Self portrait with his beloved Bichon and photography assistant, Calvin.
Self portrait with his beloved Bichon and photo assistant, Calvin. Axel is holding his fathers old Zeiss Icon Contessa 35mm camera, which he still uses, and the image is taken with an old Canon EF camera on a tripod with a self timer.

Michael Axel Grigsby lives in Central Oregon where he finds unlimited inspiration for his work, from the mountains, fields, streams, wildlife and beautiful light. He also sings opera. His love of photography came early in his life, partly inspired by his dad’s love of cameras.

At age 7 he was given a Kodak Instamatic camera that took photos in square format–and inspiration that would last his entire life. He had his film developed at the drive up Fotomart’s of the time–a franchise of drive up photography and processing kiosks.

One Christmas, his parents bought a Mamiya Sekor 1000 DTL camera as a present, significantly moving his photography and portrait photographic work ahead as he could now reload film and process it on his own. It was a piece of junk and stopped working not long after, and he saved his money, and eventually bought a Canon EF SLR. This camera increased the quality of his photographs. He had his own darkroom by age 12, where he experimented with a process known as stand development, and also processed his own photographic images in color and black & white, using mainly Kodak Panatomic X and Ektachrome film, bulk loaded from 100′ rolls.

He wondered if a larger negative would make much difference in his photography work, and by high school, bought a YashicaMat 124G. He loved the larger 120 film, and photographed everything he could shoot with it. One image, of Louis, a homeless man in Portland, Oregon, whom Axel got to know, was selected for exhibition at the Portland Art Museum. That experience changed Axel’s life, and made him think more about how photography and art were related.

Photography portraiture, including family, senior portraits, maternity, and even pets, is a specialty of Michael Axel at
Louis, a homeless man in Portland, Oregon, whom Axel got to know while in high school. He didn’t mind being photographed and even seemed to like his portraits.

After seeing the image, he was offered a position with the distributor of Hasselblad camera (the cameras that famously went to the moon–some of which are still there). More importantly, these cameras with their high end optics were used by most professional photographers of the day. He was about to acquire one and his career took off, as he gained clients, including movie studios who used his work for still photography of their films.

During this early period of his life, Axel took many commercial image, especially product, industrial, architectural, and fashion images. He also began working with large format cameras, and traded his 35mm Canon system for a Nikon system. Axel has written several books, but “Iridescent Light” is the one he is most famous for, explaining how stand development can be used to develop higher quality images from film.

Today, Axel enjoys working with people to develop a plan for their portraits and images, and loves the interaction with clients as much as the photography itself. He still shoots film for a special look, but mainly works with high end Nikon cameras and lenses.


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