Our Town

Local photographer returns from round-the-world adventure

Young soccer players in Japan wait excitedly to see the FIFA World Cup Trophy. - Joel Robison photo
Young soccer players in Japan wait excitedly to see the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
— image credit: Joel Robison photo

A Cranbrook photographer has returned to Cranbrook after finishing a whirlwind tour of 84 different countries as the official photographer on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour.

Joel Robison left Cranbrook last fall on the trip of a lifetime after landing a dream job with Coca-Cola, the sponsor of the tour.

Over nine months, Robison journeyed around the world accompanying the World Cup trophy to almost every continent, including more than 20 Caribbean islands, 12 Asian countries, and 16 stops in Europe.

He landed back in Cranbrook last week for a short stay until mid-June, when he will travel to Brazil, for the World Cup, working on a grassroots football program run by Coca-Cola in 60 countries.

"We will be inviting over 120 young football players from 24 countries to Sao Paolo to participate in a week long football skills camp and will be taking them to see the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup! I will be resuming my role as photographer and social media lead on this project and will be helping a team of photographers and the players themselves tell their own individual stories through photographs and social media," said Joel.

But first, Joel has a few weeks to reflect on his experience and appreciate how travel has changed him.

"I think that we are fortunate in Cranbrook to grow up with a strong sense of community and togetherness that sometimes gets lost in bigger cities. Coming from a smaller town gave me a chance to see the world as such – a community where we are more alike than different and gave me a chance to see those in each country for who they were," he said.

"There were a lot of times when we were in cities of 10, 15, 20 million where I felt totally overwhelmed and it was incredible to know that in one city there were that many people. But it was exciting to see how even in those cities, there were things that united people there to people in other places."

Joel's first steps in photography were shot in Cranbrook Community Forest, and he said he missed those forays into nature during the tour.

"I really missed the connection to nature that we are so fortunate to have here. It was difficult to get out and feel that renewal that I personally get when I'm outside in the Community Forest or on the North Star Trail. I missed the little things like cinnamon buns from Max's Place and the familiarity that 'home' has, but I knew that those things would be there when I came back."

Over the course of his nine-month experience, Joel has collected a bunch of memories that will stay with him forever.

"I think that my life changed for the better," he said. "Each of the places we went to left an imprint in my mind and heart and the people who shared their stories, their lives and their countries with us helped me to feel more connected to the world and to myself."

He remembers meeting a young orphan in Haiti who was brought to see the trophy. The little boy took a liking to Joel and stuck with him for the afternoon.

"He asked a lot of questions about my camera, about Canada and then suddenly out of nowhere told me, 'I have no sister, no brother, no father and no mother. And it's sad, really sad.' My heart broke and I just didn't even know what to do. His face and his story have hung in my mind every day since and have been a constant reminder to be more compassionate, to give back and to appreciate what I have."

The scariest experience was in Palestine, he said, when the crew had to be evacuated from their hotel room as tear gas and shots were fired over the wall between Israel and Palestine.

"Getting grabbed and basically thrown inside a random car was the first time I thought that maybe I could actually be in trouble during this trip," said Joel.

He said that he saw  joy in thousands of faces during the tour in every country he visited.

"Genuine happiness was something that I saw in every single place we went to. Whether it was happiness being around the trophy, happiness at seeing the (Coca-Cola) plane, happiness while being with friends or just happiness to be in the sunshine, it was such a great feeling to walk around each country and find someone with an infectious smile."

As well as the touching stories, Joel picked up some mementoes from around the world – some by accident, such as about 20 electronic hotel keys, and some on purpose, such as currency from almost every country he visited, and a pen he bought in Bosnia that was made from a bullet found on the street during the war in Sarajevo.

This summer, budding Cranbrook photographers will have the opportunity to learn from Joel during a free workshop. Along with three fellow photographers from across North America, Joel will travel Canada and the U.S. this summer teaching a series of photography workshops. The Cranbrook event will be held in August; visit www.thewildonestour.com for more information closer to the date.

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