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Christian Dalbec explores life through a new lens

Dalbec in front of a sunrise over his favorite subject, Lake Superior. Photo: Christain Dalbec1 / 5
Christian Dalbec's photography was on display at the Duluth International Airport for the grand opening of its new passenger terminal in January. Photo: Christian Dalbec2 / 5
A Lake Superior sunrise is framed by ice in this striking image by Christian Dalbec.3 / 5
Dalbec used his ice spikes to access this ice cave along the Lake Superior shoreline. Photo by Christian Dalbec4 / 5
With a unique focus on the foreground, Dalbec brings new life to a Lake Superior sunrise. Photo by Christian Dalbec5 / 5

Christian Dalbec says he never thought of himself as an artist. After 12 years as a guitarist in a rock band and growing renown as a photographer, it's safe to say he's earned the title.

Dalbec, 44, has spent his whole life in Two Harbors, where he developed an affinity for the big lake in his backyard. Now, he's expressing that love through his newfound passion of photography.

"I fell in love with the lake again," Dalbec said.

His photographs often use sharp angles and color contrast to convey a strikingly powerful image of a familiar subject. Though he uses his laptop to increase depth and contrast, the shades are all natural. Stunning orange skies and sparkling blue ice shards are the result of patience. He's spent many early mornings on the lakeshore waiting to greet the sun, positioning his equipment and finding the perfect perch.

The same patience is behind his striking photos of dagger-like icicles framing a deep cerulean sky.

"Ice spikes are a must," he said, referring to the cleats he wears when exploring the frozen lakeshore. He learned the necessity of them the hard way this winter. When climbing along the ice-covered shore in normal shoes, he slipped and snapped one of his camera lenses. Despite the dangers, he said this chilly winter has been one of his favorite times to shoot.

"The ice when it's 20-below is the best. It's hard to be out there but it's beautiful," he said.

Dalbec only started taking photography seriously in the last year, but it's already taken over as his fulltime gig.

"The recognition came quicker than I thought it would," he said.

A series of seemingly unfortunate events led him to his new career. After crashing a dirt bike and snapping his femur 2005, he sold the offending machine and purchased a professional camera with the spoils. He didn't take his new art form seriously, however, until another event waylaid him--a DUI two years ago. After the offense, he said he decided to quit drinking and has now been sober for more than a year.

"Photography never would have happened if I hadn't given (drinking) up," Dalbec said.

John Gregor, owner of Coldsnap Photography and Dalbec's friend, saw the doggedness that came with Dalbec's sobriety and the resulting quality of his work.

"He has used photography as a way for him to find his place in the world. He has done an astounding job," Gregor said.

Gregor helped Dalbec learn the ins and outs of his new camera as the instructor of a free class Dalbec took at the library last summer. He supplemented the class with some research of his own--and plenty of field work. His early photos showcase the lake, the Northern Lights and his youngest son, Weston, 7. When a friend suggested he start selling his photos, Dalbec said he wasn't sure folks would pay for his work.

Yet with more than 700 Facebook fans, a budding portrait business and an online shop where he indeed sells his landscapes, it appears his friend was right--people love Dalbec's pictures.

"My biggest buyers are people that have moved away and miss the lake," Dalbec said.

Giving up working in carpentry and blacktop repair with his father, Dalbec said he hopes to keep busy in his fulfilling new career.

"I like not being tied down in one place," he said.

His photos often capture an asymmetry that highlights the subject in an unconventional way, whether it's a high school senior, a deer or a sunrise.

"He works so much with what's right around here and showing people places in a new and different and exciting way," Gregor said.

Dalbec's work is on display at the Vanilla Bean Café on Seventh Avenue in Two Harbors until April 29.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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