Visually Speaking: A Retrospective of Photographer Dick Groot

Anna Horsnell

Dick Groot sits quietly in a chair. He takes his time absorbing the carefully chosen images hung on the gallery walls around him, a retrospective of his 65 years as a photographer. He pauses occasionally, remembering the stories, the people, and the places, and he is content. From KODAK BROWNIE to SMARTPHONE is his artistic journey, a very special show currently on exhibit at ArtCan Gallery in Canning.

A Dutch-Canadian, Groot grew up in Amsterdam during World War II and the years of recovery that followed. “For me, photography began in 1954. In my third year of secondary school, I discovered that there was a photo club and the magic of photography changed my life.” The lovely companion catalogue to the exhibition provides this and many more intimate memories and insights from over the years, including Groot’s move to Wolfville in 2002. Here he would build a lovely studio overlooking the dykes and Cape Blomidon from where he could finally turn his full attention to photography. That would include publishing several books, including Come from Away: Artists of Minas Basin (2004) and We Wanted it to Last Forever (2015). Indeed, Groot’s photography and writing have recorded poignant times in our local culture and history. All of these things have resulted in a rich creative life deserving recognition. What have the years taught him? “I was educated as a survey engineer. I liked to be outside and I have enjoyed what I have seen of the world, especially Canada, but I did not like the work all that much,” he explains, “I learned that I am an artist at heart and I feel very fulfilled in that. In my photography I have learned that less is better. There should be a simplicity in what you want to say in your images, not easy to do.”

The nature of creativity invariably exposes an artist and their work to scrutiny. Groot mirrors that thought, “You know when you get complimented and made to feel successful by people, and in the back of your mind is this little voice whispering, ‘wait until they find out what a lousy photographer you are,’ but then there is the truly wonderful, deeply satisfying feeling of having made a fine print.” In the end, the artist’s own creative nature, that desire to make art, propels him forward. “I just did my photography and let it take me wherever. I am very happy and fulfilled by it, and I learned to look at the world like a photographer.”

ArtCan Gallery owner and artist Ron Hayes and his assistant Leah Visser have done a masterful job in hanging the show. “We are very pleased to present another exhibition of Dick Groot’s photography,” Hayes smiles while sharing. “His first show at ArtCan Gallery was in 2004. This new show is even larger. We hope everyone can take the time to visit us and enjoy it.”

From nearly 1000 images, 60 were selected for this exhibition. An emotional choice for Groot, prompting him to turn the decisions over to curator Becky Parsons who thankfully agreed. She chose well, often surprising Groot in her determination. The photos range from several of Groot’s very first photos taken as a young student to more recent work taken on a smartphone, reflecting the changing technology. “This is a beautifully rounded exhibition of Groot’s photo artwork,” says Parsons, “where you’ll see an interlacing of the four major themes that have inspired the artist throughout the years: Abandonment, street, landscape, and portraiture. The unique way this work is exhibited gives emphasis to how these themes have overlapped and remained a steady muse for Groot’s entire photography practice.“

With this pause and reflection on his work, Groot now looks forward. “Next is to stop making these large shows but to have smaller more intimate work, maybe in innovative ways of display. Also, I want to get more into making books myself, small elegant books that combine photography with well thought out texts printed on beautiful material. I am interested in typography and want to pursue that.” He thoughtfully continues, ”I want to add that both Elisabeth and I feel blessed to be in Nova Scotia, Wolfville in particular. There is a human dimension in the broadest sense that fits us to a T.”

A retrospective is a unique and not-to-be-missed opportunity for both artist and gallery visitor. Here is the passage of time in the artist’s life and work gathered in one space. Much can be learned, such as reoccurring or evolving subject matter, maturing style, and ability. Here also are the images themselves caught in that decisive moment of light and composition and emotion to which the artist draws our attention. And, most certainly, here is the accomplishment of a serious photographer.

The final words belong to Groot himself in a quote from the exhibition catalogue: “I photograph light disguised as objects in the street, in portraits, and in the landscape…I hope that my love for this art form comes through in this show.”

*The exhibition *From KODAK BROWNIE to SMARTPHONE, My Journey in Photography* continues to July 3, 2021 at ArtCan Gallery, 9850 Main Street in Canning. Anyone wishing a personal viewing and discussion with the artist at the gallery may arrange a private time to meet him by calling 1-902-670-3218.*

Photo courtesy of Dick Groot.