An eye for beauty: Heath resident captures the essence of flowers

  • “Menage a Trois” by Jean Gran. Gran uses a digital process called focus stacking to achieve sharp images that mimic what she sees when she looks at flowers. COURTESY JEAN GRAN

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    Jean Gran at the Oct. 7 opening of "Botanical Portraits.” Her photographs are on exhibit at Artspace in Greenfield through Oct. 28. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

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    Jean Gran's "Flight of the Moth Orchid," a botanical portrait she created in her studio using a flower she grew in her Heath garden. COURTESY JEAN GRAN

  • “New Life” by Jean Gran. Gran's affinity for color and shape began in early childhood on her family's Missouri farm. Using multi-step digital processes, she creates stunning images she calls botanical portraits. COURTESY JEAN GRAN

For the Recorder
Published: 10/10/2022 1:41:27 PM

Jean Gran has lived in Heath for nearly 50 years, her gardens providing inspiration for stunning photographs locals can now view at Greenfield’s Artspace Community Arts Center. Gran’s love of nature – particularly flowers – blossomed into an art form she calls botanical portraits.

Gran’s affinity for color and shape precedes her time in Heath, however, beginning in early childhood on her family’s Missouri farm.

“Our farm was started by my paternal great-great-grandmother, Lucinda McRoberts,” said Gran. McRobert’s husband died of cholera, leaving her with four young children to raise on her own. She survived by buying and selling land, including one low-lying farm near a creek.

In 1862, when her eldest child was in his late teens, McRoberts bought land “up on the prairie, with much richer soil, and they built a farm together,” according to Gran. “By the time I came along, four generations of farm women had cared for gardens around our farmhouse, which is within ten miles of the Mississippi River.”

In Heath, Gran grows most of the flowers one sees in her photographs. The artist statement found on her website explains her floral attraction: “The exquisite beauty of flowers is both fragile and fleeting. Yet flowers often bear witness to the eternal truths of our lives: love and loss; birth and death; joy and grief; triumph and failure. My goal is to capture not only the ephemeral beauty … but to create images with the capacity to evoke our enduring emotions, dreams, and deeper truths.”

Gran did not meet Lucinda McRoberts, given the generational span, but was close with her own grandparents. “Our farmhouse was large and rambling, and I was fascinated by collections of old furniture and photographs.” The property had several large old barns, and Gran spent much of her childhood in the barns and out on the land.

“I was aware that I’d been preceded by other generations, people who’d come and gone,” said Gran. “There were lots of old stories in that house. Knowing all that, I watched many cycles of flowers bloom and die, and had a deep sense of that sort of thing by age six or seven.”

Life’s cycles meant that trees sometimes fell over in big storms and even inanimate things like buildings inevitably changed over time. “My emotions, dreams, and deeper truths are rooted in a childhood spent in the natural world,” said Gran, “which I found both exquisitely beautiful and sometimes scary. I was aware of how transient life is – not in a morbid way, but with acceptance of the natural order.”

In attempting to replicate with her camera the beauty of flowers, Gran tries “to capture moments. Tension exists in the images.” She added, “Some people may think that to photograph flowers is just point and shoot, like a one-trick pony. But it’s not that simple. I put a lot of work into discovering the essence.”

Gran left Missouri as a young adult, gravitating to New England at a time when she and a friend looked for someplace outside the Midwest to spend a summer. They settled on Boston, and Gran – a science major – found a job in a research laboratory, where she worked for a number of years. Later, she shifted to accounting, becoming a CPA.

Years later, after Gran developed chronic fatigue syndrome and chemical sensitivities, a neighbor suggested she try outdoor photography and lent her a camera. Gran started taking photos “pretty casually.”

Her health improved, and about five years ago Gran switched to a digital camera, learning to process and edit. “When you snap the shutter of a digital camera, you don’t get an image, you get computer code. Software in the camera turns it into an actual picture,” she said. “When I shoot raw, it goes into an editing program, which is parallel to using a film camera, where you end up with a negative that you have to take into a darkroom.”

In the digital world, Gran uses a program called Lightroom. “To anyone who says ‘That’s cheating,’ I say, ‘You can bet Ansel Adams spent a lot of time in the darkroom manipulating and perfecting how those pictures looked!’ Every photographer makes creative choices.”

Instead of printing on paper, Gran prefers ChromaLuxe aluminum panels coated with a white base and sealed with a polymer top coating. A dye sublimation printing process imbeds the ink directly into the surface, making the prints tough, long lasting, and easy to care for.

“I send my images in the form of a computer file to a company in California, and they create a print,” said Gran. “Next, they lay the print on a metal surface and put it into something like a panini press.” The process sublimates the dyes from a solid state to gas, which impregnates the white surface.

“It’s not a print stuck onto metal. The process provides depth and richness, refracting light in a way a paper print just can’t do.” Gran says she was inspired to choose aluminum panels “because it comes closer to what I see on my screen when I edit than anything else I’ve done. I also like the look of a photo filling the whole frame. I love not having to frame or mat the images, and appreciate the richer colors and three-dimensional feel.”

To photograph flowers, Gran brings them indoors and works in her studio. “That way, I can control the lighting,” she said. Her subjects are both homegrown and purchased from other places. “I grow dahlias, orchids, amaryllis and others. I raise about three-quarters of what I photograph.”

Gran’s photos are sharp from front to back, which she achieves through a process called focus stacking. “A single photo can’t achieve what I’m looking for,” she said. “There’s a lot of artistry involved in choosing what will be sharp and what will be blurred.” In focus stacking, she takes between 20 to 60 pictures of the same flower–depending on how thick the flower is– averaging around 35 shots per finished product.

“Each photo is taken with a slightly different focal point. After I put the stacks together, software picks the sharpest pixels,” said Gran. After “shooting tethered” (with images appearing instantly on the computer), Gran edits in Lightroom and does additional editing in Serene Stacker, sometimes adding other steps and programs. “When I’m finished, I hope the process has captured something about the flower, something I saw that I couldn’t capture with a plain snapshot.”

Gran’s October 7 opening reception at Artspace drew many visitors. Her husband, Bill Gran, marveled at the collection. “I’ve seen all these photographs,” he said, “but to see them all in one place, with skilled lighting, is just wonderful.”

Artspace is located at 15 Mill Street in Greenfield. Gran’s work is on display through October 28. Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public. Hours are currently Mondays through Wednesdays, 1 to 6 p.m, though subject to change. For the most up to date hours, visit

To view Gran’s work online, visit

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and an artist, musician, educator and mom. She welcomes comments from readers at


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