About Me

Photograph of Mark WhitneySince you’re visiting this page I’m going to assume that you’re really bored and looking to kill some time so here’s some info on my background and my perspective on things.

I’m a native of a small town just east of Rochester, New York. Mostly when I mention that I’m from New York people immediately picture “the city” – lots of tall buildings and traffic. Actually huge portions of the state are agricultural and natural. Farms cover something like seven million acres and New York is one of the top producing states for dairy products and fruits like apples and grapes. The Adirondack Park in the north is the largest state park in the US with over six million acres and that’s just one of the many parks and wildlife management areas sprinkled all over the state.

The New York I grew up in was not about skyscrapers, it was about showing my horse at the county fair, gardening with my mother, and hunting and fishing with my father.

I’ve moved around a bit since then – college at Butler University in Indianapolis (Chemistry and Environmental Studies), grad school at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Organic Natural Products Chemistry), living in southern California for a while, then Florida, then Indiana, then NY again, and currently back to Indiana.

With my outdoor experience and my background in environmental studies you would think I’d be earning a living as a park ranger or something like that, but somehow I ended up as a computer programmer. Life can be like that sometimes. I worked in IT with a christian mission organization, for a clinical medical lab, a financial company, and now I help keep Ball State University’s web site up and running.

An undercurrent running through all of this has been my love of photography. Somewhere around when I was in 5th grade I got my hands on a kid’s toy darkroom kit. It came with all the chemicals and trays, some sample negatives for making contact prints, and the photo paper needed to turn any family laundry into a working darkroom. I’m sure no one could get away with selling something this dangerous to kids anymore, but those were simpler and less litigious times. From the first moment that I slid a piece of photo paper into a tray of developer and saw a photo magically appear before my eyes, I was hooked.

Over the years I’ve taken photos whenever I could – sometimes I didn’t have time or sometimes I just couldn’t afford the equipment, but I always come back to it. My style has changed and matured as tens of thousands of images have come and gone. I must admit that I don’t like a lot of the photos that I take, especially the older ones, but there a two things that I think have helped me to become much more comfortable in my photographer skin.

For a ling time I only did color photos. I loved the black and white work of masters like Adams, Strand, Stieglitz, Lange, and Steichen, but I just couldn’t get the hang of creating a really good monochrome print so I used color to cover up my lack of ability. I was OK with that for a while, but eventually I became disillusioned with photos that only scratched the surface and looked too much like repeats of everybody else’s.

One day I decided I couldn’t do it anymore so I forced myself to only work in black and white from then on. I was using a digital camera at the time and I set it to monochrome mode so that everything in my workflow from on camera previews to the final print would be black and white. That made a big difference in helping me to better understand how to create a deep photograph and to develop my own personal style.

Rather than just taking shallow snaps of pretty colors, I began to concentrate on content selection, framing, forms, patterns, and contrasts. I found myself spending a lot more time thinking about photographs and less time blasting away. Without the aid of color, I’ve had to dig deeper and imagine more. It took me about a year and a half to get to the point where I started to like my black and white photos.

The second thing that has helped me improve my photos is studying not only the work of photography masters but also art outside of photography. I never used to visit art museums much, but now I can’t get enough of them. Whenever I’m visiting a new city I make a point of hitting the museums and art galleries.

Experiencing great works of art first hand is inspiring and challenging. Learning how artists through the centuries have struggled to express beauty, power, and emotion with their creations has informed my own work.

I’ve learned to appreciate the abstract, the expressive, the grand, and the mundane. Like Stieglitz, themes from the larger world of art have started to creep into my photos. I don’t want to copy the work of others. I want to use their inspiration and understanding of the world to give me more tools to use in crafting my own unique photographs.

I hope you like my photos. I take them for myself because of that weird inner drive to create that lives inside all of us, but also because I want to convey something of what I experience to you. To satisfy both desires I’ll need to keep practicing and learning and dreaming.

MDW