A Beautiful Phenomena

Photographer Andy Grellmann hails from Canada, the beauty of this landscape transposed into his images. There is a softness, a pure natural content present in his work, a nuanced consideration that is often not present in a lot of the instant snap-shot imagery we see today (especially in regards to fashion photography). What’s most virtuous of Grellmann is that he appreciates the transience of daily life, finding light to be a truly beautiful phenomena. Perhaps the rhetoric birthed by the Impressionists hasn’t been forgotten? I spoke to Andy about his introduction into photography, Vancouver, David Lynch and his hopes for the near future. Included are some of Andy’s favourites of his images, and those most representative of his style.

Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? How would you describe what it is that you do?

Andy Grellmann: My name is Andy Grellmann and I am 27 years old. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. I like to make photographs with medium format film cameras, and the occasional 35mm film camera.

Secondly, how do you define beauty? Where do you find it? 

I find light to be quite a beautiful phenomenon. Basic shapes, patterns, colour palettes, juxtapositions in the natural world are interesting to me, particularly if it’s existence depends solely on brief encounters through light. I’m drawn to objects and scenes that might offer a statement or story about its existence up until that moment. I also find simple moments with a lot of depth and complexity to be beautiful.

Tell me about your first camera. Do you still have it? 

I think I had a little point and shoot in high school, and in University I had a Nikon D40 that I paid for with a student loan. I don’t own any of those any more. I now own about 6 film cameras and one digital.

In your opinion, what makes a successful image? 

The successful photograph that I’m drawn to requires a narrative at the heart of it. I think the technical elements such as composition should be automatic, and that further insight and considerations regarding the message you want to deliver are necessary to really make the photograph into something unique and worthy of studying. It’s challenging, and I admire those who do it well.

Do you prefer to shoot on film or digitally? 

I prefer to shoot film. I think the aesthetics of film are far more pleasing. The colours are deeper; the tones are more present and gradual. I like how the process is slower, enduring, more tactile, and requires accuracy and careful foresight; it harmonizes with the subject matter I select, and my approach to making a photograph. And the large film negatives carry a lot of information, which I find invites the audience to study the details of the photograph.

Who are some of your artistic icons or muses? 

At the moment, I’m drawing inspiration from the writing style of author Erlend Loe, cinematographers David Lynch and Christopher Doyle, and photographers Stephen Shore and Robert Frank. A fellow photographer just introduced me to the work of Robert Adams. The more local photographers I really admire include Nich Hance McElroy, Grant Harder, Ali Bosworth, and Jennilee Marigomen. I have a good friend who is a poet, and very non-judgemental and doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body – he makes me think differently. The muses in my life are often the ones I’m intimately involved with. They come and go; mostly go.

Is travel a major component of your work? Where is one place you would love to visit? 

I would say local travel is a large component of my work. I get out of the city a lot, several hours in any direction, to camp, hike, stay in cabins, or visit friends in other cities and islands. That is where I make a lot of my landscape photographs. I’d love to explore the American mid-west, Eastern Canada, and Scotland. I’d also like to go back to Japan, which is where my mother is from.

Where do you find inspiration and motivation?

Anything that changes or modifies the way I think about a particular concept, perhaps by presenting or restating a message in various, interconnected ways. I find it’s easier for people to make a meaningful connection with something when they understand it more holistically. This for me comes most often from written works; novels and poetry inform my photographs a lot. I prefer the often open-ended delivery of writing. Discussions with friends also help me to think differently.

Do you prefer to shoot people or landscapes? 

I prefer to photograph people. I’m probably becoming typecast as a landscape or environment photographer, which is fine. I really enjoy landscapes. A lot of my own principles of using film resonates with the experience of shooting landscapes alone. It’s incredibly unifying. The challenge I’m currently facing with portraits is knowing how much direction to give with out detracting from the authenticity of a moment. I feel that this can compromise the beautiful complexity of a portrait.

What do you love about instant film? Are you familiar with Dispose magazine?

Creating an instant, tangible, physical memory of a moment is pretty neat. It’d be interesting to see a camera that produces larger prints. I looked into Dispose Magazine, there’s some great stuff on there.

In your opinion, what’s the difference between colour photographs and black and white? Is it something that goes deeper than how an image looks? 

I haven’t shot enough black and white to formulate an opinion. From what I understand and have experienced myself, black and white requires a certain, perhaps refined, eye since you can’t rely on colour to bring out certain element of a photograph that make it aesthetically pleasing, and instead you must rely on light. I have a lot of respect for black and white photographers, particularly street photographers, because of the amount of skill and experience it takes to do it well.

Do you source inspiration from the Canadian landscape? It’s such a beautiful country; I’d love to go there one day. 

Yes, insofar as that’s what is readily available to me. I’m sure I could draw inspiration from any landscape if I allowed myself to connect with it. Vancouver in particular offers a lot of variety so I’m lucky to live in such a destination city with it’s appeal rooted in the outdoors. We have oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, mountains, beaches, farms. It’s great.

If there were one person in the world you could photograph, who would it be? 

I’ve never thought about it. At the moment I don’t think I’d care to photograph a famous person, or someone well known, although it might be a good excuse to have a chat with them.

What are some publications you’d love to work with? 

I’m not well versed on publications. I feel if I aimed to work for a publication it might influence my style, which I don’t want. I’d prefer for my style to evolve naturally. I’ve been getting into publications more recently but I haven’t done enough research to offer an opinion.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What’s next for you?

I’m excited to see how my philosophy of photography will evolve over the next 5 years. I couldn’t offer specifics but at the moment I’m working hard to expand my photographic vernacular and explore ideas and concepts more viscerally. I am doing a still life project over the summer, and taking a few short trips over the summer and fall. I’d like to do a portrait project as well, but at the moment it doesn’t have any legs.

Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Image courtesy of Andy Grellmann.

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