Jim Friesen - Photography


If you’ve visited my website you know that this image, “The Swimmer”, is on my home page. It is represented by Peppa Martin of Truth and Beauty Galleries and has been my most successful piece, financially at least.


The other day Katherine and I were driving home from Kits Beach where we had walked Dusty. The streets were empty except for the occasional car and pedestrian. We drove down 16th and as we passed Heather street, and Peppa’s gallery, I realized she had “The Swimmer” hanging in her big window. I was hoping she chose it because it might bring some calm, peace and maybe hope to whoever passed by.


This photo is important to me. Every summer, for nearly fifteen years, our good friends David and Carol let us use their home on the Sunshine Coast for a week long getaway. Those memories are precious. The picture was taken on the beach at Sechelt, B.C., not far from where we stayed. When I saw the lone swimmer in the calm, early morning water, I grabbed my camera and took the picture. 


The processed image was in the first showing of ‘The Collective’; photographs curated by Peppa, for Truth and Beauty. One of the highlights of my life was when, amid the buzz and tinkle of wine glass conversation, Peppa sidled up to me and whispered, “Your piece just sold.” 


The print was bought by a lovely woman, named June, who lived nearby in an old, but beautifully renovated house where she had raised a family and now lived on her own. When I met her she graciously invited me to see where my photo would be going.


When June showed me her home I was overwhelmed. She was a collector. I have forgotten most of the pieces but I vividly remember a floor to ceiling Rauschenberg and a beautiful drawing from Paris by Jack Shadbolt. She told me the history of the piece and that she had bought it when she and her husband had very little money. She had met Shadbolt at the gallery where it was showing and told him that she loved the piece but couldn’t afford it. He suggested she pay it off over time using some of the family allowance cheque she got every month. She agreed to the plan and that was the first piece in her collection. I was humbled to be among such greats. 


A few weeks ago I got a call from the University of British Columbia/Vancouver General Hospital art acquisitions department. A woman there told me that June had donated “The Swimmer” to them and they were very much looking forward to hanging it. Unfortunately June had put the print under a skylight without putting protective glass over it. The UV rays discoloured it and this woman was hoping that I would agree to provide them a replacement print. I spoke to Peppa, who immediately agreed, and we started to plan the process. Then Covid 19 hit. I lost contact with the woman and haven’t heard from her since. I’m sure her priorities have shifted. I’m hoping to go through with it in the future.


I don’t usually explain pictures or even give titles that might limit the viewers freedom of interpretation. With “The Swimmer”, however, I will. Every picture is a metaphor. Usually I don’t think about them when I am snapping the shutter. I am responding to light, line, colour and all the technical decisions that go into getting the shot. It is often much later, as I work on them that the symbolic meaning or metaphor begins to take shape. That was the case with “The Swimmer”. 


My friends Ria and Susy introduced me to the practice of Nicheren Shoshu Buddhism in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until my mid thirties, a time when I was forced to re-examine my life and take responsibility for some of the actions and beliefs of my youth that I began to practice it. That has coloured the way I look at the “The Swimmer”.


We, each of us, feels alone but in fact are connected to everyone and everything. One's actions, good and bad, radiate out from us like the sound of a bell when it is rung. Those waves are like the fingerprint of an individuals life. Often, our actions effect things far beyond our vision. We can only do our best to make those effects beneficial, if that is our goal. 


There are other interpretations that can be applied to this photo. I always thought that the most successful pieces of art are full of potential meaning. 


I can only hope that the effects of my best actions radiate out like the small ripples from a swimmer. Maybe, someday, long after I am gone, someone being wheeled down a corridor towards an operating room in a large Vancouver hospital will see “The Swimmer” and feel a moment of calm, peace and, perhaps, hope.



Gravity Press has done me the honor of publishing a collection of my poetry and a few photographs. I will be celebrating on April 14, 2019, one p.m., at Visual Space Gallery, 3352 Dunbar Street, Vancouver, B.C.


Books will be available for purchase. You can also order them by contacting me directly. You can find the contact info on this website. The price is $20 plus any shipping costs, usually around $5, depending on where you are. It is an extremely limited run of 50 copies and is approximately 85 pages, soft cover, and includes 26 poems, 2 black and white plates, and 6 colour plates.

I stayed in downtown Winnipeg on a recent trip. I was carless which gave me an opportunity to take more photos at street level while I walked around. The city has evolved in a way that seems to be a strange balance of growth and decay. The downtown experience, coloured by early memories, was strange and beautiful, and slightly unsettling.


Many of you know where I work and what I do. For those who don't, I work at Central City Lodge in downtown Vancouver. I am a Recreation Program Coordinator. Recently CCL put together a website and asked me to contribute the photography. I gathered some images taken by various rec staff members and then I took some photos with my new Fuji XT2. I have given those photos to the Lodge but I can share the website and thereby share the photos. I am proud of the place I work, the work I have done for 35 years and the photos I took for the website. Click here to see it. You'll have to explore the site to find the photos. I hope you enjoy the process. The photo above is just to grab your attention. I hope it worked.

I woke up in the early morning looking out at what had, not much earlier, been a darkness filled with music and fireworks. Now the cold and damp leached into my bones as I found the bathroom and prepared for my last day on the road.


Reykjavik was only two or three hours away but it turned out to be the most harrowing part of the journey. The weather was getting colder, wetter and windier. There were pockets of dense fog, heavy rain and occasional strong winds. One of the handouts I got with the rental car warned me not to leave my car doors open on the side of the road because they acted like sails and the cars could be pushed by the wind. It was that kind of day.



I did pull over and took some photos but I was feeling the call of home and even the Old Bicycle Shop, where I would spend my final night in Reykjavik, seemed like a much better option than conditions I was facing on the road. 


There were not many other cars on the highway but the fog, rain, wind and many twists and dips in the last stretch began to take its toll on my nerves. It seemed to be intensifying as I got closer to the city but just as I was going through what seemed to be the worst of it, I crested a hill to see this ...

... so I pulled over, grabbed my camera and caught the moment. When I turned around I realized that I had left a door open and had to use all my considerable strength (ha!) to close it against a heavy wind.


From there on the weather improved and by the time I pulled up outside the Old Bicycle Shop it was grey but calm. I had a long hot shower, got dressed and walked the familiar streets of Reykjavik.

I had one last meal at a fabulous Thai restaurant that Katherine and I had found and returned to the guest house where I had a really pleasant conversation with some of the world travellers who were staying there, including a brilliant young man from the Philippines who had discovered that he had Icelandic genes in his family and was now studying Nordic mythology and language for his doctorate. I finally went to my room and settled in to read myself to sleep so I could get up early, return my rental car and get to the airport for my flight home. 


I took one more photo from my bedroom window ...

... went to bed and carried out my departure plan to perfection. 


As I walked through the airport something caught my eye. It was a quote, in a window, by Bjork and I thought it was a good way to end this journal. 


I want to thank you all for letting me relive this fantastic trip with you. I also want to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah or whatever you choose to celebrate during this dark, cold season. Most of all I wish you all health and happiness in the New Year and beyond. 

I woke up in an almost empty parking lot, in a cold car. My body told me I was a 64 year old man who should be home in bed but it also felt like a post-party morning back in my late teens or early twenties. I kind of liked it. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling. I found a washroom then went into the cafeteria for a quick breakfast. Soon I was headed back to the glacier lagoon. 


Before I started in on the ice floes I snapped a picture of someone walking across the bridge that spans the river going out to sea. Every photo is a self portrait. 

I became captivated by the miniature icebergs in the lagoon and could have spent the day trying to find just the right angles and patterns.

As I said, I became captivated. Take my word, there were plenty more pictures and I don't think I ever captured what I was hoping to. I took one more shot of the bridge and the floes drifting out to sea, got back in my car and headed to the Glacier National Park to see if Yullia wanted a ride back to Reykjavik.

I had lunch but was unable to reach Yullia on the cell phone. I found out later that the hike was longer than she expected, the weather worse and that she had no reception for her phone. But she survived and eventually made it back to the airport on her own. We are still facebook friends.


I was grateful for her company but it felt somehow right that I should finish the journey on my own.


The weather had turned. It was now less hospitable and there was a very different mood to my final days in Iceland. There is no use talking about the pictures I didn't take or the reasons I didn't find a way to take them but the drive back west on the Ring Road left me with many memories and reasons to go back, if ever the opportunity comes again. 

As I drove I became more aware of what the landscape and climate might do to an individual and I let myself get less inhibited about what I wanted to explore there as a photographer. 


I started experimenting with extreme motion blur and felt they somehow captured the sense of my experience there and were, maybe to me alone, beautiful portraits of one small aspect of Iceland. 

By the time I returned to Vik, the weather, the place, and my own somehow pleasant sense of alienation took control.

I kept driving until I got to a very small town about two hours outside of Reykjavik. I decided that I would spend one more sleep in the car and then I made reservations to spend the next night, the last night of my stay, back at the Old Bicycle Shop.

The town was small but I had to stop at a pizza restaurant to get directions to the campsite. I had heard that the Icelandic police were loved by the population and were very friendly but that they don't like people sleeping in cars just anywhere. So I got my directions and as I left the pizza place I saw the only police car that I saw on the entire trip. I also saw the scene below which I think has relevance later.


I made the short drive to the campsite parking lot and walked in to pay for my stay. I went to what looked like the campground office to find someone in authority. There were two men in there who were charging their cell phones and folding laundry. I asked who I should pay for my visit and one of them pointed to a large event tent and said I should talk to the man sitting by its entrance. I got to the tent. There seemed to be a party in progress. The man sitting closest to the door told me to talk to a man half way across the tent who, in turn, pointed me towards a woman at the far end of the tent. When I told her I was hoping to spend the night in my car in the parking lot and could she tell me what I needed to pay, she looked me up and down with a frown and asked, "How long are you going to stay?" I told her that I would stay till at least sunrise but it might be longer if I slept well. She once again looked me up and down with a severe stare and after a long pause said, "How about we say it's on the house ... this time." and finally smiled. I thanked her, for some reason feeling like a character from a Dickens novel, and made my way back to the car. 


Once again I made myself as comfortable as possible in the passenger seat, put my headlamp on and pulled out my novel as the rain and wind continued to do what rain and wind do. As the darkness fell I could hear the voices in the event tent get louder, with more and more laughter. At some point an accordian started to play and men's voices, Slavic or Nordic, began to sing. Soon the long evening slipped into night. Just as I was starting to get sleepy I heard small pops and bangs. I threw on my boots and parka, got out of the car and stood in the cold rain and wind. Not far away, approximately where the purple balloons and bicycle might have been, fireworks were lighting the night sky. I stood in the campground parking lot and watched until they were done. They weren't Vancouver's Festival of Lights but with the accordian and singers backing them up they were pretty damn good.







I woke up early and, with Simon still asleep on the other side of the room, quietly dressed, gathered my belongings and left. I took one more long exposure shot of the waterfalls (the horizontal shot at the end of the previous post) and started out towards Vik, where I was to meet Yullia.


Vik is a very small town, village really, that is at the southernmost point of Iceland and at the east/west midpoint, approximately. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world, I think. I quickly found Yullia, who was in the process of tearing down her tent and preparing breakfast. We made arrangements to meet later and then I set out to take some photos. I don't know if I did the place justice but it was a pleasure trying.

The shots above are of the campground. It was a very short drive from there, through the town, to the beach where I found the famous black sands and the rock formations jutting out of the sea, under the cliffs, that I called Odins Fingers. The walk up almost took my breath away. There is a long breakwater on the beach that gives you views on either side.

You might be able to see the hang-gliders being lifted above the cliffs in the photo  above. That is facing west from the breakwater. Below is the view east ... 


... and behind me was the amazing vista seen below, with the Vik church nestled on the mountainside.



Yullia eventually joined me and we drove up to the church, parked and walked along a path that led us to this ...

A fellow traveller gave Yullia her phone and asked if she would take a picture of her with the horses. So I took a picture of Yullia taking a picture.

We eventually left Vik but before we headed east we went back west of the town and explored the area there.

These are the far side of the cliffs where the paragliders were jumping from and you can see two of Odin's Fingers. Then it was back on the road and travelling east. 

I still find it difficult to believe the variety of landscapes we encountered. It was exhausting going through the photos and deciding on a reasonable number to process and show here. There were too many. That day on the Ring Road was a rich one ...


We couldn't find any radio stations to listen to and I convinced Yullia that it was a Canadian tradition for the passenger to sing to the driver. Luckily she had a lovely voice and knew some folk and pop songs from her part of the world.


After driving for a good part of the day the landscape changed dramatically, even for Iceland standards. We were approching Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland and one of the largest in Europe.

We found the national park, paid for a camping spot for Yullia, a parking spot for me and set out to explore. She went on ahead while I took photos. 

This little boy didn't want his dad to take a picture of him with the glacier and we agreed he would probably regret it some day. That's the way things are with fathers and sons sometimes. Maybe he'll run across this, as I gave the father my card and told him I would post it, if it turned out. The boy looks like he's protecting himself but was actually in mid-wave.


After exploring the glacier a little we went back to the car and decided to try to get to the glacier lagoon at Jokulsarlon. Just another amazing place in Iceland.

We were quickly losing light so we headed back to the campsite. Yullia struggled to put up her rented tent on the hard soil but eventually did and found out from other campers that there was a hike she wanted to take the next morning. I decided to go back to the lagoon in the early light to take more photos. I told her that I would come back to the campground for lunch but if we didn't find each other by 2 p.m. I would be heading back towards Reykjavik. We exchanged cell numbers and I went back to my car.


The clouds that we had been driving in and out of all day were gathering and the temperature was dropping. As I got out my sleeping bag rain began to hit the windshield. I turned the engine on and turned up the heater. I settled into my sleeping bag in the passenger seat, put my photographers headlamp on my head, got out a novel (My Life As A Fake by Peter Carey if you're curious; and I enjoyed it) and read. The rain and wind sang their simple lullaby until I finally fell asleep.






I was not a very good Boy Scout. I was rarely prepared. Things haven't changed much.


The wedding was on August 22nd, Katherine left early on the 23rd and I was supposed to have booked a rental car for that day so I could hit the road and take photos. I didn't. There are reasons for that but none of them are good. Instead, I spent an extra day in Reykjavik, at The Old Bicycle Shop, and my new daughter-in-law, Christel, spent too much time on the phone, on the first day of her honeymoon, arranging for me to get picked up the next day by Avis and delivered to the car that she booked in my name. She is amazing.

So, I got to spend some extra time with Mike and Christel, and some of the other fascinating guests at the shop. I also had a wonderful Italian meal down the street, a good nights sleep and then headed out the next morning to explore Iceland.


As I suggested earlier, I'm not a good planner and was feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of being alone on this adventure. In Japan I had my daughter and whenever I'm not in Vancouver or Manitoba I usually count on Katherine to look after details. I was nervous. It turns out that what I lack in preparation, I make up for in dumb luck.


My first stop was at a gas station on the outskirts of the city. It wasn't to buy gas but just to make sure I was on the right road. The Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland and is the only one to circle it. I was going to drive as far east as I could for two days and then turn around and come back, seeing and photographing as much as I could along the way. The problem was interpreting the maps and making sure I took the right exit off of the many roundabouts along the way.


I went into the gas station, verified that I was headed in the right direction on the right road and asked if I could buy a pen and notepad; you know, just in case. The young man, who seemed to be the manager, told me they didn't sell pens and notepads but asked me to wait for a moment. He slipped into the back office and came out with a beautiful pen and half a dozen sheets of paper that he then gave to me. That was typical of the treatment I recieved during my time there. 


I was getting back into my car when I was approached by a young woman with a large backpack, green hair and a cardboard sign with the word "Vik" written in felt pen. She asked me, in flawless English with a charming eastern European accent, where I was going. I told her I was heading east. She seemed to be struggling with her next sentence. I asked her if she needed a ride.


Yullia turned out to be a television journalist from the Ukraine who was hitch-hiking around Iceland on her holidays. She was more than adept with Google maps and helped me find a number of places on my "must see" list. She also made some suggestions that turned out to be great stops. She was willing to stop whenever I saw something I wanted to photograph and pointed out things I would have missed.

Not only was she a capable navigator but she was willing to take my Sony point-and-shoot and snap a picture every time I pointed at something. She took the initiative of shooting things I would have missed while I was keeping us on the two lane highway.


Yullia was a pleasure to travel with and I will always be grateful for her company. She even provided lunch the first day; a vegan "baloney and cheese" sandwhich on gluten free buns with pickles.  


The landscape and weather were constantly changing and offered me so much in the way of photo opportunities. Iceland has some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. Much of it you need an all-terrain vehicle, a guide, and maybe a drone to photograph. I just took pictures from on or near the Ring Road. For the sake of photojournalism I will show most of these in colour in my blog posts. After sharing these posts I will be putting images in my website. They will include a series, some of the photos here as well as others, in black and white. I will also include some of my more arty crap.

We sat in the grass on the side of a hill, eating lunch and looking out over the view you see above.

This was a rustic museum and souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere.

Some of the shots might have been taken in Canada's western prairies ...

... and some seemed otherworldly.

And, of course, the wonderful horses.


It wasn't easy figuring out how to tell Katherine I was travelling with a young woman but I sent her an e-mail explaining the situation and she replied that she trusted me completely and was happy I had company. She too is amazing. 


I had made arrangements with the Chalke's to meet them just west of Vik, so Yullia insisted I drop her off and we would meet the next morning in the campground at Vik.  I had a wonderful meal at a fancy burger joint at Skogafoss (foss at the end of a name indicates waterfalls) with Jay, Lou and Simon Chalke and shared a room with Simon for the night. I took a photo of the falls before dinner and another the next morning before leaving to meet my navigator in Vik.

The first day had come and gone and I was still alive.



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