Spotlight – Gemma Harris

Gemma Harris1Gemma Harris has travelled many countries in her 27 years to end up in Sun Peaks, the community she proudly calls home.

Born in Oxford, England, Harris’ love for photography began as a girl when Kodak came to her school in Ecton to run weekly seminars focused on disposable cameras.

“They’d give us a project, like making an album or something, and I went a little overboard and got really into it,” recounts Harris. “I won a competition and I got what would be the equivalent of the crappiest 35 mm SLR you’ve ever seen in your life, but I loved it.”

At 16 Harris applied to Northamptonshire School for Boys where she became a prefect on student council completing a photography course. Between terms, Harris travelled to Africa, a trip she funded herself.

“(Later) when I was 18, I went and worked at a summer camp in Massachusetts (U.S.A.). I had a camp name, Smurf, because I was very pale and covered in bruises,” she laughs.

After a brief stint heading up a fraud protection team at a bank back in England, Harris went to Brazil for six months. While there, she applied to a competitive program in documentary photography at the University of Wales in Newport, England, and got in.

“I hated it,” recounts Harris. “I found the university environment very difficult. My course was incredibly competitive and it wasn’t an environment where we were encouraged to learn from one another.”

The summer after graduating, Harris headed back to the United States to be a counsellor at a Jewish camp for girls in Pennsylvania. Her course turned towards Canada once her parents’ application for residency was accepted.

Originally considering Whistler, Harris decided to give Sun Peaks a try in 2009 and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s just been amazing to be here and to see what everyone who lives here and loves it here has done to build the village up,” says Harris. “Ignoring the hill, ignoring the snow, ignoring the golf in the summer and stuff — there’s really not many places that have the community that we have.”

After starting as a photographer, and advancing to manager of Alpine Images under former owner Adam Stein, Harris bought the business in the winter of 2011. Hoping to rebuild the passion for photography she had back in the disposable Kodak days, she’s put a lot of time and love into her business.

“At the moment I’m just trying to build the business up so that I can support more staff and so that we can have more of a presence on the mountain,” she says.

Now an integral part of the community (she was Miss Tod Mountain after all) Harris is looking forward to some vacation time, and maybe a few challenges — Kilimanjaro anyone?