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Photographer plays with light in new exhibit

By Susan Doolan, Special to Postmedia Network

Christopher Manson/Submitted
Garett Walker’s photographs will be displayed at the MacLaren Art Centre until Oct. 29.

Christopher Manson/Submitted Garett Walker’s photographs will be displayed at the MacLaren Art Centre until Oct. 29.

A local photographer marks his first show at MacLaren Art Centre, where his work has been paired with one of Simcoe County's most famous artists.

Garett Walker's photographs line one wall of Gallery 3 facing Lucius O'Brien's paintings. Their work emerged from opposing yet similar situations, scenes of the local area that are very different from each other and were created more than 100 years apart.

"There's a kind of mirror effect happening where Lucius O'Brien is returning to his home after many years and a younger photographer is moving here trying to discover what his place is," said Emily McKibbon, who curated the exhibition, called Summer Sketches.

Garett moved to Barrie from Toronto in the summer of 2013, and currently lives in an old schoolhouse that was renovated by his parents. One of the first things he discovered was the difference in people.

"It's refreshing living here," said Walker, who is enjoying the charm of small town life. "People acknowledge you if you pass someone on a walk at the waterfront. People actually look at you and smile.

"It's dramatic if you're coming from a city where most people avoid eye contact and go (directly) to point 'B'. It's more laid back here."

Walker comes by his artistic side naturally. Both of his parents were into art and have degrees from the Ontario College of Art. His mother is a painter, Eileen Sweeney, who lives locally and is a member of the Barrie Art Club and exhibits with the Bayside Artists. His father, Jerry Walker, studied industrial arts and taught high school in Elmvale.

Walker had an interest in music until he was forced to take another art subject for a high school credit. He picked photography and discovered there was a side to it that was creative, theoretical and technical. He felt it was a nice balance. He borrowed a camera from his father and started spending a lot of time in the darkroom.

A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at Ryerson University followed in early 2000 and he went back to school in 2009 for his MFA in Documentary Media Studies. In addition to showing and exhibiting his work, he also worked for a commercial photographer in Toronto.

The photographs in the Summer Sketches show came from a larger body of work he did called Town and Country. He's been taking photos all over the area since he moved up here.

"Basically it's my excuse to go exploring," he said. "I take photographs all the time, different things that interest me. It's open ended -- cultural landscapes, man-altered landscapes."

Lucius O'Brien, born in Shanty Bay, (1832-1899) did most of his painting of the area around his childhood home during last decade of his life. Most were watercolours and were painted outdoors. His earlier work was in oils and watercolours, landscapes of Ontario and Quebec. He is also known for Picturesque Canada, two books that showed scenes of Canada from the east coast to the west, after the Canada Pacific Railway was completed.

Eight of O'Brien paintings, all fragile watercolours, were restored by the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) prior to the exhibition, a process that took hundreds of hours over the past two years. All of the paintings came from donations and were in the MacLaren's permanent collection.

Walker wasn't familiar with O'Brien prior to the exhibition, but when he researched his life was struck by how detailed his work was. He maintains photographers learned from painters, how the light was used, the shine, how it can hold your attention.

"I particularly liked his ability to capture light -- reflections of light on the land, when clouds pass through a bright spot," said Walker. "His skies are quite good. I don't have an ability to paint at all.'

McKibbon said CCI gave O'Brien the nickname 'Lover of light' because he was really good at skies.

The Summer Sketches exhibition will be on display at MacLaren Art Centre, in Gallery 3 until Oct. 29.

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