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Ryan Gauvin

Deep Roots/Fresh Cut



I passed my thesis defense on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday I was out of Toronto, driving back across Canada to Vancouver. A week later I was at the golf course where I’d spent the last seven summers cutting grass to pay for two degrees and to fund my documentary photo projects. I still owed around $25,000 for the MFA – about two more summers work. The golf course had been sold to a new company since the last year, but everything was the same. The coffee tasted like machinery, the mud room smelled like a wet dog, and the golfers still looked down on us. I was happy to be back though, amongst friends and away from fine art politics and the commercial bias of news media, both of which I grew frustrated with during my two years in Toronto. I started packing my camera and a pocket full of Tri-X to work with me in the morning, mostly to stay sharp until I could afford to start another project.

Looking at the photos now, I see inklings of something deeper than just pictures of my friends at work, but it’s something I can’t quite put my finger on. My girlfriend says it looks like the work of a Marxist, but I don’t think that is it. Maybe it’s the struggle of emerging as a documentary photographer manifest in the day-to-day grind of a greens keeper.The tension with golfers and clubhouse management, the tight community, the exhaustion, the solitude, the stubborn determination. Or maybe it’s none of that at all.



Ryan Gauvin is a documentary photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. He holds a BA in Geography from Simon Fraser University, and an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University. Ryan also attended the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2009. In the past he has partnered with the International Campaign for Tibet, and his work has been published internationally. Ryan was recently recognized at the 2009 New York Photo Awards and 2009 PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris for his work in Tibet. He is currently in the research stage of a documentary photography project on the use of depleted uranium warheads in the Balkans.


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Ryan Gauvin


33 thoughts on “ryan gauvin – deep roots/fresh cut”

  1. Ryan, congratulations, great to read your words! About the pictures, before I say more, I’d be curious to know (if you want to share) if it was you doing the edit for Burn (which is different from the one on your site)? Trying to figure out a couple of things..

  2. hey ryan! :)

    first of all, congrats on the publication of the essay (as well as with the other terrific work). This story brought back some rich and deleriously juicy memories for me as well. In the summer before my 11th grade in high school, i also worked on a golf course cutting greens and mowing lawns and replacing divots and raking the traps, copping a smoke on the rink of wet sand watching the mist rise like waves of released hair, over the fairways….what i learned then about the sport was it’s brilliant silence and all that meditative beauty in the early mornings before the carts started to hum and the boss (my boss) started screaming from his tractor to get back to work….i too loved the lines cut by the greens mowers as they spread beautiful geometry over the dew and line of those small undulations :)))…

    and how appropriate as the Masters begins this week….and tiger approaches his world….

    what i loved about the story, particularly the version on your website, is both the eye for beautiful shadows (trix-singing) and the position of the lawns keepers in their environment…and how different their lives are (at least my life was) from the jockeys soon-to-descend upon the course….a quiet and reverential tribute to the job and those who do it before the mob descends…..

    lots of terrific pics and lots of great space and shadow and silenc….maybe like Eva, i loved some of the pics not in this edit, on the website: the shadows, the trees, the more abstract compositions….but either way, this is a thoughtful and celebratory story and one that, as a former lawns keeper, loved that it made it here :))))….well done, lovely lovely work…

    as for the politics of the art world here in T-dot, i hear u loud and clear…lots of stories to tell myself ;)), but like all places defined by the movers and shakers of a place, it’s just another small, insignificant hurdle to scamper over…what matters is the work and whether or not folks get that is their problem, not yours…..

    not sure about your girlfriend’s interpretation of it being marxist ;))))…it’s much simpler than that and much more nuanced….just the celebration of what makes a job like this both tedious and yet beautifully meditative…the mist over the ponds, the sweet-wet due on the greens, the shadows of the trees lining the fairways….the wind rustling and scratching up the sand traps in small, minor-key howls….beautiful….call it what it is: life :)))

    thanks for sharing your essay and congrats on the publication….

    have fun west-coast time :))


  3. Very nice work. Although it makes me contemplate the differences between the lives of the workers and the players who use the club, I like the fact that it does not appear to push a message. An open piece with great feeling. I too prefer the version on your site.

    >>> Gustav

  4. Thank you for your kind words..


    I put together both edits myself, with this version getting a bit of a tweak from DAH.


    Working on a golfcourse is pretty special… No doubt about it. I find that the ‘experience’ is a little bit different evey year, and of course hinges on where you’re coming from, as well as many other things. I am now 2 weeks into a new season, looking at 7 months or so of work and shooting ahead of me, (much more time than last year) and I am excited to see where the work goes. The feedback I recieve here and elsewhere will certainly influence this in some way, great or small, and I thank you for your comments.

  5. Hey Ryan


    I love the under-stated message here. We slide into the story gently, move through without being noticed, then slide out quietly…shhh, don’t disturb.
    This work, and the work I saw on your site bears the mark of someone who loves the craft. I’d love to see some prints. Almost makes me want to dust off my old Leitz Valoy and crawl back into a dark room…

    Look me up if you’re on Vancouver Island, always a spare bed here in Parksville.

  6. Amazing work in a difficult situation!

    And I find your images really beautiful and that they speak of other things rather than only of the topic, which is the best thing to have I think…

    Really impressive work!

  7. speak of other things rather than only of the topic, which is the best thing to have I think…
    yup…exactly… :))

  8. EVA…

    the dah “tweak” did not involve subtracting any pictures…i changed the order just slightly from the pictures Ryan submitted…i thought this a classic example of a photographer taking his circumstances and photographing them…most i think would have figured they had a summer job and would take pictures of something more “dramatic” later…once again, everything is worth photographing if you look at it the right way…

  9. Sidney Atkins


    I notice you studied geography at SFU, so a leftist take on golf courses seems quite understandable to me (I am a former geography teacher)… golf courses and the world of golf make up a particularly glaring example of class hegemony that extends over realms that are cultural, economic, social, environmental, and of course spatial… it is particularly blatant in its East Asian incarnation in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and now Vietnam… but the case of North America presents plenty of grist for this mill as well. While I think your photos are interesting, as an essay that explores and elucidates the topic, I don’t think you’re there yet… in fact, there’s a long, long way to go, but please keep at it because it’s an important topic… to explore it visually strikes me as complex and not easy… so please persevere. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

    I have one very serious piece of advice for you, speaking as someone who works as much or more with language as images… please, please, please purge from your writing and speech the phrase “…at the end of the day…” , the most overused, abused, meaningless, and irritating figure of speech in all Canadian public discourse (and that’s saying something, eh?). It really makes my flesh crawl!

  10. RYAN,

    Hope this does not come across too negativembut I must confess that somehow, your essay this time, did not do it or me. Hard to say why as the pictures are well taken but it left me on the side and I failed to connect… Sometimes there is this little extra something that suprises you or touches you or speaks to your imagination. I missed that little extra here. The essay is well done but a bit “academic” in a way… My sense is that you will be better off putting your soul into a project that really touches you…maybe golf was not it…. I actually went to your website and there were some interesting images there about Tibet. The first one on the front page does have that little extra, mystery, nostalgia… Hope you understand what I mean…. I will relook at your essay tomorrow just in case… I just finished 1000 km drive so it is quite possible that I am tired and grumpy this evening…

    Good luck.


  11. I like it, there are a lot of good things here, but it feels unfinished. Of course, a lot of the work that shows up here on Burn is ‘in progress’, but I feel like the closing image isn’t right. I want one more slide, which is not a bad thing, just something to think about.

  12. Hey Ryan

    Liked the visual style,etc in many of the images but wasn’t particularly captivated by the theme.

    At the end of the day……..well, is the start of a new one. :>))

  13. David:

    thanks for the ‘tweak’ explanation, that gives me some insight! was trying to figure out why you’d have ditched some of the images instead of others.. trying to learn from the pictures, instead of asking seven billion questions clogging up (hope it’s the correct word, don’t have a dictionary handy) your time!

    Ryan: thanks for answering.. and trying to figure out the reason of your different edits now.. end of day over here, night all ;)

  14. Ryan, this is one of my favorite essays that has appeared on BURN. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps it is the simple honesty of it while not being simple. I do hope you continue, and continue to explore the subtleties of life on the course. Yours is a good perspective and this is a very solid base. Cheers.

  15. Hi Ryan.

    Nice compositions. Love the tone. Must look beautiful printed out on fibre based paper.
    Will go and check your web site.


  16. Hi Ryan,

    I have to admit first time through didn’t do much for me. Second time through a few hours later I discover there’s some fantastic images and a nice lesson in making the mundane fascinating.

    I do think the first two images are the weakest of the bunch and you know what they say about first impressions. Something to think about.

    Best in your future,


  17. Hi Ryan,

    I liked this piece. It has a simplicity and beauty with an open ended question regarding what the work is about. You could look at it from many angles and I guess that’s what makes interesting photography. We all bring our own perceptions and experience to the interpretation of the image.

    In a previous life I was in sales and took important clients out for golf at exclusive clubs. I never really felt at home in these places partly because of my fondness for Mr. Mulligan but also the pretension and class distinction. It is supposed to be the game of gentlemen, but I have come across some very ungentlemanly behavior on the course. That and to think of all the water and pesticides used to keep everything so green. As you can imagine I was let go from that job, I think they thought I was a marxist. Anyone want to buy a pair of barely used clubs?

    But with regard to the photos I really enjoyed them and appreciate the beauty in these images. Brings back fond memories of using Tri-X in Northern Ontario and developing in my parent’s bathroom with the windows blocked out.

    Congratulations and all the best,


  18. ahh great – there is drama everywhere and an accomplished photographer an find inspiration anywhere..
    nice one.. i have the feeling that whatever you choose to look at the work will be as interesting as what is shown here.

  19. Nice Ryan,
    great set of pics, good insight to someone else’s world told with a sense of humour.

    Also appreciate that you had the foresight to pick up your camera and document what is around you. After all this was a job to pay the bills but you were able to see you could also use it to fuel your passion to be a photographer.

    Love the dog running away while the man digs the hole..priceless.


  20. Ryan,

    It is a beautiful set of photographs. I especially like the opening photo and misty one of number 9. The photos are game me a sense of nostalgia. I somehow felt at peace looking at them, the odd quiet moment, and hints of smiles littered across the essay, not to mention the Tri-X grain. Thanks for this, really enjoyed the essay.



  21. Oh one more thing – the selective focus on some of the photos, particularly 11 and 15 – reminded me of Robert Frank’s stuff. Great work.

  22. Thanks everybody for your kind words and critique. It is all very much appreciated.


    I love Parksville! Haven’t been in many many years, but I’m trying to make time for more frequent trips to the island. Will look you up! Have you heard of Luz Gallery in Vic? There is some interesting programming coming up in the next while, check it out if you haven’t already. http://www.luzgallery.com/


    You are so correct in your observations on golf courses. There is alot going on that I have only begun to explore. What has my interest piqued right now is the changing face of the contemporary ‘countryside’, with the mechanization of agricultural, urban migration, proliferation of urban parks and by extension, golf courses. The classical urban/rural disparity still exists, but is manifest differently and is quite visible in many cases (not necessarily on my golf course, but surely on some). It’s about power structures… These are pretty raw thoughts still, but they are ever churning. Photographically, it is a major challenge as you might imagine (logistically, as an employee especially). But I’ll figure out a way.


    My edits are different because I’m indecisive. hahahaha. I tried to be tighter for Burn so not to wear out attention spans – leaving more on my website for those that had interest. Why I made certain choices, I cannot tell you – just instinct I guess. I lined up a bunch of 4x5inch prints and cut and sorted till I had something that seemed to flow, made sure my ‘selects’ were in there, and voila!

  23. A man in a hole, a hole he is digging, pauses to watch a golfer hit an approach shot. That is a fantastic image, one that could resonate with a viewer on countless different frequencies. The composition is excellent. We follow the man in the hole’s view from the bottom right to the golfer in the center then the golfer’s focus on the pin in the upper left corner of the composition. The tonal range of the photograph is rich. There is detail in the shadows and the highlights and a nice distribution in between. The darker tones outweigh the light, but that helps imbue the image with a feeling that something is not quite right. Why is the man in the hole? How does he feel about being in a hole? What is his relationship to the golfer and the golf course? Will he get out of the hole or continue to dig himself deeper? Does it represent an impassable divide between the man in the hole and the golfer? Or could it contain an optimistic message? Maybe the man in the hole can be a golfer himself someday? Is that possibility actually optimistic? Or ominous in itself? The fact that there are so many possible readings, none of which are particularly superficial, speaks very well to both the quality of the photo and of the photographer.

    There are other strong images in the essay, but I don’t feel that it tells anywhere near as complete a story as that one photo. I see quality building blocks. Telling the story from the perspective of the grounds crew is innovative. The natural beauty of the golf course and its surroundings is attractive. The machines in that environment are jarring. The idea of the golfer as an archetype is fascinating. And the images of men digging holes, or men in holes, is compelling — much more so than those we always see in sports photography, of men putting balls in holes.

    Ryan, in the artist statement you twice mention that you are not entirely sure what the essay is about. My humble advice is two part. First, I think you need to know what the story is. That doesn’t mean it can’t contain ambiguity, much less that it pound the viewer over the head with an easily identifiable message. But you should be able to articulate it, at least to yourself. Secondly, even if you don’t know what the story is, you should probably keep that to yourself. Shallow types, you know, may latch onto stray words like that and miss the depth and quality of the story and photographs that undeniably exist in this work.

  24. Ryan — I’ve watched the essay a couple of times now and am connecting with it more each time I view it. Very well done.

    There is a subtle, quiet nature of the images really resonates with me. I think that the most powerful part of the work is how you’ve managed to draw a dramatic contrast between the greenskeepers and the golfers, with the course as a backdrop, without being judgmental or heavy-handed.

    And what a brilliant use of the medium to depict golf in such an atypical way. I just read a very interesting article in the NYT magazine about how the high-flying, halcyon days of golf are over in the wake of recent financial disasters and Tiger’s scandal.

    Your vision is prescient I think. You’ve communicated the zeitgeist. I’m looking forward to seeing what you shoot this summer.

    All the best,


  25. In opposition to Michael’s comment I’d prefer to let the meaning open, very often we see essay statements that tell us what the pictures are about, only to find (often), that words and pictures tell different stories.. here we have a statement that tells us that the essay could be this, rather than that, the statement itself doesn’t give an answer, but leaves room, is open..

    Ryan, thanks for answering my question about the edits, I understand what you mean.. but don’t agree with leaving you out a couple images at least.. but then, that wouldn’t be any longer YOUR edit, but mine ;)

    Looking forward what you’ll come up with this year.. or perhaps you’ll decide it’s done, who knows?

    Ben, interesting article indeed!

  26. You made the best out of your chosen topic. Chose great angles, point of view, composition. All fine.

    But in the end, at least to me personally, the topic is just not interesting enough.
    Maybe it is too technical and I miss more interesting human emotion in between.

    As always, just my personal opinion/taste ;)

  27. Just to be clear, regarding Eva’s comment, although I am suggesting Ryan’s essay would benefit by him having a clear vision of the story he wants his essay to tell and being able to articulate it, I’m not in any way suggesting that he do it in the artist statement. As a viewer, I personally prefer not to know. But for an author, I am sure that it helps in many more cases than not. Comes in handy when dealing with editors as well.

  28. I thought this was brilliant and one of my favorite essays I’ve ever seen on Burn. I’m amazed that I’m saying this about “golf course pictures”, but these are so much more than that.

    I see a story of two worlds. One has more life and depth to it, and the other is like a movie playing in the background. One draws me in with a range of characters and complex settings and juxtapositions and room for a plot to emerge as I imagine.

    I guess the “Marxist” quality comes from the different classes. But these are not “ideological” pictures at all, but ones that reveal truth. I think that’s a rare quality.

    Finally, I love the art and the strength of your craft. I also paused at the “man in the hole” and think it’s one of several great photos here. I’d like to see a different introduction that proclaims boldly that you’ve done something unique with a vision, because that’s what I see.

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