Ben Jordan's aerial photos like this one were taken from a power paraglider — and composed of hundreds of people standing in formation. He plans to take another in Lakeside Park next week.

Ben Jordan's aerial photos like this one were taken from a power paraglider — and composed of hundreds of people standing in formation. He plans to take another in Lakeside Park next week.

Lens in the sky

Paraglider and photographer Benjamin Jordan turns people on the ground into art from the air

A Nelson paraglider is premiering his documentary of a record-breaking flight across Canada and inviting the community to join in his latest aerial formation photo.

Benjamin Jordan holds the Guinness record for longest distance travelled by power paraglider, set in 108 consecutive flights in 2009 that took him from coast to coast.

He and a support team documented the journey through a combination of footage and stills, which he assembled into a film called Dream.

“You’re basically flying with me across Canada, province by province,” he says.

Along the way, he landed at schools and summer camps to talk to kids and “get them excited about what I was doing and about their own dreams.”

So far the only public screenings have been in Europe, where Jordan travelled last summer to honour a commitment to his sponsor, a Czech manufacturer of aviation equipment. Next Friday, the Capitol Theatre will host the Canadian premiere.

“It was shown in Europe to paragliding communities, but that’s not who I made this for,” he says. “I made it to inspire youth and adults, and understand they’re watching someone do what they’re most passionate about.

“This is the first time it’s being shown to the kind of audience I wanted, and on such a grand scale.”

The following day, Jordan hopes to get 300 people out at Lakeside Park to participate in a formation photo — a unique artform he practiced in schoolyards throughout his trip.

From the ground it will look like people just standing around — but viewed from his paraglider, those bodies will collectively take the shape of a river flowing through mountains.

“This is my first time doing a formation where I don’t know the number of people ahead of time,” he says. “It’s always been a school or a camp that essentially has a [pre-determined] number of students or campers. I got pretty good at predicting how much string and space I needed based on how old the kids were and how many there were.”

He expects it will take at least an hour and a half to lay out the design, 15 minutes to get everyone in place, and another 15 minutes to launch his paraglider and take the photo.

The resulting image will be sold online and in local stores as a charity fundraiser.

Jordan says he wants to bring together people from various subcultures “on one common ground, the land we live on. Everyone here, I think, is in love with the landscape, and I want to create a formation that represents that.”

He’s done about 30 such pictures to date, including ones in Castlegar and Grand Forks.  Although he started out with a simple acronym of a school name, the designs have become increasingly elaborate, including a lobster, whale, caoneist, and bicycle.

“These aren’t for photography, these are for community,” he says. “The beauty is they’re actual events that aren’t perfect. Everyone is interacting in different ways.”

The bicycle is among his favourites for its hidden meaning. It consisted of 400 kids from three different camps, and to avoid getting lost in the crowd, one group wore turquoise and blue and another yellow and orange.

“They’re kind of grouped off in their own areas, and the element of children not getting lost is translated into colour on a photograph,” Jordan says.

“That was life recreating itself in a very unusual form and unique perspective. You can bear witness to the effect of being responsible for these kids.”

Jordan, whose background is in commercial photography, says he was constantly hired to make things look better than they are: “Tougher, sexier, slimmer, and on top of that, take it into Photoshop and make it even more fake. I’m addicted to creating something real beyond the truth. That is what these are about.”

Jordan, 30, grew up in Toronto and found his way to Nelson during another cross-Canada journey by a different transportation method.

While learning to paraglide in New Zealand seven years ago, he discovered people there knew more about Canada than he did. “I thought oh man, what people say about Toronto is right: we think we’re the centre of the universe.”

That planted the seed for his epic flight. “I wanted to learn what Canada is all about and find out whether Toronto was the place for me to live.”

However, he didn’t know quite how to pull it off. Instead, he did a skateboard journey from Halifax to Vancouver to raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and afterward realized “Nelson was the place that sang most to my heart. I felt this was a vibrant place — more vibrant than Toronto. This is where I want to be.”

And this is where he spent six months planning what became Above and Beyond Canada.

All proceeds from ticket and DVD sales of the documentary as well as a companion book are going to charities in each province. Locally, Jordan hopes to raise upwards of $4,000 to send children from low-income families to tipi camp on Kootenay Lake. He credits his present passion for nature and community to the camps he attended as a youth.

The documentary will be shown at the Capitol next Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids, and are available at Otter Books — which is also selling the film and book.

Anyone interested in taking part in the formation photo is asked to meet at the Lakeside Park soccer fields at 4 p.m. the following day.

Jordan’s photos are also on display at Oso Negro and can be viewed at aboveandbeyondkootenays.com.