Filmmaker got close to nature

 SPECIAL TO THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR 

John (Jack) Carey: 1912-2008

July 08, 2008

Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator
Burlington (Jul 8, 2008)

Jack Carey first caught the shutter bug when he got a Buster Brown camera for his eighth birthday on Sept. 22, 1920.

For the next 88 years, until he died three weeks ago, he was seldom without a camera in his hands. That passion let Carey establish himself as one of the world’s leading nature photographers.

He photographed or videotaped every kind of living thing, from a one-celled organism in his basement aquarium to elephants in the wild.

He had a special affection for insects and did intimate, close-up studies of monarch butterflies, spiders and bees.

After observing the little critters for many years, he produced a 28-minute film called Success Story about the remarkable ability of insects to adapt to their environment. It won all kinds of international awards and was adapted by Encyclopedia Britannica as a science teaching aid.

His films have often appeared on television, including the CBC science show The Nature of Things. In 1978, he was made a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

In 1987, Global Television turned the camera on the famous movie-maker with a one-hour profile called Nature in Close-up: The Small World of Jack Carey.

Carey’s world started in Hamilton on Sept. 22, 1912, and ended in a Dundas hospital on June 3. He died as a result of complications from a broken hip. His funeral service was held in Burlington, where he’d lived for almost 60 years.

John (Jack) Carey was the youngest child of a family of four and lost his mother when he was 14. She had instilled in him a love of nature and an insatiable curiosity about the world around him.

With his first camera, the Buster Brown, he tried unsuccessfully to sneak up and photograph birds.

He got his first movie camera, an eight-millimetre model, in the 1930s and started his film career by making movies about his family.

He got his first break as a professional filmmaker while working as a metallurgist at Stelco. In 1956, the steelmaker commissioned him to make a promotional film called Steel for Canadians.

Shortly after, he made his first nature film, The Miracle of the Bees.

During the next 50 years, he pursued every form of life in the most exotic parts of the world, from the Galapagos Islands to the jungles of Africa. As a supporter of Greenpeace, his wildlife photography usually carried a strong ecological message.

But most of his filming was done within 20 kilometres of the Burlington home he shared with his only sister, Dolly, from the 1950s until her death in 1995.

She was an avid gardener and grew some of the nicest roses in the neighbourhood.

Apart from his love of photography, Carey was a published poet and avid antique collector who scoured garage and yard sales on weekends. He had a love of hurricane lamps and had a sizeable collection of them in his home.

His nephew Dave Carey, who gave the eulogy at his funeral, remembers Uncle Jack as an incurable pack rat who never threw anything out.

His Burlington home was chock full of Carey family memorabilia, from old Christmas cards to family photographs and home movies.

“I expect we are one of the most photographed families in Canada never to have been involved in a political scandal or Hollywood infidelity,” Dave said in his eulogy.

To his neighbours, Carey was known as a friendly guy who showed up with homemade chocolate truffles at Christmas.

Robb McQueen, a neighbour, said he last saw Carey taking pictures in his backyard about a year ago.

“He packed a lot in his 95 years,” said McQueen, who teaches at Aldershot High School. “He was one of those rare guys. He wore out. He didn’t rust out. He was always doing something.”