Michael Seelig is donating the proceeds of his photography exhibit to the Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Every one of Michael Seelig’s photographs reflects a place, its character, its soul. He doesn’t enhance the images in any way. Photoshop’s magic is not for him. He even scoffs at cropping. “I might crop a tiny bit for the printing, just the edges,” he said in an interview with the Independent. “That’s my real challenge – to get every frame right.”
His approach to photography is that of an artist. And, he also paints, although unlike his photos, Seelig doesn’t sell his paintings. “They are for family and friends. I never exhibited them,” he said. “My paintings are mostly watercolors. The compositions are similar to my photographs – urban, for the most part – but they are different, too, depending on my mood, often architectural but less precise than photos, less angular. You have to allow the paints to run, to find their own way.”
Seelig’s solo exhibit Traces opened on Sept. 4 at the Zack Gallery. It is a fundraiser for the gallery. “I’m lucky to be able to donate this show to the gallery and the JCC [Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver],” he said. “My wife and I have been supporters of this important institution in Vancouver for many years. We donated time and money, worked as volunteers at various points. I think maybe some people will buy prints of my photographs because the proceeds would benefit the JCC.”
Seelig took most of the photographs during his travels, and he has traveled extensively, especially after he retired. “We live part of every year in Israel,” he explained. “Everything is close there – Europe and Asia.”
Many people travel and take photos, but not everybody can produce a body of photography worthy of an exhibition. Arriving on location is just a matter of buying a plane ticket, but finding uncommon angles and perspectives takes inspiration and a creative eye.
“I took the photo of the historical buildings in Budapest from the opposite roof,” he said about one of the images. “The view from there was outstanding, but I had to find the perfect spot for this shot. I’m interested in details and, for this shot, I wanted to align the lamp post with the border between the two buildings.”
Another of his images, a majestic panorama of Turkish mountains with an air balloon as a focal point, he took from an ascending balloon. “The view was spectacular, the juxtaposition of a thousands-year-old landscape and the bright modern balloon.” He couldn’t have gotten such an impressive shot any other way.
“That’s what I like about photography,” he said. “I’m always looking for things to photograph but, as a rule, panoramas don’t interest me.” Instead, he admitted his fascination with urban details.
As a professional architect, he taught urban planning and design at the University of British Columbia for 30 years and he frequently used his city photos for his lectures. “When I travel, I always have a camera with me, but not in Vancouver, not now. Before I retired, though, I photographed Vancouver for my PowerPoint presentations. I had a lecture on benches in the city, another one on traffic lights. Signs in Vancouver – the images were fantastic. None of those signs exists anymore, which is a pity. I have those photos somewhere.”
None of his Vancouver photos are on display in the gallery. Some pictures, however, represent highly unusual urban elements, like a stairway on a blank wall in India or wall paintings in Italy, which look like abstract canvasses. Others, Seelig took in nature, but the lines and correlations of light and shadow evoke man-made formations. Boulders, for example, pile haphazardly against a blindingly blue sky in Israel, like a modernist sculpture, although no human arranged them. The eerie composition was created by sun, sand and wind.
In one image, trees strain up in parallel lines in the forests of America or Turkey, lovely pastel patterns in yellow and green.
“I love trees,” said Seelig. “In this show, there are four different kinds of trees.” One tree in particular, an ancient terebinth growing in an Israeli desert among the rocks, seems surreal, almost sentient. The colors of the photo are muted silver and gold, bleached by the relentless sun, as the old gnarled tree contemplates the mysteries of the universe. It doesn’t feel like people should exist anywhere near it.
“I have been taking photos for many years,” said Seelig. “Before, they were either for my paintings, although I never copied them, not directly, just to remember something I saw, or I took photos for my teaching. In the last 15 years, I do a lot more photography.”
Seelig’s photos are available in limited editions of five only. Each one will last a long time, as he produces his prints not on photo paper but on archival metallic paper and mounted to aluminum.
Traces runs until Sept. 28.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].