Garry Conway
A Natural at Photography

MOSAiC, Spring 2012
by Sue Iboni

Hipwaders, wilderness canoe trips, overnight in a remote cabin, hours spent with a telephoto lens trained on the subject; whatever it takes to get the perfect image of his chosen species. Garry Conway does it.

Garry has always been interested in nature. As a young boy growing up in the Maritimes, he spent hours exploring the woods behind his house and climbing the nearby “mountain” which he now realizes might have been just a hill. He also remembers spending time by the sea. In his early 20’s he bought property of his own on Molega Lake near Kejimkujik National Park, so remote that it was only accessible by an old logging road. In the winter he had to ski in. Although he didn’t build on it for several years, it provided it place for him to roam and learn.

When did the camera come into his life? Well from the age of 7 this little shutter bug played with his parents Kodak Brownie, and at 9 he got his own Instamatic for Christmas. In his teens he remembers taking a lot of seascapes. He says “I became a bit obsessed with photographing waves.”

While exploring the back woods of Nova Scotia, and photographing the ocean, Garry enrolled in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, majoring in painting, dabbling in every medium along the way. He often used photography to document his work. After graduating he began a career as director of Eye Level Gallery in Halifax. This was followed by a move to Toronto and a term as Executive Director of Canadian Artists Representation Ontario (CARFAC Ont.), in Toronto where he branched out into the legal side of art – artist exhibition rights, copyright laws, and policy guidelines for the income tax act as it relates to artists. He also worked with art historian Robert Stacey to develop a history of the Ontario Society of Artists.

Then a pivotal moment in his life and career – Garry met Pam Heron. A naturalist herself, Pam convinced Garry to give up city life and move to King. They now live in Laskay very near a tract of land owned by TRCA. Referred to as Humber Trails, it was formerly occupied by cottages that were wiped out by Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s. Garry goes there often with his telephoto lens and extension tubes that allow him to stay 15 – 20 feet away from the subject and thus capture a true close-up image. Sometimes he has to wait for hours to get the perfect shot.

Other favourites shooting locations include Happy Valley Forest in the Oak Ridges Moraine, Algonquin Park, and their own backyard where Pam plants her favourite native plants and vegetables, and Garry takes the pictures. They also go back to the property in Nova Scotia every August-September where they recently built a cottage. There are lakes nearby where they are the only people paddling silently through the quite waters, using their topographical maps as guides. Their favourite subjects change from season to season and from year to year. Frogs and robins are abundant in the spring, along with local wildflowers such as Bloodroot, and False Solomon’s Seal. Right now Garry is also a fan of Lichen. “I love lichen” he says. And with good reason; lichen are considered great indicators of air quality because they fail to grow where there is strong pollution.

Our cover photo on this issue of King MOSAiC shows a Bloodroot just opening. Bloodroot is known for its bisexual survival ability, the juice from its roots used by the Algonquin as a dye for staining, and its medicinal properties used to counteract Poison Ivy and a cancer treatment. Quite unique and useful subject for Garry’s camera. He says he was attracted to this particular flower because he saw the way “the decaying leaf seemed to embrace and protect the delicate flower as it made its way toward the light.” As one can image, he had to lie face-down on the ground in his backyard in order to capture this perfect image.

 When not lying around in his backyard or sitting in a canoe with binoculars and camera, Garry keeps busy teaching workshops and course on camera use and shooting tips. All of his education offerings include at least some time for shooting Outdoors. A trip planned for next fall has students trekking to a remote eco-lodge in Algonquin Park where the only power is electricity generated by river current. Over three days and two nights participants will have plenty of time to explore nature and share their photos. Garry says that one of the best things about teaching is what he can learn from his students.

A profound and timely philosophy about photography is part of Garry’s strength as an artist. He suggested that photographs “have become another language” in today’s 21st century. Modern teens use their phones as cameras and continually snap news shots, unusual items, current events which sometimes go viral. It is their most important communication tool. He feels that the constant changes in technology constitute one of the biggest challenges in this field of photography.

In his spare time Garry takes estate photographs, often stitching several shots together to create a panoramic effect. He designs websites for other artists and helps them with other technological issues. He participates in Arts Society King and was, in fact, one of our founding members and our first prsidcent back in 2005. He is currently co-chair of the upcoming ASK Studio Tour. This year’s tour features four new artists and a new venue, The Postmaster House in Nobleton.

One big question haunts our March cover artist: what to do with over 30,000 photographs he has taken? He has several displayed in his heritage home, has given some away as gifts, and has some hanging in Galleries. He also will be selling them at the Spring Studio Tour – come out and see his display at Laskay Hall. This years show stopper will be lichen.