Bryan Hansel lives in Grand Marais, working as a photographer and educator. His photos have been published in many national magazines including National Geographic, and his classes take students to sites in the region and across the country to National Parks.
B.H.: I could say I developed my style from years of practice starting with three years of black & white photography in high school — I graduated in 1989. But, that’s not really how I came to do what I do. About ten or so years ago, I decided I needed to make my photos eye-catching and worked toward a style that accomplished that. Then about six years ago while reading a book on haiku I had an “aha” moment. I was reading about juxtaposition in poetry and it occurred to me I could do the same thing with photography. After messing around with the approach, I started teaching it at my photography workshops. Basically, it’s all about using simplicity to create flow and relationships in an image. Now I approach all my photos that way.
I started taking pictures, developing my own film and printing in the darkroom during my sophomore year in high school. By the time I was a senior, they had to create private study courses for me and I cleared my schedule so I could spend hours a day in the darkroom. I didn’t starting making money with photography until I moved to Grand Marais. That was something like 13 or 14 years ago. I started teaching photography workshops in 2006, so it has been 11 years since I started teaching.
I travel a lot. Last year, I was on the road for over 100 days photographing places around the country. This year, I’ll probably beat that. I pick the places I go because the landscape in those locations fits my style. If I didn’t live in Grand Marais, I’d likely live somewhere else where I could continue to develop my look and style. But the reason that we moved to Grand Marais wasn’t for art. My wife and I love paddling. We moved to Grand Marais to live near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior so we could do what we love.
My style has evolved, as well as what I’m interested in photographing. For example, after college I was more interested in using photography to capture pictures of the adventures I was on. Now, I’m more interested in taking seascape and nightscape shots. Lately, I’ve been working on photographing old bikes with swallow depth-of-field, which is completely opposite of what I do in my landscape work. I’m a progressive at heart, so I’m a believer that if we maintain the same technique or style, it’ll get stale and will fail to adapt to modern sensibilities and standards. The progressive in me is always pushing forward in my work. I’m always evolving my way forward.
The biggest challenges for me are on the business side of photography. Before moving to Grand Marais, I was in corporate management. While I was good at it, I never enjoyed it. The same thing applies to photography. I’m good at the business side, but it is the least enjoyable part of what I do. But, if I want to make money, I have to take care of business. On the other side of your question, the reward is just being out in the field photographing. When I’m there, I’m usually experiencing flow, a state of being that puts you completely in the moment. Just being in the flow state is a sort of reward. The other big reward for me is teaching others how to take pictures. I feel like I owe photography for all the happiness that I’ve gotten out of it. I teach what I know to pay that back — my high school teacher was such an inspiration and drove me to get better and if I help someone learn photography in the way that he helped me then doing what I do is worth it. I just hope that I can help people.
My newsletter often has my latest work and either an article about a photography technique or photography philosophy. People can learn about my photography workshops at my website, too. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram.
I’ve been working on a project that I’m calling the Found Bike Project. When traveling, I’m looking for old bikes. When I find them I photograph them. I’m currently up to 22 bikes and am trying to get 50 or more before I end the project. For the project, I restricted myself to shooting with two different lenses. I’m using a 35mm f/1.4 for most of the shots, but if the bike is somewhere where I can’t get easily then I’ll use a 105mm f/2.8. I expect to produce at least one calendar for the project and maybe do an exhibit. One bike shop owner suggested I do a book and he’d be interested in selling it if I do.
I’m also trying to learn black and white digital infrared photography using a camera that was modified to capture infrared light instead of visible light.
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