(Above: “Great Blue Heron in Alton Baker Park” is one of 36 pictures in Greg Giesy’s show, “Connecting with Nature,” on the walls at the University of Oregon Law School.)
By Randi Bjornstad
Walk up the open staircase at the University of Oregon School of Law at 15th and Agate streets, and when you get to the top you will be treated with a show of photographs — mostly birds, but also a few plants, a squirrel and even a garter snake nest — by Eugene art photographer Greg Giesy.
“Wow,” you might think, “This guy must spend all his time traveling all over the country taking these pictures — wish I could do that,” but you’d be wrong.
In fact, that’s one of the points Giesy hopes to make with his exhibit, “Connecting with Nature,” on display at the law school through the end of the year, with an artist’s reception on Sept. 21.
“I try to emphasize through my work that you don’t have to go far to see birds and plants and animals — nature is right outside the door,” Giesy said. “But a lot of people don’t really pay much attention, so they miss all the beautiful things that are right nearby.”
He takes many of his photos in Alton Baker Park, at the Delta Ponds and near the Bertelsen Nature Park in west Eugene, with occasional forays to the Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis, the Bandon marshes or the wildlife refuge near Klamath Falls.
“I didn’t travel much for a long time because of my business,” he said. “Now that we’re retired, we might do more of that.”
“We” refers to Giesy and Sharon Berry, his life partner of more than three decades. Until recently, the two owned Distinct Possibilities Landscaping, designing and installing residential yards and gardens. That’s one thing that got Giesy into serious photography, taking closeup photos of foliage and landscape plants to show clients.
“We took a lot of vegetation photos so we could show people step-by-step how their landscaping could progress,” he said, “but even before that, I had been interested in photography.”
Giesy grew up in Eugene — he’s a fifth-generation Oregonian, dating so far back that Oregon was a territory, not a state — and he remembers taking photos as a kid.
But his first exposure to serious photography came when he attended the University of Oregon and went with friends from a class to an 85-acre wetlands plot the Nature Conservancy had acquired between Halsey and Harrisburg.
“Our school project was how to use that parcel to get people interested in going out to see nature,” Giesy recalled. “That’s what got me interested in nature photography.”
His first camera was a 35 mm Petri that he bought from a friend.
“He’d been in Vietnam, and he brought two cameras back with him,” Giesy said. “He had paid $25 for the Petri, so I gave him $25 and a meal.”
He and Berry got interested in bird photography after taking a class about 10 years ago — “It was in winter, and we just about froze, but we became birdwatchers,” she said — and that’s their main interest now. It requires packing much larger lenses, up to a 600 mm that together with Giesy’s 50-megapixel camera weighs in at 8 pounds.
“He takes so many pictures, and managing them is a real job — we download them and probably get rid of 10-20 percent right off the bat, and then we start narrowing it down further,” Berry said. “Photographing birds can be difficult — you can shoot a frame and the bird is no longer in it, or it’s looking the wrong way or it’s out of focus. There’s a lot of ugly stuff.”
But what passes muster, like the images in the law school show, can be spectacular. There’s a Western meadowlark in a fighting stance among reeds, ready to defend his territory.
A bald eagle duo sits on a branch against an impossibly blue sky.
A heron flies over a marsh in rain and fog, the photograph taking on the hues and softness of a painting by an Old Master.
Two Canada goslings spar with each other over some perceived slight.
“In my experience, Canada geese are unhappy birds from Day One,” Giesy said. “They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about. I remember once we came across some in a wetland somewhere, and one of them followed us all the way out, all the way back to our car, just honking and angry all the way.”
Unlike many photographers, who in the digital age drastically manipulate photos for artistic effect, Giesy and Berry prefer photographs that capture the birds as naturally as possible.
“We look at things like brightness, clarity and a little bit of saturation to make it more like what the eye sees instead of what the camera sees, because it’s not quite the same,” he said. “But other than that, we want it to be as much as possible the way we saw it — we don’t digitally remove branches or clear cuts or change the color of the sky or add clouds or anything like that.”
That brings a laugh from Berry.
“Well, just once,” she admitted. “In the picture of the baby geese, there was a pile of poop right in the middle of the frame. That was just too much.”
“Connecting with Nature” is the largest one-person show the award-winning Giesy has staged. His work also has been shown at the O’Brien Photo Gallery, Wild Birds Unlimited and the Oregon Research Institute.
Connecting with Nature
When: Through Dec. 31, daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: University of Oregon School of Law, 1515 Agate St., Eugene
Special event: Reception for the artist, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 21
Information: 541-687-1858 or greggiesyphotography.com