At the heart of the Mennonite religion, you’ll find an unwavering commitment to pacifism and freedom that has endured five centuries of violent, unrelenting oppression. In 2012 and 2013, I re-traced the refugee migrations of my Mennonite ancestors to see the places where they lived and died. I followed their historical journey through The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia and Siberia, photographing the communities, farmland, execution sites and mass graves that had been left behind.
Ian Willms' photographic practice resides within the gulf between fine art and photojournalism. While his work consists of storytelling and real subjects, it often carries a deeply personal perspective and emotional presence. Ian's work explores the narratives of disempowered peoples, wounded environments and dying cultures that are often the symptoms of "progress" and economic growth. Over the last four years, Ian has been exploring the environmental, social and cultural impacts of Canada's Oil Sands industry that are felt within the remote Indigenous communities of Northern Alberta. His most recent project is a photographic ode to his pacifist Mennonite ancestors, who endured five centuries of brutally violent oppression throughout Europe, Russia and Siberia. Ian’s work has been exhibited in North America and Europe, including exhibitions at Gallery 44 Centre For Contemporary Photography, the Contact Gallery and O'Born Contemporary. Ian’s work has also been honoured and supported by the Magnum Expression Photography Award, the Pictures of the Year International competition, the Burn Emerging Photographer Fund, the National Magazine Awards and the Canada Council for the Arts. Ian is part of the Global Assignment by Getty Images roster and is a founding member of the Boreal Collective. He is loosely based in Toronto.