Luminescence IV: Burnaby artist pushes the boundaries of photography

Grant Withers no longer tells people he’s a photographer.

“People ask, ‘What do you shoot? Do you do weddings?’” he says. “When people think ‘photography,’ they’re going to be surprised to see what I have on offer.”

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Yes, Withers’ work starts as a conventional photograph – but that’s just the beginning. He’s then taking work, printing it on photo paper and cutting and manipulating it into three-dimensional shapes, lit from within or without. His goal is to explore different ways of storytelling “using the medium to tell the story that the photograph itself tells.”

For Luminescence IV, Withers has created a work called Solar Flair (yes, that spelling of “flair” is intentional) – an animated, moving sculpture.

“The shadows that it casts are more fascinating than the piece itself,” he says. “It’s all about the sun, the movement of the sun, the play of light and shadow.”

Withers says the chance to be part of Luminescence has inspired him to push his art further and to keep exploring what he can do with photography.

“It’s really experimenting with what an art medium can do,” he says. “It’s a snowball effect: you see one possibility, and that affects what I try next. I’m moving to a conclusion I just can’t envision yet.”

Withers’ artistic journey is taking his own practice away from what he calls “pretty photography” and towards “art that says a bit more than just ‘wow, look at me.’” He wants to engage his audience in deeper thinking, he says, which means he demands more of his own work.

“Creating art that’s pretty makes the art very ephemeral. You see it, you’re maybe wowed by it, and you move on,” he says. “I need to grow and work a bit harder and have pieces that last, that people want to linger over.”

He wants viewers to come to their own conclusions about his work, he says – whatever those conclusions may be.

“There are as many interpretations as there are people looking at it,” he says.

He’s looking forward to the opening night celebrations, when visitors have a chance to talk about the art with the artists themselves. And, yes, Withers loves overhearing conversations about his own art – good or bad.

“I invite frank feedback,” he says, noting he’s intrigued by the kind of art that provokes feelings of dislike or revulsion in people – and trying to figure out why it does. “I want something that provokes something. These days I’m looking at those things that cross that line. … I’m fascinated by that."

Withers is also looking forward to seeing what the other artists have come up with and talking to them about their own work.

“Each time I’m blown away by the art that’s on display,” he says. “It’s very inspiring.”

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