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<i>Suits</i> Actor Tackles Life and Decay in New Photography Exhibit

10/22/2013 08:40 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

A love letter to family and nature -- that's what Patrick J. Adams achieves with his photography.

The Suits actor is currently exhibiting his first show, Sea/Land, at 134 Ossington, also known as Oz Studios. His lusciously detailed photographs focus on Haida Gwaii, also known as the former Queen Charlotte Islands, in British Columbia. Over 10 years of work hangs on the walls in this gallery, and each photo shows the love and respect that Adams has for nature and for the way of life that the people of the Islands live daily.

"This is a community that lives by the sea and the land, and everything that happens, in those two environments, how they interact, how they conflict, decides everything," says Adams. "In experiencing that, there's a sense of something true going on, and I try to capture that in my pictures."

I sat down with Adams on a wobbly bench in the tiny gallery, surrounded by his many fans, to chat with him briefly about the photos on the wall before us. Adams shot several of his photos in what looks like puzzle pieces -- tiny sequential photographs that he pieced together to create a sense of the grandeur and size of nature in the community where his sister and his nephew made their home.

The juxtaposition of decay and life in his photographs interested me. Having lived on the West Coast myself, I recognized much of the windblown sense of sea, driftwood and nature at your fingertips. Many of the photographs were fascinating, showing light playing over the sand and sky, and Adams' nephew, Fisher, a prominent figure exploring his world. One particular photo, of Fisher beside a large fin whale carcass on a beach, was especially interesting. Adams explains his thought process behind it.

"The whale, just in terms of size and scale, you get a sense of how big it is, because there's a little boy next to it. But it's not just the whale on the beach -- that's a story, and that's an interesting story, and could be an interesting image - but to me, it was the story of this little boy, and that being something totally normal for him, his environment, and that being more the story of this amazing thing that I've never seen before in my life was normal, par for the course. It was another day, just another magical thing that could happen in this landscape."

One of Adams' photos focuses on totem pole creation, a Native art that is found all over British Columbia. Haida Gwaii is the official name of the former Queen Charlotte Islands, and means "Islands of the Haida People". I asked Adams about his contact with the Haida people and being inspired by this reclaimed Native land and its wild sense of nature.

"That's the one thing I feel like I'm lacking in my experience of Haida Gwaii. I haven't spent enough time in that community," he states. "The Haida, of the people that I've met up there, are incredible people, but also they're guarded. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes sense. Any First Nations community in this country has been under pretty strong distress, especially from a lot of white people. I think that I want to get up there and spend more time getting to know that part of the community, taking more portraits and learning about the customs. I'm happy to have the totem pole in the show and I think that's just scratching that part of the surface of that environment."

Adams states that his interest in photography started at a young age, with his dad, a journalist, having cameras lying around the house. His love for his family and the roots of his interest in documentation are clear, in his loving portrait of Fisher in a stroller with a crab in his lap, to the black and white portraits of the surrounding landscape and way of life.

"I've been shooting photos kind of my whole life, I think, documenting mostly my family, because that's what I was around," Adams said. "I think it was a way to sort of separate myself from my family, while still trying to learn about them and understand them. I was always fascinated by images as a form of storytelling. When I was a kid, flipping through my family's photo books, you know, I loved it. I was always the kid going through them."

Adams learned to manipulate and play with photos, making old photos look good again, and discovering more and more about how photography worked. But he states that his interest in photo subjects always centred back on his family.

"That was my connection to history and the past, and I was fascinated by my family as subjects. Then my sister moved to this place, and as soon as she moved there, and I went and followed and started taking pictures of that place, that was the first time where I really consciously, while also taking pictures of my family, began to point my camera at other things.

"I think I've just always been very, very affected by photography as an art form. I look at images, and it's, you know, that visceral feeling you get from looking at something that moves you, something about the fact that a photo is something in the real world happening, that really moves me, in a way that I'm just not moved by any other work of art. Sometimes painting will get me that way, but I guess, maybe because I don't have a very good understanding of that medium, never done it before, it's just, it affects me less. I have more filters up to that, it's hard for me to be affected by things that aren't really there."

Adams' photos are shot with a variety of cameras. One camera in particular produces dreamy black and white images that capture the magic of the West Coast.

"All the square images in the front of the gallery [were taken with] an old Mamiya C33, my first medium format camera that my dad actually bought me. It didn't work -- all broken up in the front -- so the fact that any of these came out is kind of miracle, and it was ten years ago, most of these. The whole back of the gallery is different digital [cameras]."

The detail and depth in Adams' photographs is truly breathtaking, and the way he chooses to display his art fascinating and true to the Canadian experience. His show runs from Oct. 20-30, and can be found at 134 Ossington, just past Dundas.

Banff, Canada