During the decade of the 2010’s, the achievement of women in sport has grown by a quantum leap. The growth on the field of competition for women reflects many of the same changes taking place in all facets of today’s world, as women are becoming more prominent than ever in helping to shape the path forward. Undoubtedly, sensational sports photographer Candice Ward is helping contribute to that bold path.
Through a thrilling series of action shots, Ward is putting her finger on the pulse of sporting action in Southern Alberta. Highlighted by an expanding portfolio that features collegiate sport, gridiron glories in both the CFL and the WWCFL, along with Roughnecks lacrosse and Hitmen hockey, Ward began her photographic odyssey in 2008.
With works featured in USA Today and the newspaper chain Metro News, along with several Aboriginal publications, homage to her Indigenous heritage, she has also worked with Canada’s national ski jump team. Although Ward remains humble about her influence as a role model for others, there is no question that her work is important,
“I don’t really see myself as a role model through my work. I hope my love for what I do can inspire others, but I do really feel that most people need to find their inspiration within themselves to want to succeed in what they do, especially photography.”
While the rapidly increasing number of elite female participants, highlighted by a record number of women competing at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, has also seen them break new ground in traditionally male dominated sports (such as baseball, a competition sport at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and tackle football, which sees a third world championship contested in 2017), the result is an unprecedented number of female role models for young girls. A positive influence which stretched beyond athletics itself, it signifies a strong relationship between women’s sport and society.
Recognizing this influence in Canada’s sporting realm is an empowering group focused on sporting equity, where girls and women can gain the chance to be participants and leaders. Since 1981, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS) has made it a mission to bring about positive change for girls and women in sport, while ensuring that the values involve both respect and fairness.
Among its hallmarks are an annual series of honors that is currently in its 17th year. The CAAWS Most Influential Women List is a remarkable showcase which celebrates the achievement of Canadian women in sport, while also highlighting strong leadership and a positive impact.
Announced in March 2017, the same week that International Women’s Day was held, the Class of 2016 featured 20 women in five different categories; athletes, coaches, builders, media and Ones to Watch under 30. There was also a Wall of Influence, a special distinction which recognized women named to the List five times or more. Said List included Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Winter Games gold medalist in ice hockey.
Among the women recognized for their work in media, Ward was joined by Kate Bierness, one of the hosts for the popular Sports Centre on TSN, Lori Ewing, a reporter for The Canadian Press, along with Dawn Landis, a director at TSN. Although the concept of CAAWS had been nascent to Ward, upon discovering its encouraging impact, the honor added a remarkable luster to her amazing career,
“Well, at first, I did not think it was a big deal as it actually was until I looked at the list of past women on the list. Then I was surprised someone would even nominate me. I do not seem to find it that rare for there to be a lot of amazing women in sports these days, so to be selected for this list is pretty flattering.”
Forging a bold narrative which combines a superlative series of action shots with timeless portfolios that tap into her captivating creativity, Ward’s vision of sport is captured brilliantly. While the fans see the struggle on the field, the real-life drama which subsequently unfolds, points scored to determine the contest’s winner, and simultaneously, its loser, Ward’s photography taps into the sweat and sacrifice, her photos revealing the how and why. It is a compelling window that gives the fan a glimpse at the visceral yet graceful performances that define athletic competition. The CAAWS honor is a remarkable validation of such effort,
“For me, it just means that I am working in the right direction. About five years ago, I really wanted to push my career more to sports photography and so many people in the editorial world advised against it.
They all had valid reasons for why it was not a good idea, but I knew that is where I would be the most happy, and in turn, be able to create better images. It was a lot of hard work to get where I am now, so it really is nice to have that hard work noticed. Recognition like this makes it easier to keep pushing for the career I want.”
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Ward’s work is the elegant creativity that she employs to create a series of stunning athletic portfolios, which are just as artistic as they are an amazing marketing tool. The ability to capture the sporting zeitgeist that has seen women experience the thrill of sporting heroism, such as the Calgary Rage of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, is an indispensable testament of Ward’s dedication to women in sport, shattering stereotypes while portraying these women as a fresh revelation.
If Canada’s Prairies (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) represent the heartland of Canada, the growth of female football represents its encouraging heartbeat. These women have become part folk hero, part activist; the sum is a collection of ground breaking individuals whose raw physical talent, drive to succeed is complemented by an inner beauty that shines through to the surface. Ward’s numerous portfolios with the wondrous women of the Rage are more than just rich and inventive.
This assembly of colorful yet compelling women have been transformed through Ward’s lens. While this group of women emerge from numerous facets of life; from mothers, students, artists, agricultural workers and urban professionals, Ward glorifies them for their unforgettable role as the composers of a remarkably fascinating athletic narrative.
There might be a tinge of irony in the fact that Ward does not reflect on 2016 as one of her best years. While she remained focused on her profession, continuing to produce superlative work, her creative passion endured a “slump”.
Perhaps it is just a reflection of the perfectionism that plagues all individuals with artistic flair. Certainly, there were still cherished highlights during the previous year. One of the best indications that Ward truly reached superstar status was highlighted by the stunning series of portraits with the frozen goddesses of Canada’s beloved national women’s ice hockey team.
A combination of black and white, and color, photographs composed a compelling human canvas, featuring a cast of accomplished young women that are the new generation of glorious hockey hope. Akin to her series of portfolios with the Rage, the Hockey Canada collection of images is an absorbing companion for anyone interested in understanding the passion and drive of sport, while being introduced to an amazing group of athletic women that have experienced both heartbreak and triumph.
“To be honest, I hated 2016. It was a terrible year for me. It was great professionally in terms of income, but I do feel like I was creatively stunted in 2016. I do feel my work with the Hitmen and Roughnecks in 2016 was pretty great. I worked really hard to give them a product unlike they had ever gotten before. I feel I succeeded there.
As for the Canadian Women’s hockey team, those girls are all pros. They all showed up, did not mess around, did their photos and were gone quickly. We had a lot of poses to get through and Hockey Canada was amazing to work with as they also let me try and be as creative as possible with the shots in the super short timeframe I had with each girl. In the end, everyone was happy with the final product. It was a lot of fun.
Part historian, part archivist, Ward’s body of work has chronicled some of the most stirring photos that will define a decade of the sporting life in Southern Alberta. The vision through Ward’s lens gives sports fans the luxurious feeling of actually being there, while simultaneously fulfilling a sophisticated, major league presence to all aspects of sport through her thrilling photos.
“I do feel it is extremely important to shine more light on women in sports. Just because they may not be as physically strong or fast as their male counterparts in the same sports, that does not mean they are not working as hard as they are, sacrificing less than them, or wanting it any less.
Women should also be seen the same way as men, as strong, powerful athletes, who put their heart and soul into what they do. When I photograph women’s sports, I don’t photograph it any differently than I would any other sport. To me, whether it is men, women, or children out on the field, court, or ice, the level of desire to win is all the same and I want to make sure that comes across in my photos.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Follow Candice Ward on twitter at: @CWardPhoto
To learn more about Ward, please visit: http://www.candiceward.ca/