Bryan French has been busy over the last couple of years building a photography business as well as the Duluth Folk School. This week we hear about Bryan’s artistic side.
B.F.: I’m a photographer (and director of the Duluth Folk School, an adventure guide with Day Tripper, and on-call naturalist at Hartley). My background includes an undergrad in musical theater (song and dance!) and a master’s degree in environmental education (nature!). I’ve been making photographs for about ten years.
I first started thinking about photography seriously during a theatrical exchange trip to Hungary during college. This was right after the Soviet Union left Hungary, and Hungarians were reemerging as their own people. It was a very interesting time, and walking the streets felt a bit like being a foreign correspondent. I came back home, and didn’t really pick up a camera again until my kids were in high school sports. There were many times when I couldn’t attend one of their meets, and I always looked eagerly for any photos that anyone else might have taken of my kids. Not finding any, I took it upon myself to become the unofficial team photographer. I figured that, if I wanted to see pictures of my kids, then the hundreds of other families probably wanted the same thing. So for about eight years, I honed my craft out in the rain and snow and cold during cross country running and Nordic ski meets. When I wasn’t taking pictures of kids running and skiing, I was out in the woods on my own, taking pictures of landscapes, wildflowers and wildlife.
Today, I love to get out and photograph nature and the people who are in it. I also shoot weddings, portraits, and other commercial work.
The biggest project that I’m in the middle of right now is Hidden Glensheen. I’ve been working very closely with Glensheen staff for the past several months to photograph the parts of the Glensheen Mansion that most people don’t have the opportunity to see, either because they’re moving through pretty quickly on a tour, or because it’s something that is in a drawer or a closet, and is not available for the public to see. This has been a very rewarding project, and is one that has really deepened my (already significant) appreciation for Duluth’s history. It has also sparked some ideas about how I might be able to help bring this sort of project to other entities.
Smaller projects include a series I’ve been working on for a few years, about human garbage out in natural landscapes. This is a result of my time working in the Office of Sustainability at UMD. I also have far too many photos of abstract windblown snow sculptures. These are just naturally occurring shapes that you can find out in the middle of nowhere, and typically I find the best shapes on the coldest days.
It’s really easy for everyone to take (at least) halfway decent photos, so I try to make it my practice to create images that are a bit more compelling. I’m a huge fan of narrative, and I love being able to use photography to help tell a story. Photography is a little like a time machine – it allows us to stop, and really examine a moment in our lives. It’s a goal of mine to try to use my photography to share a version of our better selves. We all have joy and greatness and empathy, and when we can see that in ourselves through photography, I think it maybe ennobles us to try to aspire to more. That’s a good thing!
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