PEI

Oyster art: How a P.E.I. artist finds inspiration in close-up photos of shells

A photographer from Tyne Valley, P.E.I. is turning oysters into art, taking photos of very small sections of the shell and making them into large prints.

'It's just so interesting to see how nature has created such fantastic patterns and colours'

Three of Brady's pieces are on sale at The Dunes and she is opening her own home gallery on August 1. (Submitted by Debbie Brady)

A photographer from Tyne Valley, P.E.I. is turning oysters into art.

"When I started doing photography, I was really interested in seeing things up close," said Debbie Brady.

"When I came across an oyster shell and looked at it through my macro lens and saw what was there, I was astonished and started seeking out other oyster shells."

People have compared her photos to a galaxy or a satellite view of a shore. (Debbie Brady Photographic Art)

She started taking photographs of oysters in 2016.

"It took me about three years to figure out how I could convey that excitement that I felt and what I saw in that oyster shell to other people," Brady said.

"Over time I realized that each oyster shell had a unique story."

Brady says not every oyster is photogenic. (Lisa Enman Photography)

'Create a conversation'

Along with every print she sells, Brady records where the oyster was collected and includes a photo of the whole shell with markings surrounding the tiny portion that is used in the artwork.  
 
"When somebody has that piece of artwork hanging and other people look at it and don't know it's an oyster shell," Brady said. 

"The owner then shows them the picture of the shell with the little rectangle marks on it showing what's actually in the photograph and where that shell was found and creates more conversation."

With every print sold, Brady records where the oyster is from and includes a photo of the entire shell, as well as the tiny portion that is used in the artwork.

Brady has created a series of photo-shopped images with her prints on the wall to help people visualize what they would look like once they were hung.

"Initially when I was posting just the picture of the close-up picture, the texture, people found it interesting but they really weren't getting it," Brady said. 

"Then when I started positioning them on walls to show what it would look like in your house, I got a huge reaction that people really started understanding what it was that I was doing."

Brady has created a series of photo-shopped images with her prints on the wall to help people visualize what they would look like. (Submitted by Debbie Brady)

Three of Brady's pieces are on sale at The Dunes Studio Gallery in Brackley Beach and she is opening her own home gallery on August 1, with a launch at the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival.  

"I've had a couple of photographers say, gee I wish I had a thought of doing oyster art and I said it remains to be seen whether that was a good decision or not," Brady said.

Ironically, Brady is allergic to oysters.

Need to see it

Brady admits the oyster art is something most people need to see to understand.

"When I make a cold call to anybody about oyster art, I really have to encourage them to go to the website to see what it is that I'm talking about," Brady said.

"Once they see it, it's oh wow, I get it now."

Brady says it can take up to 30 photographs of one small section to get what she's looking for. (Lisa Enman Photography)

Brady currently has 50 shells sitting in a water bath in her kitchen, waiting to go through several cycles, and then scrubbing. And then she will cull through those.

Then they will be catalogued and put away until she has time to take a look at them through her camera lens.

"Not every oyster shell is photogenic, it takes quite a bit of time to photograph them," Brady said.

Brady says it can take up to 30 photographs of one small section to get what she's looking for. Then she merges the photos and does a lot of editing.

Brady's collection of shells from Linkletter Provincial Park will soon be ready to go under the lens for inspection, after several soakings and being scrubbed. (Submitted by Debbie Brady)

Ultimately she would like to travel the world, gathering oysters and creating her oyster art, in places like B.C., Ireland and New Zealand.

People have compared her photos to a galaxy or a satellite view of a shore.

"It's really nice when people create their own stories or see things in it that I may not have seen," Brady said.
 
"It's just so interesting to see how nature has created such fantastic patterns and colours."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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