My grandmother, a passionate gardener, was overtaken with joy. She wanted to be photographed in front of this prize specimen. Standing before me, she ceremoniously slipped my little hand through the wrist strap of her Kodak Instamatic and announced, “You are now officially the family photographer.” As she positioned herself in front of the golden filigree, she called out only two pieces of advice, “Sweetheart, hold onto the camera tight. And for goodness sake’s, make sure you get the entire bush in the frame.”
That photograph eventually was framed and sat on my granny’s dresser, a place of honor, for as long as I can remember. Even though it was there as a reminder of the exceptional beauty of that particular spring, for me, it was a talisman of artistic success.
The power of portrait photography can be found in many forms, from documentary style to environmental portraiture to artful compositions or somewhere comfortably in-between. Because we universally photograph our family and friends, developing a personal portrait style is a wonderful skill to hone.
I prefer a portrait made in natural light. There is something magical about how the creaminess of indirect light perfectly highlights a face. Pairing a balanced amount of serendipity of good light in an interesting setting makes for a lovely informal sitting.
Several years ago, I was invited to exhibit in an all-portrait show called the Door Prize for Portraiture, the brainchild of Cheryl Stidwell Parker and her husband, Steve Lavell. Since 2009, they have organized and hung the multi-media exhibit in their little farmhouse outside of Baileys Harbor.
For this show, I began by making a single portrait of my daughter. With each passing year and invite, and each year with my daughter’s agreement (and collaboration), we have together made portraits that have marked my daughter’s growing up.
Each portrait in the exhibit has been accompanied with a short essay on my feelings as a mother at that moment and the influences that brought us to that particular approach to the photograph.
These images have not only become absolute treasures for us both, but the portrait- making process has become an event in itself that my daughter and I look forward to each year—from the planning stage to opening night.
Door County holds almost 300 miles of shoreline, 23,000 acres of public and preserved land and more than 40 lighthouses, but, I believe, our greatest asset is our thriving community of artists. From painters to poets, we have all the visual and traditional arts fully represented.
Traveling purposefully is extremely fulfilling. By assigning yourself a project with a theme, you have a singular subject to wrap a day around or even an entire trip. It not only challenges you as a photographer but it also gives you permission to engage a community on a deeper level.
The mindset of photography as a catalyst to connect with individuals ultimately, through introductions and conversation, makes way for great photographs. Taking a series of photos of an artist at work, framing a shot on their tools they use to make their art or even just photographing their studio space will nicely build a themed portfolio of images.
The annual Door Peninsula Arts Guide is the best source to locate and visit artist studios open to the public. It’s a comprehensive free handbook that has literally done all the planning for your art-filled adventure in the county. It’s the only map you’ll need to not only seek out artist’s studios open to the public but to also navigate the gallery and museum scene as well. They can be found at all visitors’ centers and in most entrances of business and restaurants.
Visiting artists in their studios is truly a special experience. Getting a glimpse into the mysteries of glass blowing or witness a lump of clay being transformed into an elegant vessel is awe-inspiring. Capturing the essence of the moment in a photograph is priceless.
Many towns have events that offer a concentrated local experience. Ellison Bay has a semi-annual Art Crawl in Spring and Fall, Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek hosts an expansive Plein Air Festival in July, the Woman’s Fine Art Galleries of Egg Harbor Annual Progressive Art Crawl keep their doors open late on a single day in August, and Sturgeon Bay hosts an Art Crawl every November featuring 20 artists’ studios.
Personally, I’m on a lifelong art crawl through this place I call home. And in a sense, I’m still carrying on the same assignment my grandma gave me so many years ago as the family photographer, but now the lines have been redrawn. The community of artists here in Door County is like family, and I feel our bond grows stronger with each release of my shutter.