The Intimate View with Mike Grandmaison

Posted by on Jun 3, 2017 in Creative Vision, Inspirations | 3 Comments

We are lucky to have amazing and talented members as part of the League of Landscape Photographers. Mike Grandmaison is a respected Canadian photographer, author,  and speaker with 15 coffee table books on various subjects and regions of Canada. He will release another 5 books in 2017. Below we share an article written by Mike on his love of the Intimate View. If you have stories you want to share here on the League blog send them our way (info@oopoomoo.com)!

Rocks and waves on Lake Winnipeg – ©Mike Grandmaison

The Intimate View

I have had a ‘penchant’ for the ‘intimate view’ ever since I began to photograph some 40 years ago. In the late 70s, the City of Edmonton (where I was living at the time) had an amazing collection of excellent photography books in their main library. As my interest in photography grew, I voraciously devoured as many photography books and magazines as I could. I studied the work of the Masters of Photography as well as their contemporaries, regardless of the subject matter. Within my weekly or bi-monthly visit to the library, my stack of 20 books could include the entire gamut of subject matter from natural history, portraiture, architecture, travel, photographic processes, fashion, B&W to the history of photography, etc. Because of my close connection to the natural world as a young boy, followed by my academic training in the biological sciences, it was normal that my interest in photography also leaned towards nature photography.

Ferns in autumn – ©Mike Grandmaison

My earliest recollections of seeing ‘intimate views’ go back to browsing through the books of three excellent photographers. These included the works by Canadian Freeman Patterson, American black & white photographer Brett Weston and another American photographer by the name of Elliot Porter. It was in fact from Elliot Porter’s book called Intimate Landscapes, that I first came across the phrase ‘intimate landscapes’. He saw a world that was often neglected by other photographers who were more interested in capturing the ‘big vista’. He focused his large format camera on smaller vignettes of the natural world, smaller scenes that were usually illuminated by flat light from cloud cover or open shade. Porter’s images focused on details, pattern, texture and color. He subscribed to the motto that ‘less is more’. Similarly, Brett Weston focused his large format camera on intimate views of the natural world like frozen ice, kelp and sand, as well as on the man-made objects like broken glass, torn posters and glass from tall high rise buildings creating in the process masterpieces of B&W abstracts. Freeman Patterson, on the other hand, explored the world of color using basic design elements to create his works of art from subjects as diverse as the natural world, people and everyday objects. Furthermore, Freeman added an element of subjectivity to his images that led to explorations into impressionism. In addition to the photographers mentioned above, other artists influenced my way of seeing the world beyond the ‘big landscape’. Canadian painters Toni Onley, Emily Carr and Tom Thompson, as well as many of the other Group of Seven painters, depicted the intimate view in many of their paintings.

Bird River detail at Tulabi Falls – ©Mike Grandmaison

The recent digital revolution, while making photography much more accessible to everyone, also created a situation where more people turned to photography as a hobby. Social media played a crucial role in displaying iconic images from the world’s special places that in turn created a huge appetite for an increasing number of photographers and tourists wanting to get their own ‘trophy images’. Many people are content to get their ‘trophy image’ and move on to the next trophy location without taking sufficient time to explore the area with its multitude of possibilities.

Canyon walls with pine tree, Lytton, British Columbia – ©Mike Grandmaison

I have never been a ‘trophy hunter’ although I enjoy a beautiful ‘big scenic’ as much as the next person. I never had the urge to travel the world in search of those iconic images, preferring instead to stay close to home and photograph in my own backyard so to speak, get to know my own country. Obviously, every country is someone else’s backyard! Perhaps my inclination for the ‘intimate view’ was somewhat influenced by my early years living in Sudbury, Ontario, a land ravaged by deforestation, fire and pollution. As I became interested in photography in the mid-seventies, I had to look hard to find natural beauty beyond, or in spite of, the denuded and blackened ‘moonscape’ that surrounded me. Because of my interest and training in biology, I was often looking at the ground more than at the sky, trying to find the next interesting flowering plant. As I travelled to places like the Great Smoky Mountains and Mt. Washington for instance – places of exceptional scenic beauty – I returned with photographs of wildflowers and intimate views. Slowly, my interest changed from documenting and identifying each and every plant I came across to creating photographs where visual elements trumped subject matter.

Sunrise through the trees on the shore of the Wenesega River near Ear Falls, Ontario – @Mike Grandmaison

The ‘vast, sweeping landscape’, especially when bathed with dramatic light, can be a sight to behold. Today, many if not most, professionals and aspiring photographers are tuned into the ‘big landscape’ chasing world-class subject and the elusive light that can accompany it. David Ward, a fine British nature photographer, states: “The inclusion of a horizon in “The Big Landscape” is the ultimate expression of open spaces, of distance, but also of separation. It is, in fact, a denial of intimacy”. The quiet, more elusive ‘intimate view’ often lacks a horizon creating a feeling of intimacy. The ‘intimate view’ tends to foster a much more personal approach so it not likely that any two artists would ever create artwork that would be similar unless they happen to be photographing together at the moment. Images of the ‘big landscape’ grab your attention at first but they seldom have any staying power. The intimate landscape, on the other hand, will often endure and grow on you. It often depicts a scene in which your eye can linger for some time, in which you can discover something new upon each visit.

Birch tree (Betula papyrifera) and rock cliff, Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba – @Mike Grandmaison

In the chapter called On Intimacy from our new book Natural Reflections (Rocky Mountain Books, Fall 2017), co-author and designer extraordinaire Robert L. Peters writes: “Intimate landscapes move in close, beyond labels and descriptions, towards the realm of the abstract — it is then that we are compelled to regard our subject more intently, more adeptly, and more rigorously than we normally would. And what we find as we get ever closer is that our respect grows, and we begin to care even more passionately about our subject matter.”

Autumn mosaic – ©Mike Grandmaison

Photography is the vehicle from which I was able to discover this great country Canada. As a result of looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I have become much more aware of my surroundings. Photography has heightened my ability to see and feel. By walking a little slower, waiting a little longer, looking a little closer or deeper, I discovered the many nuances of color, line, form, texture and pattern that can be so easily missed. I love to capture fleeting moments of light. Although I enjoy photographing early or late in the day to capture the ‘sweet light’, by keeping an open mind, I am able to continuously discover photo opportunities nearly anywhere. My passion to create has drawn me to the natural environment where I long to be. It’s where I find peace and solitude.

Trees backlit from morning sun throwing strong shadows, Kenora, Ontario – ©Mike Grandmaison

Folks who have seen my published work have mostly seen it depicted in editorial markets such as books and calendars or in the work I completed for my commercial clients in the last 20 years. What they have not seen is the more personal work that I have created from the very beginning, going back some 40 years. Truth be told, I was never a good stock photographer for the few stock agencies I worked with as I always neglected their ‘want lists’; I photographed principally for myself, based on what my eye was attracted to. I rarely set out with specific images in mind, reacting to situations, in front of me, preferring a more contemplative approach. This portfolio represents work that stems from my early years to the present. The common thread of course is the ‘intimate view’. I recently browsed through my slide collection (as I do on occasion) and made a number of new scans of images that have rarely, if ever, seen the light of day. Because these images are deeply personal, they still resonate profoundly with me today. As I travel this great country of ours, I continue my quest to create ‘intimate views’.

Dogwood trees and rock – ©Mike Grandmaison

Bark of Arbutus (Pacific Madrone) (Arbutus menzeisii) tree – Canada’s only native broad-leafed evergreen tree, Saltspring Island (Gulf Islands), British Columbia – ©Mike Grandmaison

Patterns of water in Pacific Ocean, Prince Rupert, British Columbia – ©Mike Grandmaison

Spruce trees at sunset – ©Mike Grandmaison

3 Comments

  1. Larry Monczka
    June 4, 2017

    Mike-the lightbulb went on for me when I saw that exhibition of Eliot Porter’s ” intimate landscapes” at the Met in New York in 1979. Like you, his subtle ordering of the disorder of the natural world excited and inspired me. It still does.

  2. Peter Carroll
    June 5, 2017

    Great article Mike. Your passion for photography and Canada is evident in your work. I find it interesting how photographing intimate views at a location actually helps me see the bigger picture. Walking through my local library and stumbling across Freeman’s book The Art of Seeing is actually what got me going on this wonderful journey called photography.

  3. Kyle McDougall
    June 6, 2017

    Well said, Mike! The “intimate” side of landscape photography has always been one that has attracted a lot of my attention, although I’ll admit it can be easy at times to get pulled in other directions and slightly veer off track. This is an important reminder for anyone interested in landscape photography about how much more deep and personal their work can be. Excellent images as well!

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