Dying Glaciers, Cattle Drives and a Golden Eagle
by Achim Manthey (May 2011, Munich)
The America House in Munich presents the exhibition "Land and Sky" - photography by Frank Grisdale.
In brilliant white, the icy tip of Mount Edith Cavel Glacier juts into the lake, coloured red-brown by the colours of Indian Summer, mirrors itself in the water and creates eddies on the surface. The iceberg melts and while dying, empties itself into nature, which, in bold colours, fights against the inevitable onslaught. The picture is no longer recognizable as photography, rather reminiscent of paintings by William Turner.
There are tracks of a truck in a bright yellow corn field. The diffused light, the lack of sharpness, is achieved by extended exposure: 10 seconds, with a hand-held camera, can no longer create a sharp picture anywhere.
The landscape photography of Frank Grisdale does not follow the classic photography tradition in Ansel Adams' style. By extended exposure, layering of shots and further processing, landscapes become blurred. However, rivers, lakes, the endless prairie, hills and mountains still remain recognizable.
Frank Grisdale, born 1954 in Edmonton, in the western province of Alberta, came late to photography. The wide open landscape of his native province remained his motive. Instead of presenting his objects realistically, he plays in his pictures with light, colour, structure and the band of the horizon. Objects blur through extreme exposure and morph into paintings of early impressionists.
A study from 2000 shows Horseshoe Lake, with landscape reflected golden on the water surface, the effect being created by the photographer by using a gold filter. In 2004 the series " Horseshoe Lake" was created here, in which vegetation above the water creates colourful reflections, while movement of the water surface originates from children swimming nearby.
The picture " Cowboy Trail Looking West" shows a cattle drive, which is no longer recognizable in the picture itself. A stampede, it appears, covers the object in dust. Clouds are seen, summer meadows after a thunderstorm, the golden afternoon light after a summer rain shower.
The grace of light. Grisdale interprets the work of the early impressionist painters in modern form.
The five portraits of birds of prey, shown in the exhibition, are a complete contrast. A 14 year old domesticated golden eagle named Sasquatch after a mythological figure, half human, half beast, is shown in detail. These pictures are razor sharp, almost too much, a total contrast to the landscapes. They are reminiscent of Indian motifs by American painters of the 19th century and don't really fit into the exhibition's theme, well, maybe into the "sky" part.
To show, what nobody has seen this way before him, is the intent of the photographer.
Koe Magazine - Japan - September 2009 - Solo Show - Prince Takamado Gallery, Canadian Embassy
Perhaps the best art makes you both appreciate and forget the medium being used. Canadian photographer Frank Grisdale certainly achieves this much in his work. He also challenges the boundaries between photography and painting with a photographic style and post- production methods that seem to turn photographs, literally, into a canvas. There is texture and apparent brush strokes. Light works in uncanny ways. Movement is captured, impressionistically.
Grisdale shot briefly late in his teens while traveling the world for a few months. Although self-taught, he landed a photography assignment in Lesotho, Africa, where the landscapes became his muse and his subject. He then abandoned photography until he was 45. Why landscapes at this late date? Why photography? And how came this unique style?
Koe: Photographers like Ansel Adams turned landscape photography into art of a high order, but these days it seems clichéd for the most part. Why did you choose this genre?
Frank Grisdale: The greatest joy in life comes from being all you can be, which is a whopper of a cliché, but clichés are well worn because they resonate truth. I knew I had to develop an unrelenting focus and stay with it for a very long time in order to be successful. It’s the 10,000-hour rule. Put in that amount of time and you can’t help but become very good, even world class at whatever it is you are doing.
So I knew when I decided to pursue photography for the last half of my productive life that I had to choose a genre that I could ‘live with’ for a long stretch. And getting up ridiculously early and being out there in the perfect setting at just the right time was something I knew I could do, consistently, over time. I had been doing it naturally since I was a kid working at our family farm in the summers. Being forced out of bed so regularly and so early by my father to go check the cattle with him imbedded the glory of early morning light in my brain.
K: How do you avoid cliché and sentimentalism?
FG: There was a long period of time between when I was deep into photography during university and my re-start in photography when I turned 45. So even though I didn’t have a camera with me for that 20 year period, I was constantly thinking about photography, reading about it and framing scenes in my head, just because I enjoyed visualizing imagery and viewing images. I bought every book published about photography worth buying. So by the time I started shooting seriously I had a very strong foundation of knowledge about what had been done.
Like everyone though, in the first period of developing my work, I had to shoot what others had shot before me—a la Ansel Adams—just to get it out of my system and of course just to get technically proficient by shooting a lot. But I quickly found that shooting what I knew had been done before was unrewarding, uninspiring, and the only people who thought it was great stuff were people who didn’t know much about photography’s history and were seeing something new in what I knew was old.
So the challenge for me after getting my chops down was to shoot landscape the way I had been seeing it in my mind all those years when I was not carrying a camera. Those mind shots are impressionistic, like all day dreams, so I began to try to shoot images that recalled that zen-like state of mind. I hadn’t seen anyone doing that kind of imagery in all my reading so I guess that is how I managed to avoid cliché and sentimentalism—by trying hard to shoot in a style and with a feel that I hadn’t seen in any of the hundreds of books and magazines that I had studied.
K: Your pictures share some qualities with abstract impressionism. Was this conscious or simply a result of your technique?
FG: I can’t say I set out with a goal to be an impressionist. I do recall thinking early on that the detail of an Ansel Adams shot was boring to me—almost too technically perfect to be interesting. That kind of work is the goal of most landscape photographers, so the number of competing images is ridiculous, and they all end up looking like each other. I wanted to be able to enter a landscape with a different goal—that of interpretation rather than duplication.
K: How have painters and their techniques informed your work?
FG: Obviously I like color so the Rothko’s fields of color appeal to me, as does the atmosphere of William Turner. For photographers I should mention that I think the work of Ernst Haas and his motion photography stuck in my head for a long time, as did the intimate nature studies of Eliot Porter. Today I am stunned and inspired by the work of Jack Spencer.
K: Are there any Japanese photographers, or landscape artists, for that matter, whom you admire?
FG: Hiroshi Sugimoto’s legendary seascapes are captivating. Yukikazu Ito has a similar aesthetic but a bit more eerie. He’s an emerging talent.
In his ripe middle-age, it seems Frank Grisdale, too, is an emerging talent.
His work is available from a number of international galleries.
Great British Landscapes - January 2011
Edmonton Journal, by Gilbert Bouchard
December 12, 2008
FRANK GRISDALE'S NEW PHOTOGRAPHIC WORK | Photographer feels distinctive approach carries more impact
Age-old subject matters get a fresh twist in a photography show hosted at the Peter Robertson Gallery. Frank Grisdale's 22-image landscape show splits the difference between photography and painting. The established Alberta photographer documents familiar Prairie and Rocky Mountain vistas, but specifically edges his landscape photographs away from the easy realism of postcard and calendar shots into the realm of semi-abstracted impressionism.
"I try to show what hasn't been seen before, as do all serious photographers" says Grisdale, 54. He is printing his evocative landscapes on unorthodox non-traditional materials such as canvas, copper, aluminum, wood and on Gampi, a rare Japanese paper.
"The creative effort includes what I do during the exposure, after, and then finally the print substrate. For some work, I soften details with motion during the exposure. That may or may not be followed by combining different images post exposure. At other times I'll paint directly on to a print and then re-photograph the photo.
The goal is to produce distinctive work with visual staying power. Work that holds a viewer isn't processed quickly. I want the viewer to stare, so that the emotion of the image stays with them long after."
Showing at: Peter Robertson Gallery, 12304 Jasper Ave., Edmonton Alberta until Dec. 20, 2008
Heather Hamel, Art Gallery of Alberta
A photograph has aesthetic qualities intrinsic to the medium itself: an outward-looking or existential determination; a framing of the subject that separates it from its usual spatial and temporal reality; and, as a consequence, a silence or stillness of image. Another, older notion of aesthetics is a philosophy of beauty or expression of beauty through art that tends toward the sublime or transcendent.
The spare compositions and rich colour of the photographs of Frank Grisdale are inscribed with this aesthetic and are come by honestly after years of experience and a clear intent. Views of the land; the faces of people; enigmatic photographs of only water, only sky – all contain, within the frame, the promise of the threshold: the very real possibility that one can crossover into a heightened reality.
Frank Grisdale’s work is beautiful, beautifully made and presents a point-of-view that is an antithesis to the irony of our age.
Brian Walker, Chicago, IL
When I first came across Frank Grisdale's work on the internet, I took pause. I said to myself, "Now here's an artist." Frank's photographs far extend beyond those of a typical photographer. He paints with his camera. Each piece demands your attention to such a degree that you become lost within each image. His work is simply mesmerizing. His use of colors, distortion, lighting, experimentation and the subject matter itself produces an end result that can only be described as sublime. Frank is a true pro with an unmistakably unique take on what it is to be a photographer and an artist. If only the world really looked like what Frank captures through the end of his lens...
Paul Bergen, Picture This
I used to think that Frank's photographs were like paintings. Perhaps it was their large format and the impressionistic approach to the image but I realize I was only partly right. I realize now and partly because of the way I respond to these, that Frank is not like a painter, he is a painter. He just happens to use a camera.
These are particularly strong in that these paintings are one step closer to reality. They move me because they are grounded in an objective reality, interpretations of that most primal of all subjects, nature itself.
Galleries West Magazine, by Gilbert A. Bouchard - Vol 5 ,#1, 2006 "Reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be", says Edmonton-based Frank Grisdale. “I want my photography to be more than just the simple documentation of reality. I’ve been told that I’m working in the arena of the sublime, and while you can drive a truck through that word, I think it reflects the meditative, slow-down-the-pulse aspect of all of my work.” Well known for his dreamy prairie landscapes and images of water and ice, Grisdale says his work is meant to be less about detail and more about line, colour and light. While Grisdale’s work may look manipulated digitally, the photographer's ethereal effects are the product of intense on-site experimentation and massive after-the-fact editing of the exposures generated in each field session. The unique look of his images is created by longer than normal exposures without benefit of a tripod, a strategy that radically embraces ambient camera movement.
The Berkshire Eagle, The Hamptons, Massachusetts - by Gregory Reynolds Morell, November 2006
Through January 2007, Great Barrington's Iris Gallery features the work of Canada's Frank Grisdale.
Frank Grisdale is a lifelong resident of the western province of Alberta. The vistas of the Canadian west are alluring and powerful sources of inspiration for both contemporary painters and photographers. Grisdale has distilled the vast and dynamic landscapes of Alberta into simple evocations of color and form that are painterly in expression. They are soft, quiet and reduced to the barest of simple elements. Yet, the two images from this show that arrest the viewer speak with a very different voice. Surprisingly, they were taken on the exact same day. It was late afternoon at the end of the summer of 2001. The light of the sun was low in the sky and the atmosphere electrically charged. These are the conditions that photographers dream about. The two images share no similarity of form, content or position, but each is an evocation of the celestial quality of natural landscape when illuminated by sublime light. Grisdale aptly titled his fusion of gentle pasture, placid water, and heavenly illumination. "Give Me Shelter", the other image taken on this magical day, reveals a turbulent sky that washes over the horizon like a watercolor wave. Below, a flowing mass of long dark grasses thrash in the wind. Amid this dark morass of green, a single sheath of grass bursts from the mass in a shock of glowing amber.
This photograph is a superb achievement and this single image is well worth a visit to the gallery.
Regarding the Water Exhibit in Seoul, South Korea - 2006 www.greenfestival.or.kr
The Green Foundation of South Korea (a non-profit similar to Greenpeace) annually holds one of the largest photo exhibitions of photography in Korea. It takes place in Seoul, is entirely outdoors, and lasts 150 days. I had some of my work chosen to be exhibited along with seven other international fine art photographers, including work by Sally Gall, Bruno Barbey, Eve Arnold, Martin Parr, Larry Towell, Steve McCurry, Don Hong-Oai, Eric Fredine and David Burdeny. The theme was Water. The photography exhibition was located in front of Se Jong Cultural House (something like Sydney's Opera House) which is located at very center of Seoul, where people interested in art and performances gather. Following this, the exhibit moved to two other biennale exhibitions, one in Dae gu (Tae Ku Photo Biennale in Sept. 2006) and the other in Gwangju (Gwang-Ju Biennale in Oct. 2006).
The Public Reviews - Guest Book Comments
At The Amerika Haus, Munich - Solo Show - Summer 2011