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Tobacco kilns the focus of photo exhibit

Tobacco kilns are the main subject of an exhibit at the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre.


Larry Monczka, who is from Hamilton but is married to local Kathleen Pickard and retired to Port Ryerse 12 years ago, was struck by the tobacco kilns he saw scattered across the countryside.

“I had never seen anything like them anywhere on my travels,” he said. “I loved both their simplicity and their visual complexity. The sagging roofs, peeling tar paper and unhinged doors and shutters were interesting in terms of visual design while at the same time being a metaphor for the passing of time and its effect on these remnants of a culture and a way of life that was fading away.”

His interest in photography started in the 1970s when he was in New York City and saw an exhibit by Eliot Porter, a nature photography pioneer. He took several courses by Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson to further his photographic knowledge.

“Photography has been a serious hobby since those early days,” Monczka said. “My wife is also a photographer, and we’ve had numerous joint and solo exhibitions of our work over the years in the Norfolk Arts Centre and Lynnwood Arts in Simcoe, The Lighthouse Festival Theatre Gallery in Port Dover and the Old Town Hall Gallery in Waterford. We participated in the Norfolk Studio Tour for many years.”

When tackling the tobacco kiln project, he looked at through the lens of Japanese aesthetics. Wabi-Sabi, which he said “celebrates transience and honours those cracks, crevices and marks that are left behind by time and tender use.” Shibui, a Japanese concept that reminds us things improve with age, was also part of the image formation process. 

While taking photographs for the tobacco kiln project, Monczka drove the roads of Norfolk County, looking for all the tobacco kilns he could find. 

“I returned often during weather conditions that I imagined would express the Japanese aesthetics I had in mind for the project,” he described. “I was less interested in recording the kilns per se than in photographing and presenting them in a coherent expressive way.”

There are more than 20 photographs in the current exhibit. The photographs were taken between 2010 and 2018, and since many of the kilns were torn or fell down since then, are now part of the historical record of these structures.

“Many of the photographs were taken during times of fog and falling snow. These conditions isolate the kilns from visual distractions in the background and give them a melancholy, romantic timeless quality that expresses the Japanese concepts mentioned above,” Monczka said. “A number of images are close-ups that focus on elements of decay and deterioration such as exposed wood, peeling paint and missing doors and shutters in visually compelling ways that might go un-noticed by the average passer-by.”

The images are not highly manipulated in Photoshop.

“I photograph in the eye-witness tradition,” Monczka said. “That means that I don’t add or remove elements or alter the colours in post-production. I use weather conditions such as snow, fog and rain to increase saturation or soften details and present the kilns in ways most casual viewers may not have noticed themselves. That’s what makes these fine-art prints different from snapshots.”

His favourite images from the exhibit, and other photographs that were part of the project, were chosen to be part of the book Tobacco Kilns of Norfolk County. Waterford poet Amber Homeniuk wrote the text to accompany the photographs. 

“She worked in tobacco on her family farm back in the day and writes about the hard work and nitty gritty details of life during the harvest,” Monczka said. 

Copies of the book and the images are available at the exhibit. Greeting cards with the kiln images are also for sale at the tobacco museum. Monczka’s work is also available for sale at Cabin 519 in Port Dover, the Silver Sands Gallery in Port Dover and the artist co-op Capitol Arts Market in Simcoe, or by contacting him at He also has other books for sale, such as Sand Fences of Long Point Beach, Ice Huts of Norfolk County, Sandhill Cranes of Norfolk County, Herabouts, and Seldom Seen – Long Point in Winter. 

Additional Norfolk Kiln Links:

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