VISIONS IN MONOCHROME

interview ANNE KINGMAN PAGE

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“There seem to be quite a few photographers that have
also been/are musicians. One well-known example is
Ansel Adams who had studied to become a concert pianist.
He has a well-known quote that links the two art forms:
“The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and
the print to its performance.””
—DOUG WOOD, fine art photographer

Fine art photographer Douglas Wood.
Gathering Storm Clouds
Granite Shores
Jordan Pond, Ice Study 5
Leaning
Little One
Maple Leaf on Ice
Raven's Nest, Study 4
Winter Cattails
Winter Falls
Winter Trees, Snow, River Reflections

Tell us a little about your background.

I'm originally from Pennsylvania. In 1980, I moved to New York where I began a career in the music industry. I've been a musician (bass player) all my life and have played various roles in the industry over the past 40 years including recording engineer, pro audio product design, marketing and sales roles at equipment manufacturers and so on. In the early ‘90s I moved to the San Francisco area where I met my wife of 24 years, JoAnne. We moved to Maine in 2000.

When did you start taking photographs and what drew you to the medium?

Growing up, my parents had a Polaroid camera that we'd take on vacations. You'd take a picture and the thing would spit out a little print. It was kind of cool but photography was never something that I got too excited about. I was much more interested in music. Around 2004, a friend from New York paid a visit and he brought his camera: a little Nikon digital point-and-shoot model. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it was but after playing around with that camera for a few days, I was hooked. I went out and bought one a couple days later.

Where did you study or are you self-taught?

I don't have any formal training. I immersed myself in learning as much as I could by pouring through books and online resources on the technical aspects of photography, as well as the artistic side of the medium. I suppose you could say that I've learned from many people whom I've never met. And like anything one wants to do well, it then becomes all about practicing. Lots of practicing.

Music and photography have both been a major part of your life. What is the relationship between your music and your photography?

There seem to be quite a few photographers that have also been/are musicians. One well-known example is Ansel Adams who had studied to become a concert pianist. He has a well-known quote that links the two art forms: “The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance.” For me, the common thread is the desire to speak with a creative voice and to share that with others. Music is, of course, an auditory experience while photography is visual, but both convey what one is feeling at the time the artist creates the work.

Which photographers inspired you when you were starting out? Whose work do you admire now?

Ansel Adams, Michael Kenna and John Sexton were the artists that had the most impact on me at the outset. Their work still inspires me, of course. There are so many great artists whose work I admire these days. Bruce Percy, Charles Cramer, David Fokus, Nick Brandt and Julian Calverley are a few that come to mind.

What draws you to the black and white format?

Most of us see the world in color. When you strip out the color, I think details in the image become more pronounced. More intriguing. Sometimes, more mysterious. Lines, shapes, textures and tonal relationships all have more impact, for me at least, when color isn't masking these characteristics. I also find that black and white photographs lend themselves to a bit more creative interpretation than color work. I'll often do quite a bit of dodging and burning (lightening and darkening) on images in the editing stage to draw a viewer's eyes through the photograph in a certain way or to make the picture more dramatic. These techniques can be used in color work, of course, but don't have the same look and feel. At the end of the day, black and white just floats my boat.

What prompted your move to Maine?

When I was a young boy growing up in Pennsylvania, we had family that lived in Cape Elizabeth. We would hop in the car for summer vacations to visit them. I fell in love with the place instantly and knew, even then, that I wanted to make Maine my home someday. It took some time but finally in 2000, that dream came true.

Did you see an evolution in your style after the move to Maine?

I didn't start making pictures until we moved to Maine.

You recently had the opportunity to move from southern Maine to the Mount Desert area, a place you often visited to shoot. You must be in heaven. Describe the thought process you go through when going out on a shoot.

JoAnne and I had lived just outside of Portland for about 18 years. Every year, we made a point of heading downeast to spend time on Deer Isle in Stonington, Brooklin and Acadia. This area has always been our “happy place.” We now live in Lamoine, which we're thrilled about.

Sometimes I'll have a specific subject that I want to shoot, i.e. working waterfront, nautical, seascape, etc. but I prefer to go exploring with no particular agenda. I find this works best for me because I'm not forcing the picture-making process. Instead, I'm waiting for the picture to come to me. When I head out with the camera, it's a very quiet, zen-like experience. Everything around me goes silent and I'm in the moment, waiting for a scene to present itself. There are a fair number of days where I won't even take the camera out of the bag because there's simply nothing there. Other days, I may shoot a dozen frames and if I get one that strikes a chord with me, that's a very good day.

You obviously have a great talent for capturing winter scenes. Maine certainly has its variety of weather conditions in all seasons. What are some of your favorite conditions to shoot in? And why?

Maine has it all. Four seasons and ever-changing weather conditions in each of them. Winter scenes are certainly fun to shoot. Snow and ice have a way of beautifully, and often dramatically, transforming a scene into something magical. Even places that I've shot or visited in other seasons can look like they're from a different planet in winter. That said, I enjoy making pictures throughout the year.

What are you trying to convey to the viewer when deciding on a shot?

Not to get too cosmic about it, but I have a deep spiritual connection with this place. Especially the coast. This is the same feeling I had as a 7-year-old boy visiting Maine for the first time. Maine is, I think, uniquely beautiful. From the grandeur and awe-inspiring power of the Atlantic Ocean to the small fishing villages that dot the coast, this is a place that constantly wows me. The pictures I make are simply a means for me to share this love of place. Any meaning that an image may have for the viewer is entirely up to them but my hope is that they can put themselves in the picture and experience some of what I was feeling when I clicked the shutter.

Can you talk about how you are able to capture some of the effects such as those seen in Gathering Storm Clouds and Unsettled?

Yes, I think you're talking about long exposures. This is a technique that I like to use especially when there's moving water such as ocean waves or from streams or waterfalls. A long exposure freezes time and, depending on how long the exposure is, flattens out water completely, or slows movement. It can work nicely on clouds, too. This is done with ND (neutral density) filters. An ND filter is essentially a dark piece of glass that you attach to a lens. These are available in a number of different strengths, referred to as stops, which allow varying exposure times. Sometimes I might only want a half second or so and sometimes l'll want several minutes for the exposure. It all depends on the look and feel that I'm going for.

What is the criteria you use when deciding when the creative process is completed and the photo is ready to print?

Creating the exposure with the camera is just the start of the process for me. When I have a photograph that I like, I move the file into the computer for further editing. The first series of edits begins with things like cropping, straightening horizons and making any needed adjustments to things like exposure, contrast and so on. From there, I get into more of the creative aspects of the process where I may dodge and burn certain areas, alter tonal relationships, etc. A single image may come together pretty quickly or may take a few days of tweaking. The picture is ready to print when it “sings” to me. It's just a feeling I get when I know it's ready to go.

You print your own work. Can you describe that process?

I have a Canon large format printer that I use for my work. Currently, I use both Canson Infinity Baryta 310g and Hahnemuhle FineArt Baryta 325g papers. I'm sure there are a number of commercial printer's out there that would do a great job printing my images but it would be their prints, not mine. I like to have control over the process. I won't bore you with the technical details of printing, but there are times when what I'm seeing on the computer screen doesn't quite match up with what I'm looking for in the final print. In these cases, I may have to go back and make some tweaks to the file until I get the print I want. I love printing. It's gratifying to see your image rolling out of the printer, holding it in your hands and feeling good about the work that you've done.

What would be your dream project?

I'm happy to keep working right here in Maine, but I'd love to get over to Scotland at some point for some picture making.

What is it about Scotland?

From the coast to the interior, Scotland has a rugged, untamed look and feel to it that appeals to me. Islands, the sea, mountains, waterfalls, the remains of old castles: Scotland has all of these features in abundance. And then there's the weather. Conditions can change rapidly, sometimes violently, which provides great drama in the landscape. I could get lost with my camera in Scotland.

Any advice to give someone starting out on a career in photography?

Learn the technical stuff to the point where you no longer think about those things when making pictures. The best pictures you'll make are when you're having a direct connection to the subject without thinking about how your camera works or what “rules” you should follow. Shoot what you're passionate about and have fun. Maybe it's portrait work or food photography or wedding photography or landscape. The common thread is passion. Love what you do. Oh, and don't give up. When you first start, you may think your images are less than great. They'll get better with practice. Trust me.

What do you hope to give people with your photographs?

A sense of the unique beauty of this place. In a very real sense, I'm asking the viewer to finish the photograph by imagining themselves at the location where I made the picture. I'm hoping that they can feel a little of what I was feeling when I clicked the shutter. I'm hoping for emotional responses that might trigger memories and experiences for those who live here or visit, and perhaps a desire to come to Maine for those who have not yet explored this place.

douglaswoodphotography.com
Represented by Kingman Gallery in Deer Isle.

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Favorite
Comfort food? 
Well, my wife is a trained pastry chef. I'll just leave it at that.

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