Cool Colors From the Wilderness

Swedish wildlife author and photographer Claes Grundsten talked about his photo philosophy, camera technics and visual style in front of some twenty or thirty spectators on May 18 at Galleri Kontrast in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I will show you what I have done the last two years,” said Grundsten, who has been a freelance since his teens. However, it was not until he turned 40 and passed through a crisis that he decided to quit his daytime job and become a fulltime author.

The 61-year-old photographer is one of Sweden’s foremost experts on high mountains. He has published more than 25 books about nature far and near. His new book Lapland — My Mountain World will be out in August.

“These kind of people are often lonely wolves,” one spectator said. “The only way to get to know how they work is to listen when they have lectures.”

Grundsten started his speech with pictures from the world heritage in Tasmania, an island south of the Australian mainland. “We were going down to Federation Peak,” he said. “Enourmous bogs that are very gooey.” He showed a photograph of tea-colored water and explained how it was dyed by the trees.

“In these valleys there are forests that no human being has treaded”, Grundsten said. “Enormous gardens. It’s almost impassable.” He told that this was the habitat of the so-called Tasmanian devil. “Some people believes that its jaws are as strong as a crocodile’s,” he said.

One day in the jungle, Grundsten had bad luck and sprained his foot. At first he went on hiking, but finally he had to push his GPS. “It didn’t cost me anything, because I had an obvious foot injury, which a doctor also verified,” he said. “I got a helicopter trip over Tasmania on the bargain.”

Grundsten showed photos from other parts of the world, as well. A wolverine ran 500 meters up a snowy mountain. “Such sights make me extremely happy,” the photographer said.

He tries to cultivate his own personality so that it shows in his photo art. “I want that pictures I take shall be possible to find by foot, because it has a more natural feeling to it,” he said. He calls this participating photography.

“The result normally gets better if I’m out for a walk, sits down and philosophize, unlike if I’m landing with a chopper and take my photos,” Grundsten said. “Finding motifs when you’re going by car is a tough job.” He also has a dissociated feeling about pictures taken from the air, he said.

Grundsten says that photography is related to hunting. “You have to focus the lens, and so on,” he said. “If you’re out in the field a great amount of time, you will sooner or later have luck. That’s in the nature of things.”

In his speech, Grundsten went on with motifs from the Sierra de Gredos, which is a mountain range in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. “Here they have skiing all the year round,” he said. “Here we did some hiking.”

If you can recognize a face in a photo, it becomes a picture of that person rather than a picture of nature, Grundsten said. “When I’m traveling I also take pictures of human beings, but I think that photographing people I don’t know is intruding,” he said. “That’s the main reason why I take pictures of nature.”

“Who is the artist, nature or me?” Grundsten asked the audience and showed a decorative rock landscape from Jordan. According to his photo guru Ansel Adams, painting is an analytic art form, while photography is a synthetic art form. Grundsten calls this the art of being there.
Credibility is a problem related to nature photograpy, Grundsten said adding, “We can never be sure whether the photograph is taken in a game park or in nature.” He talked about his own pictures of giraffes, lions and a tiger.

He also showed a photo of bears fighting outside a hiding-place. “What attitude should you take to this kind of picture?” Grundsten said. “There is something that doesn’t feel authentic.”

He believes that this kind of common motifs make the photographer think: How shall I get my own picture? “It’s better to find your own areas,” Grundsten said.
“You can take pictures that were not possible 20 years ago,” he said. “If you look carefully, here breeds Sweden’s rarest bird of prey, the gerfalcon.”

Finally, Grundsten showed photographs from the north of Sweden. “Ice and snow are tremendously aesthetical areas”, he said. “There’s a lot of surveys showing that blue universally is the most preferred color.” To catch the spacious landscape is always a challenge, Grundsten said adding, “When we work with heights the scale is crucial. The midwinter light is my favorite light.”

Grundsten has received many prizes for his books and photography. In September, he confers a honorary doctor’s degree at Stockholm University. 

©Torgny Lilja (2011)