A&E » Arts

Playing with light

Mark Richards takes traditional photography, printmaking to next artistic level with ‘luminous photo impressionism’



Ethereal clouds streak across a powder-blue sky that fades into a cast of warm yellow and orange hues, the sun disappearing behind a distant mountain range, while in the foreground, treetops pop up, illuminated by the glowing rays that are quickly slipping away as day turns to night.

This universally awe-inspiring vista captured on a canvas titled "Sunset at Khyber" is just one of many brilliant natural scenes depicted by Whistler-based artist Mark Richards.

While there are scores of talented scenic photographers in Whistler, busily snapping away to capture the natural beauty of the region, Richards's work stands out from the rest, vibrant artistic renderings that aren't quite photograph or painting, alone.

"Everyone asks me, 'is that a painting or a photograph?' Usually it's a couple that's arguing, and I say, 'you're both right.' It's the best of both worlds," Richards explained with a smile.

Richards learned the art of photography and printmaking from his father, a well-known artist who worked at the National Gallery of Canada for almost 25 years, managing the photographic division and developing Canada's first multimedia division. As such, the young Richards grew up surrounded by darkrooms, developing chemicals and printing plates.

"Then eventually digital technology started to really catch up and become sophisticated enough that the quality was there to start working with fine art," Richards said.

There is, of course, a camp of old school film purists who are very technical and get caught up in the analytical process and technical rules.

"Some people don't even believe in cropping!" he exclaimed.

But the Richards family lives by a different artistic mantra: the rules are meant to be broken.

"For us, the photography is a very powerful component, a very powerful tool, but it's not the end-all, be-all; it's just one of our tools."

In 2005, Richards decided to quit his job as an electrical engineer and move to Nova Scotia to continue training with his father and developing their technique. Shortly after, he packed his possessions into a trailer and headed West, settling in the lush mountains of Whistler, where he developed his own distinct style and pushed the cutting-edge technique to its limits.

Their subject matter - breathtaking mountain scenes and Atlantic seascapes - may seem conservative, but their technique is what sets them apart.

Together, the father and son creative team have created a unique process of blending painting and photography, creating pieces that blur the lines between realism and impressionism. They call this technique "Luminous Photo Impressionism."

Richards's eyes light up and he starts making animated hand gestures as he explains the technical processes that are used in traditional film development to create a balance of light and shadow in any given photograph. Then, he delves into his own technique.