It can be tough making friends when you’re the only kid your age in the neighbourhood. Luckily for a young Freeman Patterson, there was an endless number of lifelong companions right outside his front door.
“I grew up here in southern New Brunswick and I was the only child my age in the community, so my best friends were simply everything around me in the natural world – the Saint John River, the pebbles on the shore, the forest glens, all of these things,” said the now world-renowned photographer, who shies away from the label of “nature photographer.”
“I never think of myself as a nature photographer because in the public mind, it raises [images] of grizzly bears and giraffes . . . but I’m far more interested simply in natural creation, my basic inspiration.”
This is precisely the theme of Patterson’s current exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The collection, entitled Embracing Creation, is a major retrospective showcase that explores the Canadian artist’s extraordinary creative vision over a lifetime.
It has certainly been an astonishing journey for Patterson since he began his work in photography in 1965 – from working for the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board of Canada and establishing photography workshops all around the world, to publishing over a dozen books and being appointed to the Order of Canada in 1985.
He devotes three months every spring entirely to the wilderness and his own gardens in Shamper’s Bluff, New Brunswick. Each year he also returns to Namaqualand, South Africa, which he feels is his second spiritual home.
But Patterson asserts that he – and his immense body of work – are “not about God.”
“I don’t give a hoot what anyone believes or doesn’t believe about God; it’s an irrelevant question for me. We can all agree, however, that we live in an absolutely remarkable creation and what it does, absolutely nonstop, is it creates. For me, the exhibition is a celebration of that whole process,” said Patterson.
The exhibition is being presented in conjunction with a major book published by Goose Lane Editions and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery this past September.
Entitled Freeman Patterson: Embracing Creation, the book contains most of the images in the exhibition plus several others – approximately 120-125 photographs that span the years from 1966 to 2013. A major essay on Freeman’s artistic journey by the exhibition curator, Tom Smart, and 12 shorter essays by Freeman are also included.
Freeman calls the essays a collection of “things that matter to me as a human being,” the chief of which is the concept of “home,” which has influenced a great deal of his work.
“If you have a chance to look at the book and the chapter on ‘home,’ I write about two incredibly significant homes, one of which is Shamper’s Bluff and the other being . . . Namaqualand in South Africa,” said Patterson.
“Home is a place where you can feel fully present to yourself, where you feel an incredible emotional sense of total connection, and I feel that here.”
Embracing Creation will be on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery until Jan. 12.