Flakes fascinate photographer

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Snow inspires new exhibit by local nature shooter

Paul Burwell is one of only three guys in all of North America who does what he does. The Edmonton-based photographer dedicates his practice to a very peculiar and elusive subject, the kind of object that you see a trillion times every day in the winter, but rarely spend any time looking that closely at.

The snowflake.

It’s impressive that he’s even able to snap a pic of something that takes less than a second to melt but somehow he does it time and time again. Burwell says he takes thousands of pictures for every one that is suitable for a gallery setting. Good thing he’s a patient man who doesn’t mind having perpetually frozen fingers.

“I’ve always been an outdoors person,” he admits. “I’ve always enjoyed nature, wildlife and the outdoors.”

Snowflakes weren’t his first choice, however. Several years ago, the information technology business owner decided to get out of the Internet game and go back to his first love of taking pictures. He was, however, hoping to track all creatures great and small for his collection of portrait and action shots.

“When I got back into photography seriously, I had done it with the intention of primarily concentrating on wildlife.”

The only problem is that, in Alberta, it’s tough to find any animal during the four or five months of the snowy season. That’s when he decided that if he couldn’t beat winter, then he would at least join it. He started taking pictures of the flakes and he hasn’t looked back since.

His images are more of a scientific exploration of the geometric beauty of these atmospheric crystals. Sure, no two are alike but you have to see them to believe the vast array of patterns. Some look like jewels while others appear to be perfect for putting right on top of a Christmas tree.

He’s just one of the three visual artists who comprise this holiday scrapbook of a show. Entitled Lost and Found, it means that the Art Gallery of St. Albert is serving up something for everyone for the extended holiday season, and through most of the first month of the new year.

Cynthia Fuhrer and Sydney Lancaster join Burwell. Where Fuhrer has an extended series of sketch portraits of people who don’t exist (along with a few bust sculptures), Lancaster is more interested in exploring the world of found objects. The idea is to take random things – essentially the discarded items that one finds on the ground or wherever – and give them a whole new purpose. She recombines scrap bits of junk together with beeswax and a wood mount and voilà, it’s art.

She explains that the fascination is with finding or making beauty where it previously didn’t exist.

“I’m definitely an alley hound,” she admits. “I do spend a lot of time wandering around back alleys, wandering around streets in every city I find myself in. The things that you find on the street or anywhere actually tell you an awful lot about the place you’re in. I think things have stories to tell. Part of what I want to do with my work is incorporate the idea of narrative. You can combine and recombine objects to tell new stories.”

For her storytelling, she has a sample treasure chest filled with clock parts, old maps, feathers, rusty metal things, reclaimed wood, and a variety of elements from the natural world as well, including hardened egg sacks and some kind of marine life that looks like a tangle of oak leaves.

Her art must be working out well for her. In addition to this exhibit, she is the newly installed artist in residence at Edmonton’s Harcourt House.

As for Fuhrer, her repetitive faces show a level of skill and wonder of the possibilities of the human genome. Her sculptures go a little bit further toward realizing what her imagined people might actually be like. In some ways they are amusing with comical facial characteristics but in others it is haunting. There are heads with hair or horns that curl along the sides like a bighorn sheep

Artist talk

To complement the show, Burwell will be giving an artist talk tomorrow just before the opening reception. Starting 5:45 p.m. people can attend the one-hour session on macrophotography of snowflakes.

Members of the public can learn more or even register to attend by calling the gallery or sending an email to ahfgallery@artsheritage.ca.

Lost and Found

Artworks by Sydney Lancaster, Paul Burwell and Cynthia Fuhrer
Opening reception tomorrow from 7 to 9 p.m. Artists will be in attendance.
Show runs until Jan. 28, 2012

Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron Street
Call 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.com for more information.

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About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.