with early landscape photographers of the 19th century (Hill & Adamson, William Notman etc.) Johnson brings his audience close to unfamiliar territory. His eye muses over the uniqueness of each structure and its relationship to the landscape. Like specimens laid-out, or pinned up to illustrate the iterations of a particular species, we as viewers are invited to consider a catalogue of structures that reveal the evolution of a form. We see variations of an architecture specifically created to provide basic shelter. As with its distant cousins the native Teepee and Igloo, the Ice Fishing Hut has its own essential purpose. It must be weather resistant and transportable, giving basic shelter and access to the ground beneath it. As such its form dictates a unique structural condition.

Johnson’s visual essay reveals the subject of a creative process. Through his photographs we are invited to compare both functional and aesthetic similarities, and differences, as manifested in variations of colour, design, emblematic detail, accessory, relative proximity to one another and the implied sub-cultural significance to their creators. A striking feature of Johnson’s observations - considered as objects with aesthetic merit - the conventions used in the making of these curious buildings seem universal in conception but highly individual in execution; a form of renegade architecture that verges on the development of a vernacular folk art tradition.


[1] Typology is the study of types, and a photographic typology is a suite of images or related forms, shot in a consistent, repetitive manner; to be fully understood, the images must be viewed as a complete series. Kristine McKenna, "Photo Visions," Los Angeles Times, 29 December 1991

July 24, 2018 by Richard Johnson

Publications | Graine de photographe


>> Read complete article and see more images on Graine de Photographe

November 01, 2016 by Richard Johnson

On Display

Have a look to some of our Limited Edition Archival Photographs framed and hung on a wall.
HOK office | Richard Johnson
HOK offices, Toronto. 
Duntroon Residence, Ontario.
The Glen Tavern, Georgetown, Ontario.
Architect | Jennifer Turner
Photos | © Bob Gundu
Architect | Kyra Clarkson
Photos | © Steven Evans
October 05, 2016 by Richard Johnson

Q & A about the Ice Huts series

The Ice Huts series generates interests and all sort of questions that are a real pleasure to answer. We found particularly interesting this Q & A with Heidi Volpe for the Modern Farmer magazine. So we share it here. However, if you have any other questions about the work or the gallery, let us know!

© 2016 Richard Johnson

How long has it taken you to go from coast to coast in Canada for this body of work, and do you add to it each year?

I knew there was a story to be told in 1991 when I was first introduced to the ice fishing community on Lake Timiskaming, bordering Ontario and Quebec. The idea percolated for many years and in winter 2006-2007 I decided to get out and investigate further. The logical starting point was just north of my home in Toronto, Lake Simcoe. It was an overcast, snowy day and there were many huts out on the newly formed ice. I set up my tripod and began to capture elevational views and 3/4 views, basically circling each hut from the same height in a style known as typological study, common  to my earlier bodies of work, Water Towers and Garbage Bins of Wassaga Beach. I returned several more times during different weather conditions and it became clear that overcast, snowy light was the best fit to describe the isolation within a square format. The following year I was in Prince Edward Island in February for an architectural interior shoot and I noticed an ice fishing village across the bay from my hotel. Surprised and delighted, I wondered if it was popular in every province, and that is when the coast to coast narrative began. I would need to travel to 10 provinces and search for locations while holding onto the overcast, snowy aesthetic for consistency. This would take years, as I was to discover. Out of 52 weeks, there are only 3 weeks of possible shooting in many locations given my restrictions for continuity. In 2010, I began to incorporate the landscape into large format panoramas talking about community and place. This series is entitled Ice Villages. It seems that every year I peel away another layer about the culture, the people, the regional architectural requirements that make ice fishing a quirky yet popular winter phenomenon.

I know you are an architectural photographer, what drew you to the ice huts and do you shoot interiors?

For me, an ice fishing hut is the most fundamental expression of architecture. It is designed and built by the owner. It is transportable. It is shelter with a hole in the floor serving a common purpose. Yet with a similar list of design criteria each one is uniquely different; a testament to the owner's personality. I shoot the interiors when possible, but it is more difficult than you would imagine.

How do you deal with the obstacle of limited space for the interiors?

The limited space can be handled with wide angle lenses, however, my square format framing (from the exteriors) has challenges inside. I always try to include the augured hole(s) in the floor but sometimes they get cropped out. And then there is the issue of the fishermen inside, toasty and warm. These aren't portraits and I would rather the huts be empty. 

Is it difficult to be invited in for an interior? 

Actually going inside a heated hut is not ideal when you are bundled up and on the move. Its like a jogger at a red light: they don't rest, but actually keep jogging on the spot. As well, the equipment doesn't like the extremes of cold to hot and back again. Lots of sensitive electronics and optics that get condensation then frosty can lead to issues you don't want to deal with. And of course there is  no polite way to turn down a drink, which can easily move on to several. When I find an area with a good number of huts and the weather is overcast and snowy, I try to get as much done outside as possible. The next day might be sunny and then you've missed those opportunities. As the focus of this body of work is an architectural study, I am less interested in portraits and having people in the shots, especially the interiors. Also, the extreme wide angle lenses can stretch people at the edge of the frame in unflattering ways. 

How long do you spend in one location? Do you have a snowmobile to get around?

The amount of time varies depending on the number of huts and the weather. I prefer to drive to locations for several reasons, the most important being the discovery of gems along the way. I also can carry my full kit of gear: lenses, a sled, additional boots and other bulky items. When flying everything has to be stripped down to regulation size and weight which results in compromise. I do fly to locations west. However, my starting point in Toronto allows me to drive to locations east. I've driven to Newfoundland twice which is 36 hours and includes an overnight ferry cutting through 6' of ocean ice with lots of white out conditions along the way. A snowmobile would be helpful for some situations but hauling it around all the time would make me less agile and unable to navigate the backroads which often lead to wonderful surprises. So I walk a lot. Snowshoes and a sled with my gear pulled behind. Once I spot a location I will study the huts with binoculars to see if they are worthy of the possible hour long walk to get out. I  keep to daylight hours, which in winter ends at 430pm. After that its easy to lose your orientation and find your way back off the ice, especially if the weather turns. Even the wind can reduce visibility with blowing snow, which, ironically, is what I search for. Google is not a reliable back up as cell service is often non existent or spotty.

Do you have a favourite hut or village that you've photographed?

I have many favourites but one that comes to mind is Ice Hut # 556, Ghost Lake, Alberta. The rocky mountains are in the background and the hut is like a log cabin, hand hewn timbers with a little smoke stack. Quintessential Canadian.

Beside retouching yellow snow, do you do any additional work on the images?

I get asked this a lot. When conditions are ideal you are 85% there: light snow, soft (distant) background, bright colours. Because I shoot digital, there are a million ways to process the files from the source data a raw camera file gives you. Grey and white and snow are very tricky to render what the eye sees. I tweak the saturation and contrast a bit, all part of the processing options. Remember Ansel Adams would play with processing temperatures to achieve greater detail in the shadows. Same principles apply: its about rendering a scene to what you experience in the moment, beyond what a basic average metered exposure will achieve. A fresh snowfall always covers up the often gritty surroundings of a clear day.

How much equipment do you bring along and it's there any techniques you have for protecting gear from the elements and keeping your hands warm?

Those little hand warmer pouches in mittens are the only way to last any length of time. Fiddling with large format lenses, shutter releases, focusing knobs all require bare fingers for articulation. popping them back into a warm mitten brings frozen digits back to life. Otherwise, layered clothing. Walking distance in thick snow pulling a sled works up a sweat even at - 20 (celcius). Keeping all the heavy items on a sled allows you to be mobile and lighter than if you had a back pack, which would be unsafe in certain ice conditions. Its all about spreading the weight around.

October 04, 2016 by Richard Johnson

Tax deduction for purchasing Canadian works of art

Good news: purchasing Canadian works of art at Richard Johnson Gallery could allow you to claim a tax deduction! Simon Gareau, Lawyer, D.E.S.S. Fisc. Senior Manager at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton gives us answers about it in his instructive Works of Art and Taxes article.

As a matter of fact, we can read that: "Whether they are individuals, partnerships, corporations or trusts, taxpayers who acquire an eligible work of art can claim an annual capital cost allowance equal to 20% of the amount paid for federal purposes and 33 1/3% of the amount paid for Quebec purposes."

Amongst eligible works of art, the Lawyer mentions: "Prints, etchings, drawings, paintings and other similar works of art whose cost is not less than $200. 

This is our good news for the reason that our Limited Edition Archival Photographs are prints! [+] Read the complete list of eligible works of art.

However, certain conditions apply, as we can read in Gareau's article:

  • "The work of art must have been created by an artist who was a Canadian citizen or permanent resident at the time it was created;"
  • "The work of art must have been acquired from a person with whom the purchaser was dealing at arm’s length;"
  • "The work of art must have been acquired solely for the purpose of generating business income, for example, to decorate the reception area, a conference room, hallway or a shareholder’s office, and be visible to the enterprise’s clients."

What if you sell or donate your works of art in the future? [+] Find more answers here.


// This blog post is general information and cannot be considered as a legal advice. We invite you to discuss your situation with a professional.

September 13, 2016 by Richard Johnson
Donation | Wezesha Auction Ice Village # 53

Donation | Wezesha Auction Ice Village # 53

Update: Hammer Price $ 6,500 with matching bid by Scotiabank = $ 13,000 raised.
On September 21st, you are invited to the Gardiner Museum to join the 5th annual Art Auction to support Nyota and Wezesha, which empower destitute youth in Kenya to become leaders through education. 
You can purchase tickets ($175) at Ticket purchasers will receive a tax receipts of $125. For more information or to make a donation, go to
For the Art Auction during the evening, which will be led by Auctioneer Stephen Ranger, we are donating a framed Limited Edition Archival Photograph: Ice Village # 53, La Baie Des Ha! Ha!, Saguenay River, Quebec, Canada, 2014.
  • Price | $4500
  • Framing | Museum Glass with Black Shadowbox Frame
  • Size | 27" x 60"
  • Edition | 2 of 6

About this collection

Johnson's Ice Villages Series explores the resilience of ice fishing communities in Canada. Photographed as wide panoramas, each location reveals unique solutions to cultural and geographical differences. 

Located along the lower part of the Saguenay River in Quebec Province, La Baie Des Ha! Ha! is a popular ice fishing destination. The shoreline, acting as a hinge, is constantly cracking and moving while it adjusts to a vertical displacement of 6 feet every 11 hours as a result of local tides.


August 31, 2016 by Richard Johnson
Donation | Camp Oochigeas Auction Ice Hut # 504-a

Donation | Camp Oochigeas Auction Ice Hut # 504-a

Update: Hammer Price $ 2,500

For more than 30 years, Camp Oochigeas has been providing magical camp experiences for children with and affected by childhood cancer.

Ice Hut # 504-a, Shields, Blackstrap Reservoir, Saskatchewan, Canada, 2011

  • Edition: 1 of 25
  • Year: 2011
  • Dimension: 20" x 20"
  • Print Type: Digitally Printed on Acid Free Premium Photo Satin Paper with Pigment Inks
  • Value: $1,150
July 12, 2016 by Richard Johnson

French Online Magazine talks about Ice Huts

À LA PÊCHE AUX BELLES CABANES DU CANADA | By Fanny Arlandis | May 6, 2016

«Je suis un photographe d’architecture. Je photographie des objets et des bâtiments mais pour moi les cabanes des pêcheurs au Canada constituent la forme la plus basique d’architecture. Elles sont transportables, construites par leur propriétaire et ont toutes le même but: protéger du vent. Elles sont toutes similaires et en même temps toutes différentes», raconte le photographe canadien Richard Johnson. Depuis environ dix ans, il parcourt son pays pendant l’hiver pour photographier cette tradition centenaire.

Read complete article and see images [+]


June 28, 2016 by Richard Johnson
Donation | VIBE Arts Auction Ice Hut # 353

Donation | VIBE Arts Auction Ice Hut # 353

Update: Hammer Price $ 2,000 

When VIBE ARTS by ARTS EFFECT solicited our contribution for their auction, we felt honoured. This great organization provides accessible art programming to children and youth in Toronto’s under-resourced communities. A cause we have at heart.

For this event to be held on May 25th and led by auctioneer Stephen Ranger, our piece of art in the catalogue is one from the province of Quebec, La Baie des Ha! Ha!.

[>>] Buy your tickets for the event

Ice Hut # 353, La Baie Des Ha! Ha!, Saguenay River, Quebec, Canada, 2010

  • Edition: 2/25
  • Year: 2010
  • Dimension: 20" x 20"
  • Print Type: Digitally Printed on Acid Free Premium Photo Satin Paper with Pigment Inks
  • Value: $1,150
May 16, 2016 by Richard Johnson
Donation | Art Gems Auction Ice Hut # 206

Donation | Art Gems Auction Ice Hut # 206

Update: Hammer Price $3600
Yes, there will be an Ice Hut amongst the lots during Art Gems fundraiser art auctions, which celebrates this year its 10th Anniversary!
Being part of this great happening is always a real pleasure and we are honoured to have been selected to present one of the 10 larger pieces.
Ice Hut # 206, Bedeque Bay, Summerside, Prince Edward Island, 2009
  • Edition: 2 of 15
  • Year: 2009
  • Dimension: 31" x 31"
  • Print Type: Digitally Printed on Acid Free Premium Photo Satin Paper with Pigment Inks
  • Value: $2,150
April 11, 2016 by Richard Johnson