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A Close look at the Yukon, from the ground up

If you’ve been up around Crag Lake recently you might recognize its latest visitor, Patrick Close.

If you’ve been up around Crag Lake recently you might recognize its latest visitor, Patrick Close.

Well, actually you might recognize his torso and legs.

His head was probably tucked beneath a black photographic cloth peering through the lens and bellows of a five-by-seven view camera.

The Regina-based photographer has been working out of the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat since the beginning of September.

He photographs pockets of nature that catch his interest, like a tangle of fallen boughs on the ground or a thin tree branch weighted heavy with snow — although the grizzly sow and cougar sightings have kept him off the area’s trails.

Close is interested in capturing pieces of nature, not necessarily the sweeping vistas associated with more traditional landscape photography.

“You approach a landscape and it’s all there, you look at that and then you get drawn into smaller aspects of it,” he explained.

“There’s an amazing amount of complexity in a tree; you could make 200 or 300 images of one tree and no two would be the same.”

Currently he’s working on a series of things he finds on the Yukon ground — rocks, leaves, branches, flowers, artifacts and tailings.

“It’s much like the relationship with a person — you see the whole person first, then you see aspects of their behaviour that reveal themselves to you,” he said.

Like many artists, Close said his source of inspiration is “mysterious and intuitive.

“There’s still a fair bit of magic left in the photo, when I’m at my most successful I can capture that.”

Close is homeward bound next week, but before he packs up his car and heads down the highway he’s inviting the territory to dinner.

He will be presenting his new photographs and paintings during an open studio at the retreat on Saturday, which will be followed by a potluck supper.

On Wednesday afternoon, Close sat at a local coffee shop, sipping a warm drink and giving a whistle-stop tour of his work.

He flipped through reproductions of his large-format photos and paintings from past exhibitions (and over 30 years of honing his craft he’s shown his work all over Canada in dozens of places.)

“This is acrylic, this is oil,” he rattled off a list as he flipped through the pages before stopping momentarily on a muddily rendered painting of a canoe floating on dark water.

“This is about the death of a friend,” he said of the painting titled Losing Dave.

Although he works in a handful of mediums his favourite tool of the trade is what’s called a banquet camera — a 20-kilogram view camera the size of a chair.

You can’t hang this camera around your neck or pop it in your backpack, so Close sticks to areas accessible by car.

And its negatives are a whopping eight by 20 inches and capture images in excruciating detail.

They have to be developed in a tray, “it’s like wrestling live fish,” said Close with a smile.

Instead of the common silver, Close uses a more precious metal in his photographs — platinum.

It’s a demanding process, but that’s the attraction, he said.

“You have to work hard to get the print and I enjoy that.”

It begins with a few $100 bottles of chemistry — platinum and palladium — that must be ordered from down south.

The chemicals are brushed onto a piece of paper and dried so it becomes light sensitive.

Then the negative is place atop the paper and exposed to ultra-violent light, like sunlight.

“It’s a very rich print, it’s also one of the most permanent photographic processes there are.”

Having worked as an artist, curator, gallery director, collector, juror and arts council officer over the past 40 years, Close knows the Canadian art climate well.

And photography is something he has always done.

He started printing negatives in a closet in his childhood home using a candle as a safelight.

After finishing a degree in philosophy and psychology, Close cut his teeth in the photographic field with a truly unique experience.

He apprenticed as a medical photographer in a hospital where he shot and recorded everything from open-heart surgery to lung-removal operations.

Today Close is an artist with a day job, which subsidizes the cost of supplies.

And he sells his work but is not a commercial artist — most sales are through galleries or museums.

“I don’t know whether that’s because people don’t want to buy my work or because my prices are too high,” he said.

After heading back to Saskatchewan, Close plans to hole up in his home-based lab for the winter and print the images he’s collected from his time in the Yukon.

And after two months North of 60, Close only has one regret.

“The Rolling Stones played in Regina twice, one of my colleagues at work went and said it was absolutely fantastic,” he said with a laugh.

Close’s talk begins at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Crag Lake retreat; bring some food to share at the potluck to follow.