March FEATURED artist
Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra
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by Michael Sterling
Photography has been a part of my life for 50+ years. I have taken many figurative and literal journeys over that time, which led me towards a “Body of Work” (BOW). I did not have an end in mind when I got involved with serious photography. That goal came with time, experience, and practice.
I wandered photographically from black and white film to color slides to today’s digital imaging, experimenting with diverse subject matter. After moving to the New Hampshire Seacoast and retiring, I became active in a few photography organizations. This provided me with the opportunity to see how experienced photographers developed their personal artistic styles.
The motivation that I needed came in the form of a portfolio review by the Executive Director of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts. Not knowing what to show, I brought a total of 24 prints of a variety of subjects. The director said my images were technically proficient, but not a BOW. She provided examples from her museum’s Atelier program as representative of what would be of interest to galleries and museums. Following that meeting, I reviewed several years of my photographs and noticed that I often returned to two primary genres, architecture and portraiture, and decided to concentrate on those two.
My first foray into portraiture was to assist a friend doing studio photography. I learned a great deal about lighting, how to give direction, and develop rapport. I started making high school senior portraits, applying what I learned in the studio to outdoor settings. High school portraits expanded to staff photos for small businesses. With experience came more successful portraiture sessions with an expanded variety of subjects at home and abroad.
I became aware of the concept of environmental portraiture through discussions with a well-known portrait photographer. It is defined simply as capturing a subject in their usual environment to shed light on their life and personality. That approach was missing from my images. I focused on enhancing my images by making a series of environmental portraits of plein air artists.
About five years ago, I attended a workshop at an early 20th century textile mill in Lawrence, MA. I was immediately drawn to the textures, lines, and history of the place. I found the setting so appealing that a friend and I contacted the owner, asked and gained permission to make repeat visits.
Subsequently, I searched out old or abandoned structures within New England. Old mills expanded to historical sites and restorations such as Canterbury Shaker Village, Mystic Seaport, and Fort Adams (Newport, RI). The excursions to the restorations additionally provided me with the opportunity to make environmental portraits of costumed re-enactors at work. Lately, I’ve been making early morning visits to Boston, where I find an ideal blend of old and new architecture.
To date, I have mainly captured wide interior perspectives. I plan to revisit some locations, concentrating on small design elements and building exteriors to add another dimension to my work.
My photographic journey and travel experiences abroad are forming the basis of what will evolve into my body of work. It is a long process. I now review my work on a regular basis as a way to hone my creative direction.
I’ve learned to capture what speaks to me.