Recently I had a great fortune to be the subject of a profile by Cre-com student Kailyn Louka.
November 8, 2022
Ian McCausland believes that everyone carries bias whether they realize it or not.
McCausland, a Winnipeg professional photographer, took a series of photographs for a project called Bias Outside the Box. This series features many people from different backgrounds and aims to spark discussions around the unconscious bias that everyone holds.
The photo series and accompanying online survey allows for anyone in the world to participate. The survey shows McCausland’s photographs along with a series of questions such as “which person has tattoos” and “which person is a mental health specialist.”
“We needed strong images that would…provoke responses,” McCausland said, looking up at his six larger-than-life photographs displayed outside of the St. Boniface Hospital.
The photograph on the bottom left of the display features a woman whose whole body and head are covered by dark garments. Her eyes, forehead, and hands are the only visible parts of her body. To the right of her portrait, there is a photo of a shirtless Indigenous man who has a collection of tattoos on his arms and chest.
For a Culture Days event in 2021, the series was displayed in numerous locations around Winnipeg, including The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Robertson College, the Halal Meat Centre, and the St. Boniface Hospital. McCausland said that these displays attracted a lot of attention and inspired many discussions about bias.
McCausland turns his attention to the portrait of the Indigenous man. “We knew that everyone [was] going to bring their own personal biases to an image of an Indigenous man, and even more so if he’s not wearing a shirt because it’s very provocative. It’s confronting you,” he said.
McCausland did not complete this photo series alone. Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a Winnipeg clinical psychologist, devised the Bias Outside the Box project. He met McCausland at a TEDxWinnipeg event in 2019 and they began working on the project together shortly afterward.
Abdulrehman made sure to find a photographer who was capable of properly photographing people of colour before beginning to work with McCausland.
“There is a whole methodology of how you photograph people of colour. Many times, white photographers don’t have that,” Abdulrehman said.
After speaking with McCausland and seeing how he worked, Abdulrehman decided that he was the right photographer for the job.
“It was very symbolic to choose a white man to do the work,” Abdulrehman said. “Not to give him more opportunity, but…to demonstrate good working relationships. We fight racism and colonialism and white supremacy through allyship,” he said.
Abdulrehman considered choosing a person of colour to photograph the series, but he knows that people of colour tend not to be heard as well as white people.
“Ideas change quicker when they’re supported by white allies than…people of colour,” Abdulrehman said.
Another photograph in the series features a Middle Eastern woman wearing colourful garments. Her clothing is bright pink and teal and laced with gold details.
Lyla Levy, a first generation Canadian whose family comes from Iran, Iraq, and the Czech Republic, agreed to be photographed for the project. She believes that McCausland was intentional in his approach to photographing his subjects.
“He [is] a very thoughtful person and it was just a very fun process. He makes you feel very comfortable,” Levy said.
The photo series and accompanying survey have been used internationally as a tool to educate people on unconscious biases that they have.
“We had engagement on the survey…all over the world,” McCausland said.
McCausland, now 56, has worked on many meaningful projects throughout his decades long career, including a series about turning 50 years old and another about men’s mental health.
We Should Talk encourages men to be open about their struggles to highlight the mental health issues that disproportionately affect them in Canada.
“[His projects] have shone the spotlight on different struggles that people may have. He’s obviously really thoughtful about what he takes on,” Levy said.
McCausland discovered his love for taking photos in high school. He took a photography program in his post-secondary studies and is now well-known for his work around Winnipeg.
McCausland’s projects all have a similar objective. He hopes that his photos can inspire meaningful conversations and create positive change.
“[Bias Outside the Box] reaffirmed my desire to ensure that I create work that makes a difference in our community. If it provokes a response or a conversation…then my work is doing everything it should be doing,” McCausland said.