Images dance in Christine Flynn’s mind – from the shifting Sandbanks dunes to the mythic Nazaré wave that rises up on the Portuguese coastline and roils her imagination.
The massive wave swells grey-green across the moody panorama. It arches and curves before exploding into a frothy fray that seems to fill the sky like fog and then hangs there suspended – an impossibly beautiful moment, captured forever on Prince Edward County-based landscape photographer Christine Flynn’s camera.
Christine lives with her husband and two sons in a pretty 1920s era country house on one of Picton’s most residential-looking streets. She gets up early – “No matter where I am, it’s coffee first, always” – and heads out for a long walk with her dog Charlie. The County looks a certain way first thing in the morning – there’s a soft mist that hangs low over the expanses of fields, the grass takes on an almost bluish hue wrapped in the chilled morning dew, and even the relatively bustling areas of town seem still and reflective. Farther out, reedy paths give way to wide expanses of soft white sand that’s sometimes snow; the heavy waves and low skies sit close at dawn and stretch out over the day. To an artist like Christine, who has captured some of the world’s most beautiful natural landscapes, this place is the subject of dreams.
Christine Flynn’s internationally exhibited photography is epic and heart-stirringly evocative; the sweeping land and waterscapes bring the viewer right into the scene – we share a connected moment with a bison in a snowstorm, long to dive into the glorious surf along with the other boarders, wade into a horizonless wheatfield under a cotton candy sky, and stand on a cliff edge and gaze out at the dizzying majesty of a mountain range.
“I spent my childhood in London Ontario and moved to the outskirts of Ottawa when I was fifteen,” she says. “We had an incredible countryside property with a lake, horses and so much space – it was idyllic, and I think it’s what gave me such an appreciation for nature.” A few years later, Christine began exploring the world, leaving her country home to study fine arts at Houghton College in Upstate New York. She moved to Germany for a year after that, then travelled across Europe for another year before landing in New York City with a job in graphic design. Three years later, she left for London and lived there for another year before returning to Canada and settling in Toronto, where she raised a family, worked as the creative director for several advertising agencies, launched her much-loved business, “Love the Design,” and re-ignited an earlier passion for photography.
“I firmly believe that a lot of life is a question of timing, which has proved true over and over again throughout the course of my own life.” CHRISTINE FLYNN
It was a passion that would become a celebrated career. Christine Flynn’s reputation is cemented as a globally acknowledged mixed media photographer, with a wide breadth of subjects across numerous spectacular geographies. She lists some standout trips over the years: Iceland, South Africa; chasing wild horses and bison in the American Midwest. “I’ve always had the travel bug and an incredible thirst for exploring, but I’d also describe myself as a spontaneous traveller,” she says. “As a self-professed hotel junkie, I usually have specific hotels I want to visit and will typically have a general idea of which sights or activities I’m interested in checking out. But I never have a strict itinerary: I like to let my instincts lead me – that travel philosophy has never failed me. “Unequivocally, I adore County life,” she confirms. “It’s amazing to live in a place that happens to be such a rich subject for my work. I firmly believe that a lot of life is a question of timing, which has proved true over and over again throughout the course of my own life.” Timing in this context is a notoriously difficult commodity to control, but trusting their instincts, the Flynns made PEC their full-time residence after fifteen years of visiting on weekends, and Christine’s studio followed shortly after. “The County made sense to me from the first time I visited… That slow, intentional lifestyle is a big part of who I am, which totally balances out my strong wanderlust spirit,” she explains. “There was this instant element of nostalgia. It took me back to those formative years I spent in the countryside and it instantly felt like home. I was just ready for this new chapter: a slower pace, going back to my roots in a sense. The community I’ve found here is unparalleled – filled with good people doing what they love, with nothing to prove. It’s a place where creatives and entrepreneurs from all walks of life can belong and thrive.”
If place, timing and a perfect eye are integral ingredients for Christine’s work, so is the bravery and discipline required to stop and grab hold of a scene that’s disappearing in the rearview mirror. “I’ll often see something that catches my eye while I’m just driving along and I will literally hit the brakes, double back, reverse, climb over a fence, whatever it takes to get the shot,” Christine says. Her keen eye is always scanning for the thing that French humanist photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson so beautifully called “the decisive moment” – that is, the shot that absolutely captures the essence of the scene. “Friends and family who travel with me know this all too well,” she confesses. “I do it a lot while I’m in exploration mode.”
Between regular travel and trips to Toronto for artwork pick-ups and drop-offs, Christine’s days in the County are spent in the studio off Main Street, doing everything from working on commissioned assignments to preparing gallery shows to pursuing personal projects. Some days she stays until well into the evening, other days the beautiful weather lures her out. “A big part of the creative process is being in the zone; if you just don’t feel it, you can’t force it, you just have to come back to it later.”
Even beyond photography, Christine’s aesthetic prowess is second-to-none, and in her home the evidence is everywhere – from vignettes of vintage hunted “rough-luxe” items that used to be the signature of “Love the Design” to the editorial-worthy floral arrangements in every room (Flynn-foraged from County hedgerows and friends’ properties.) “I’ve always had a natural inclination for aesthetics and have been interested in design for as long as I can remember,” Christine says. “It’s truly an instinct for me that I’ve kept sharpening over the years. I think it comes down to the fact that I love creating and being surrounded by beautiful things. My mom was the same… I learned so much from watching her, whether it was decor, homemaking, florals, hosting – unknowingly, she was the ultimate mentor.”
“In the County, my favourite thing to shoot is Lake Ontario, whether it’s a stormy day, pastel skies, windsurfers or golden hour; it’s always the perfect subject.” CHRISTINE FLYNN
Today Christine’s work is everywhere you look: from elegant hotels to trendy motels to boutique shops to private homes around the world. With collections that invoke feelings and provide a window to somewhere spectacular, her large-scale, beautifully framed photography overlaid with her signature textural graphic elements finished in resin are coveted by collectors everywhere. Christine’s instincts often lead her to the world’s coasts. “I have a particular weakness for anywhere that involves water – it’s probably why I love shooting around the County so much. I’m also really drawn to moody scenes; there’s something about mist and fog that I find so compelling. In the County, my favourite thing to shoot is Lake Ontario, whether it’s a stormy day, pastel skies, windsurfers or golden hour; it’s always the perfect subject.”
Beyond the County, Christine’s hunt is always on for nature’s great moments. “I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream to photograph Nazaré, the mythic 100-foot wave in Portugal, which I’d been chasing for years,” she says. Nazaré will be the anchor of a series of Christine’s wave works exhibited at an upcoming solo show at Dianna Witte Gallery in Toronto.
In the gallery, Christine’s work is intensely compelling and also surprising. The viewer feels like they’re experiencing the moment from the inside – like it’s something they’ve already seen or are currently seeing, rather than something presented through the artist’s eyes. Instead, we’re looking at the simple existence of nature, with the crucial moment captured and presented. Christine’s landscapes are suddenly personified portraits: the waves somersault, wildlife turns to contemplate the viewer, pampas grass dances gracefully in the breeze.
In 2006 when I interviewed the iconic photographer, the late Peter Beard, he told me, “As I went to art school, I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to avoid art.” And yet it was obvious that everything he did was art – from his New York escapades alongside Andy Warhol, to the stories he told me about the time he was impaled by an elephant in Africa, to the “compost heap” of photographs he left behind, documenting not only how incredible the world around us is, but also his own spectacular life. Looking at Christine Flynn’s own body of work, there’s more than the art on the walls, we see the heart of an extraordinary talent – of a woman who spends her life seeking out and grabbing hold of the beauty that’s just everywhere.
In Christine’s PEC Project collection there’s a shot of the County’s beloved Dunes Beach, silhouetted against the pale pink-orange sky and reflected in the water below. The beach juts out into the scene, obscuring some of the view, but also critical to its perfect composition. In the foreground, separate, but somehow part of the scene, a large gold foil element forms a second geography, a shimmering boulder that frames the shoreline and grounds the space. It’s breathtaking and inspired – and so totally Christine Flynn.