Photography as Art? ~ Let’s Walk and Talk!

Last Saturday morning I went to the Mariners’ Museum for a walk and talk and a PowerPoint presentation by a world-renowned photographer, Dorothy Kerper Monnelly.  Her wonderfully artistic black and white photographs are on exhibit in a show entitled Fragile Waters at the museum.  She is one of three famous professional photographers included in the show, the other two being Ansel Adams and Ernest H. Brooks II.

Until recently, I’ve always viewed my own photography as simply reference material to work from for my oil paintings.  With my newfound passion of photographing wetlands, waterfowl and other bird life, I’ve had to work harder at my photography skills.  Along with it has come a greater appreciation for a good photograph.

In a previous blog, I mentioned “The Art of Nature”.  Nature in itself is beautiful, so personally over the years I’ve somewhat dismissed the amount of talent it takes to take a pretty picture.  But in this walk and talk, I listened to Dorothy discuss the importance of opening one’s mind to what might make a good photograph; enveloping yourself in your natural surroundings, getting to know your subject matter intimately, framing the shot correctly, knowing the tidal changes, knowing the lighting conditions, knowing what you’re looking for, always trying to plan ahead.  She encouraged us to be observant; to notice the morning dew on the leaves, or the tiny dark shadow cast by a stone, or the leaves’ shadow on a tree trunk. 

In her lecture, she spoke of one of her artistic photographic interests of which I could identify.  She is drawn to abstract-like formations caused by nature, whether it is from rain, wind, water etc…  Things like patterns in marsh grasses, sand dune markings, ice patterns, rock striations. 

I was hearing an artist speak.  I was also getting confirmation of what I have been working on photographically.  I felt a connection to her by our similar interests and thoughts.  One of her photographs in the Fragile Waters show was of the striated rock formations at Pemaquid Point in Maine.  I too have climbed those rocks and was fascinated by the weathered striated rock formations enough to have photographed them and painted them several times. 

She spoke passionately about her love of the Great Marsh along the New England coastline.  Every chance she gets she takes to be on location;  setting up her old fashioned 4 x 5 box camera with the hood over her head, out in all kinds of weather including New England squalls.  She still develops her own prints in the dark room.  Recently she has been experimenting with digital photography and sees it as a viable tool in the future. 

All of her passion and hard work has paid off.  Her photographic legacy is now shown in museums, recorded in hardback books now available for purchase at the Mariners’ Museum.

After seeing the presentation and hearing her speak, I was anxious to walk the 5 mile Noland Trail around a large lake on the museum grounds to see what kind of photographs I could take, keeping in mind what I had just heard. 

Here are a few shots of turtles that I took that afternoon, while walking the Noland Trail.  I noticed the beautiful markings on the turtles’ shells, then the water patterns and the reflected light, the protruding faces and I thought to myself, “This is more than just a picture of a turtle”.  As I snapped away, I could hear Dorothy in my head passionately speaking about abstraction, patterns, light and shadow. 


Sometimes an artistic photograph results from being in the right place at the right time and it all comes down to luck.  Many times though, it’s being able to recognize what will make a quality shot.  Additionally, there is the technical side of knowing how to work with your camera in order to capture a special moment artistically. 

I will continue to use all of my photography as reference material for my paintings, but I do find that occasionally a photo stands all by itself, and I would never attempt to paint it. 


Be sure to check out Dorothy Kerper Monnelly’s lifetime of work and her photographic art at the Mariners’ Museum exhibit Fragile Waters in Newport News, VA.