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Photographer of the Week: Mary Schiess

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  June 7, 2010 08:00 AM

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I first "met" Mary Schiess online soon after RAW launched almost two years ago when she emailed suggesting that I might want to write about a special Boston neighborhood photo project (which I did; read it here). I've always liked her photography, but when I asked her to be a Photographer of the Week, her first reaction was that I must have chosen her because "perhaps I have scored the largest number of rejections from notable photographers judging the monthly contests!!!!!!!" Hardly. Mary's passion for this craft and the number of photo projects she has created for herself should inspire all of us.

By Mary Schiess

Photography is who I am. Not my original words! Not even my personal idiom! More of a wish, a goal. Adjusted for life's circumstances, adapted by reality, photography is actually a part of who I am, a significant part, a self-defining part.

Although I appreciate the chance to photograph almost anything, travel photography, documentary photography, and personal projects are my favorites.

Travel photography, for me, is a perverse mixture of pleasure and pain. I remember reading that travel photography is a great pursuit because it can encompass all aspects of photography: landscapes, portraits, architecture, indoor, outdoor, editorial, street, close-ups, and panoramas. Visiting an unfamiliar area, often not speaking the language, adjusting to jet lag, and expecting to create great images represents a challenge.

Horsemen in Chile
Our guide at Canyon de Maipo, Chile, could speak Spanish
and requested that these five horsemen pause for a photo.

1/200 sec. at f/14, ISO 200, focal length 16mm

As a traveler, I am more likely to reach a destination at high noon (a photographer's nemesis) than early morning or early evening (the moments of sweet light). As a traveler, I am sometimes reluctant to stray from the typical tourist path.

Initially I attempted to document trips. Now I hope for one or two images that will define the trip. As I review photos from six of the seven continents I have visited (no Antarctica), my favorites usually include people.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina
It is difficult not to take a fine photo at Iguazu Falls in Argentina. It is equally difficult to take an exceptional one. Here the spectators create a sense of scale.
1/640 sec. at f/20, ISO 200, focal length 12mm

Bob, my husband, cheerfully tolerates the idiosyncrasies associated with a photography-crazed wife. Braking the car for a rainbow over a New Zealand farmhouse, trusting my instincts for hiring a private guide, believing that Chefchaouen in Morocco is worth a visit, willingly playing sherpa for my camera equipment, and sharing my enthusiasm, Bob has patiently adjusted to my passion. He must. He gave me my first 35mm camera!

Farmhouse with rainbow, New Zealand
New Zealand rainbow
1/400 sec. at f/16, ISO 200, focal length 28mm

Children in Chefchaouen, Morocco
Children play in Chefchaouen, Morocco
1/200 sec. at f/13, ISO 200, focal length 17mm

I prefer having a purpose for my photography. Recently, as part of a larger project, I documented community groups in Dorchester and relaxation at South Boston's Castle Island. (See the results of the project here.) My town, Duxbury, will honor its 375th anniversary in 2012, and I will be part of the photo committee.

What I sacrifice regarding familiarity and timing on my travels, I offset with at-home projects. I thought my portfolio should include the New England seasons. That project is, of course, ongoing. With several cranberry bogs in my neighborhood, I narrowed the topic and photographed the bogs during each season.

Cranberry bog
Cranberry bog
1/320 sec. at f/16, ISO 400, focal length 125mm

Having taught in Quincy and continuously inspired by Quincy’s history, geography, and community, I decided to make Quincy a long-term project. I also initiated a 365 (actually 366 - a leap year) Project. With a conflict of emotions, I abandoned it after three months.

Adams Mansion, Quincy
Adams Mansion in Quincy
1/400 sec. at f/14, ISO 200, focal length 24mm

Perhaps my most significant project is a simple one: family. Four years ago, granddaughter Maya arrived. Thus began "Moments with Maya." I recently celebrated her sister Rachel’s first birthday with a photo book entitled "Birth Day to Birthday." As for the grandson on the way, beware a grandmother with a camera!

At the Aquarium
Rachel and Maya at the Aquarium
1/60 sec. at f/4, bounce flash, ISO 200, focal length 28mm

Photography is an active and passive experience. It has required study, practice, and the ability to tolerate frustration. I have attended classes and seminars. I belong to the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester and the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. The MFA now has a photography gallery that I visit.

I have attended lectures by masters such as Elliott Erwitt, Jay Maisel, Maria Cosindas, Lou Jones, and The Boston Globe’s Bill Greene, Essdras Suarez, and Stan Grossfeld. When MOMA in New York exhibits 300 images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, I go. When the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington exhibits 58 images of America’s National Parks by Quang Tuan Luong, I go.

Sometimes the rewards of photography are tangible. I have an acceptance or an award in a juried show. I sell an image. A publication includes my work. The feedback reinforces my drive.

However, the drive, the passion, is the thing. Whether doing or viewing, I am, at the core, part photographer! And I am glad of that!

See more of Mary's photos in a full-screen gallery here.


About Mary
After a career in education, Mary now enjoys having the time to write, to photograph, and to travel. In her photography pursuits, she uses Canon equipment and favors a wide-angle lens. Her photographs have received numerous awards in juried shows on the South Shore.

See all Photographers
of the Week

Mary Schiess
Sometimes photography means
waiting and watching
and waiting and watching!

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