Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Jon Nelson's Photography in Atikokan

     In Atikokan, Jon Nelson is showing about 30 of his amazing photographs at the Pictograph Gallery, www.atikokanpictographgallery.com, from July 6 to August 3.
     Jon Nelson worked in Quetico Park with his wife Marie as a ranger for 12 years beginning in the 1970s. They spent their first years living with their children in an Interior Ranger Station accessed by floatplane. The family would arrive in May for walleye season and leave after “ice-out” in September when the season’s tourist traffic ebbed.
     The more time Jon spent in the park, the more he became interested in photography and plants, with the help of Shan Walshe, a park naturalist. Jon took a particular liking to lichens and wrote an entire chapter on lichens for his book, Quetico: Near to Nature’s Heart.
     The title for Jon’s book comes from a young woman’s journal. She wrote in 1898, while travelling with her husband and four native guides, “Sad to leave Quetico, because Quetico is near to Nature’s Heart.”
     Working with a digital camera for the last eight years, Jon fell in love with High Dynamic Range Imaging photography. The process starts with quality multiple photographs, over and underexposed so that the detail of both light and dark areas become exaggerated. The contrast range is limited when a computer program combines the digital shots. This maintains the detail from each shot. The results can be very stunning.
     For example, in his image of the canoe shed at Old Fort William, the detail is fantastic, and the added detail of the raindrops on the window are a real contrast to the wood textures of the interior.
     Setting up the camera on a tripod and taking time to get the shots right, Jon works with a variety of lenses, using the same Olympus camera he’s had for eight years. With only 8 megapixels, he prefers the Olympus to other cameras, describing their sensors as being better able to pick up lively and vibrant colours.     
     The lens has to be open for a few seconds, depending on the lighting. On an overcast day the lens will be open for two seconds, 1/125 of a second to 2 seconds to get all the overexposed and underexposed sections. Clouds tend to blur, but details, like raindrops and sand, etc, will have their textural qualities truly revealed. Jon takes a minimum of three shots and up to seven shots of the same image.
     A regular photograph can only cover one quarter of what the eye can see, and apparently the HDRI process represents more of what the eye has the ability to see. That is only because we have the ability to adjust our eyes. We don’t see this kind of detail in one glance. We have to squint, block the sun, move closer, or get accustomed to the dark. So, the result of the HDRI process can be a little off-putting, as the photos can look 3D without the glasses, or like photorealist paintings. Objects and entire landscapes glow as if a light were behind the photos, much like seeing the images on a computer screen, but better.
     Part of the reason for this, in Jon’s case, as there are other photographers in town using the HDRI process, is that Jon prints his pictures on aluminum plates. Without glass or a frame to obstruct the view, the photos practically glow and the colours are incredibly rich, more so than when printed on paper. Some images can have a glossy unreal look, while others like the caboose image, look like amazing paintings where the artist spent a year working with high quality oil paints.
     Jon’s landscapes and rock images are fantastic. These works really grab the landscape for you, and create the desire to go to Quetico Park to see the wondrous beauty for yourself. Some images have that photojournalist appeal, with a story to boot.
     The photo of Charlie Brooks holding his antlers is one example. The antlers are 11,000 years old. Steep Rock Mine was constructed in the 1940s. In the 1970s a lake was drained to further the search for iron ore. At thirty feet below the silt and sand, caribou bones were discovered. Charlie had the only pair of antlers from the dig. Atikokan is Ojibwe for “caribou bones.”
     Inspired by Lacque Lacroix native guides, who got him interested in the native history of the area, Jon went to Trent University in Peterborough in his mid forties and got a Masters Degree. He returned to Quetico to do archeological research. Later he taught biology and chemistry at Confederation College.
     Now, he’s continuing his love of photography with passion. Aside from his show in Atikokan, his work can be seen in Thunder Bay at the Fireweed, and the Baggage Building at Prince Arthur’s Landing.

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