Artist at Work: Robert Harwood, Photographic Portraits of Birds

by Laureen on August 7, 2013


Robert Harwood “Goldfinch on Sunflowers” (archival photograph)

The artists who exhibit with Grasslands Gallery are some of the most talented and inspiring people I know. This occasional series introduces them and their work.

Robert Harwood is one of many Grasslands Gallery artists who have chosen Val Marie and the Grasslands as the centre of their creative lives. In 2010, Bob and his wife Pamela Woodland, also a Grasslands Gallery artist, moved from southern Ontario to a house on an acre of land on the edge of the village. Many of Bob’s birds find him somewhere on that property. Robert Harwood speaks to these beautiful avian creatures and they speak back.

You can view and purchase Robert Harwood’s photographs in person at the gallery or online from the Grasslands Gallery shop. Just click on any image. Here, Bob talks about his photographs and his process.

“I’ve been taking photographs since I was about twenty years old. My good friend, the photographer James Page, another Grasslands Gallery artist, helped me buy my first SLR camera, a Pentax Spotmatic, back in the early 1970s. With the advent of digital photography, though, I could finally afford the amount of “film” I needed to properly investigate photography’s complexities and become more skillful with the camera. I bought my first digital camera in 2001, just before my first visit to Val Marie.


Robert Harwood “Redpolls in Winter” (archival photograph)

“I used to take photographs of everything. Shapes, shadows, landscapes, kitchen sinks. But, while digital photography allowed me the luxury of taking many many photographs, it also meant that I had to find the time to process those images. It was no longer sufficient to send them off and wait for the prints to come back. Eventually I found I had to be more judicious in selecting the subjects of my images.


Robert Harwood “Bison with Magpie” (archival photograph)

“I also used to spend at least one day a week in a conservation area in southern Ontario, tramping through the woods and the grasses. Eventually bird photography moved into the forefront. I remember, some years ago in Val Marie, being particularly excited about a session I had with a Meadowlark which, perched on an old fence with its back arched and its head tossed back, was throwing its amazing prairie song to the skies. I think that was the moment my focus definitively shifted, and I began seriously concentrating on bird portraits. And that’s the key. I don’t photograph birds as much as attempt to take their portraits.


Robert Harwood “Western Meadowlark – Spring Song” (archival photograph)

“I’ll spend a lot of time catching a useful photograph. Where I know there’s a nest in the spring, I might set up a small camouflaged tent, a “blind,” the kind hunters use, and spend some time in there waiting for a prospective parent to come bearing twigs to build a nest. Or in the fall I might do the same by a berry bush where waxwings congregate. I won’t go close to a nest once the eggs have been laid, or especially after the eggs have hatched. There’s too great a chance of scaring off the parent, or startling the young ones out of the nest before they’ve fledged. I need to be as unobtrusive as possible. Otherwise I walk with open ears, as I never know what might appear around the next tree.”


Robert Harwood, “House Finch” (archival photograph)

These photos and many other choices are available for purchase at Grasslands Gallery. Just click on the image. For stories about other Grasslands Gallery artists, please go here.

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The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates with beautiful images, stories about the Grasslands and its artists and inspiration every week, just put your email in the box on the right. We never share your email address.


Pamela Woodland August 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

Very nicely presented.

Laureen August 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

The photos are so beautiful!

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