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Mary Porter, Volunteer Photographer

Mary Porter's Slideshow

See some of Mary's amazing work in Virginia, as a Virginia volunteer photographer.

Think of a Conservancy project in Virginia, and chances are, the picture in your head originated from Mary Porter’s camera.

Porter recently stopped by our Charlottesville office to reflect on her decade of volunteer service to the Conservancy and some of our favorite nature images she captured.
"My ambition is to make photographs you can print and frame and hang on the wall like paintings."

Mary Porter
Volunteer Photographer

Didn't you first study painting?

Mary Porter:

I did, at the Maryland Institute College of Art, otherwise known as MICA. I received a Master of Fine Arts in painting. I actually spent a year at the Chicago Art Institute first, but not in a degree program. I just took different courses, one of which was photography. My teacher said, I really hope you’re going to continue in photography. But I said, hah, fat chance — I’m a painter!

Has painting influenced your photography?

Mary Porter:

Absolutely. I have a quarrel with professional photographers who know all about photography, but little about aesthetics. I consider myself a printmaker more than a photographer, like a lithographer or etcher. It just so happens that my source of image is a camera.

How did you settle on nature photography?

Mary Porter:

When I was painting, that’s what I painted. When I was out sketching, I wanted every little detail, and there’s a lot of detail in nature. I wasn’t a machine, so I had to leave things out. But I figured I could do it with a camera; I could get all the detail.

I was also running out of steam painting and just didn’t have the enthusiasm I did originally. So I thought, okay, I need a break. I’ll take up the photography and just do that for awhile. And I never went back. It just flowed. It was nothing like the painting — painting was such an effort. So I thought, well, this is what I was meant to do.

Do you remember what brought you to our door that first time?

Mary Porter:

If there aren’t any wild places, then I don’t have anywhere to take pictures. So I thought it would only be to my service to do whatever I could for you. I’d been taking pictures at Great Falls Park on the Potomac and had a show up there in the visitor center. When that show was done, I approached the Northside Library here in Charlottesville; they had a nice art wall no one knew about. But I brought the prints here first because I was wondering if you might need the services of a landscape photographer. 

It started off slowly. I went to a few preserves. But pretty soon I ended up covering the whole state of Virginia through The Nature Conservancy.

Has working with the Conservancy influenced your exhibition work?

Mary Porter:

It all sort of flows together. I wouldn’t know anything about Virginia without The Nature Conservancy, not only where to go, but also what to look for — what certain places are known for, flowers or birds or what’s in the water. A lot of my material comes from the work I do for the Conservancy, but I only show a work if the average person could go to that particular spot.

Any experiences that were especially memorable?

Mary Porter:

Oh yeah, birding on the Eastern Shore. I’d never been out with birders before. Wow! Talk about involvement with birds — they knew everything, every song and feather. It was a real eye opener. But every photo has a story.

What’s next for your work?

Mary Porter:

Continuing to show at the gallery downtown, and I also exhibit my work at the Northside Library. I have no particular ambition to publish my images in magazines or books. My ambition is to make photographs you can print and frame and hang on the wall like paintings.

Of course, I have a list of places I want to go. About every two years I go somewhere outside of Virginia. There are lots of places I haven’t been yet!

About the Interviewer
Interviewed by Daniel White, Nature Conservancy senior conservation writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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