NORTHERN EXPOSURE –THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF HELEN GROSE
Article by Matt Driscoll / Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Minute by minute and season by season, the canvas of the natural world is transformed and redrawn. It’s Helen Grose’s mission to frame that canvas and share the experience with the wider world.
A fine art nature photographer, Grose was born in Oakville but finds her muse to be an 80-acre piece of property, just north of Milford Bay, between Bracebridge and Port Carling. The property contains both her home and her studio – a renovated barn where she has her work on display to the public.
“The commute is pretty spectacular,” says Grose. “It takes about two minutes unless I see something interesting that catches my eye and I stop to check it out.”That could be plants or butterflies, birds or four-legged Muskoka residents.
“Last year, we had a pair of kestrels build a nest on the property in one of the trees. I’d stop by regularly and see how things were going,” she says. “It was fascinating but the parents didn’t seem to like it too much. They’d come over and swoop at me.”
While Grose shoots everything from portraits and sports to special events and editorial content, her passion lies in capturing the natural beauty of Muskoka and the surrounding area.
She can trace her love of both photography and wildlife back to her earliest days.
“I honestly don’t remember when I first became interested in photography,” she says. “Even when I was a kid and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic.”
Her father gave her his old film camera and taught her the basics, but Grose says she’s almost entirely self-taught.
“In my opinion, there are really two types of photographers – those who are most interested in the technical side of things like the latest technology and the number of megapixels – and those who approach it from a more artistic side,” she says. “I definitely skew more towards that artistic side.”
Grose says without researching and knowing your subjects, without patience and determination, without truly understanding the beauty and feeling the experience unfolding in front of you, you’re simply watching life through small pieces of expensive glass.
While she was born and raised in Oakville, Grose says her childhood property was more rural during that time than it is currently. She attended Lakefield College School, just outside of Peterborough, and says that’s where her love of the outdoors really took off.
Her professional career in photography began with her travelling across North America and Europe, shooting professional sporting events. Her subject material expanded over the years, as did the list of publications that included her work. Forbes magazine, National Geographic Kids and The National Post are just a few names on the long list of publications that have used her work.
At the time, Grose worked out of Toronto primarily but was a frequent guest to Muskoka and fell in love with its unique landscape and wildlife. When the opportunity presented itself to open a gallery in the area in 2015, Grose was all in.
When the gallery closed its doors for the first winter season, Grose decided to turn her efforts towards renovating her property and creating her own gallery. She officially opened her gallery doors to the public in August of 2019 and says the response has been great so far.
She lives on the property year-round with her partner and her four “fur babies.’’ They consist of two cats and two dogs: Hudson (a Moosonee Puppy Rescue dog named for his original home near Hudson Bay) and Beatrice (named for the studio’s proximity to the Beatrice Town Line).
Grose has also been increasingly focused on the instructional side of her vocation. In 2017, she decided to become a photography instructor at Georgian College in Barrie.
“I actually had a friend who was teaching the class and she wasn’t able to continue doing it with anyone, so I took it over,” says Grose. “I had already been hosting my own workshops, as well as a women’s photography weekend in Algonquin Park.”
Grose says teaching the classes and hosting outdoor workshops has become one of the most satisfying aspects of her work.
“I just love seeing it click with people,” she says. “When you’re out in nature, you can have some truly incredible experiences. When you’re with other people, you’re able to share those experiences. It puts it on an entirely different level than when you’re by yourself.”
One of her favourite locations to conduct workshops is Algonquin Park, a location where she’s spent countless hours tracking and shooting across all four seasons.
“There are some very rewarding spots in Algonquin but I spend a lot of time exploring new areas,” she says. “I’m passionate about wildlife photography and that’s primarily what I shoot but I will shoot landscape, if it’s something striking.”
Grose says her favourite animal to shoot is the wolf which she feels has garnered a significant amount of unwarranted resentment from the public.
“It’s such an elusive animal that it makes those shots even more meaningful,” she says. “They’re aware that you’re there but I’ve never felt intimidated when I’ve been shooting them.”
Helen is a member of Nature First – an alliance for responsible nature photography. The group is guided by principles developed to help educate and guide both professional and recreational photographers in sustainable, minimal impact practices that will help preserve nature. She says her workshops help her share those values with other aspiring photographers.
“I think helping them to develop that connection with nature really helps people to get a better understanding of conservation,” she says. “The more people have an understanding of the natural world, the more we can help ensure that natural world is able to thrive.”