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Mainer Spotlight - Mark Fleming

Welcome to our new blog—MaineVibes! Our goal is simple: to shine a light on the endless adventures, happenings, places, and activities around Maine. We'll also be featuring the stories of some Maine influencers who inspire us and who share their love for Maine. Each month we'll bring you something new. 

To start the series, we interviewed Maine based photographer and creative, Mark Fleming. If you don’t already follow Mark on Instagram, you’re missing out on some classic Maine imagery that embodies a quintessential life in New England. Mark’s photography career began at a young age while visiting Acadia National Park; these days, his passion for the rugged Maine coastline still shows in his work and subject matter. We caught up with him recently to see what he’s up to, what keeps him in Maine, and why he loves drone photography.

 

A post shared by Mark Fleming (@mfphoto) on

 


Hey Mark, how’s it going? What are you up to these days?

It’s going well! I am currently working for Yankee Magazine as their Senior Photographer, which has me traveling around New England to capture images for features, stories, other smaller pieces in the magazine. It keeps me pretty busy, haha. Outside of that, I’m still doing a bunch of personal work, some stuff for myself and some for clients - automotive, tourism, things like that. It’s a lot of shooting, which is good!

 

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How long have you been into photography? 

Well, I got my first real-deal camera when I was in the fourth grade. Just because it was a real-deal camera, doesn’t mean I was taking real deal photos yet, haha. I ended up running around Acadia, flying through film; I practically bankrupted my Father with one-hour processing fees. I really got into photography in high school though. I had a great art teacher who really encouraged me and told me that I didn’t have to go to college for banking, or teaching, or something like that. It made me realize that my hopes and dreams might actually be possible, and that I could go to school for an art degree and make a living with it. I’ve been pretty serious about photography ever since then. I went to RIT to study photography, and I’ve had my own business for a while, but I found my real passion through working for magazines, because I can follow a story more than other assignments. That’s what I absolutely love doing.

 

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What’s your favorite part about living in Maine? 

Well, Maine is what got me into photography. I was born in Connecticut, and when I was pretty young, my parents bought a summer home in Palermo, Maine, near Belfast. We would come up pretty often and would go to Acadia a lot; that was where my dad gave me a camera (probably because I was bugging the hell out of him) and told me to go take pictures of things in the park. I fell in love with Acadia through those experiences. When my parents decided to move to Maine, I absolutely fell in love with the state because there was something about being able to go from the mountains to the ocean so quickly, and there’s a certain kind of lifestyle here. Like a lot of people, I graduated high school and left thinking I would never return, and sure enough I found my way back. It’s intoxicating in a lot of ways, but photography really secures the love and connection.

 

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Your Instagram account may be one of our favorite accounts that we follow, because of your uniform aesthetic. How would you describe your style? And does it take a lot of effort to keep your posts consistent? 

Well thank you, first and foremost! For a long time, I treated Instagram as a place where I would just throw up random photos. To be honest with you, I was getting a little jaded last year, so I decided to challenge myself to shoot as much as possible and to post every day if I could. I started to go out and shoot whatever was around me, without having any preconceived ideas. I did that for several months and the aesthetic began to develop.

I’d define my style as “moody,” if we were to go with a single word. It’s interesting, because a lot of the work I do for clients isn’t necessarily moody - it’s kind of a tough aesthetic when you’re trying to sell something. I really enjoy trying to find unique lighting or unique locations that put across a certain vibe. I obviously love shooting in great light early or late in the day, but I also like shooting when it’s super grey, or when it’s foggy, or raining, or snowing. When I would go to the same places over and over again to shoot, I would focus on the differences in environment and lighting. Keeping things uniform when it came to processing became more important, because I wanted the subject to be the source of change, not the processing and look of the images.

I really took the time to develop a style that I liked. I started by stepping back from my client work and asked myself, “alright, what is it that I really enjoy when I look at an image?” The result ended up being a film-like aesthetic; a lot of the photographers that I follow and a lot of the stuff I learned on my own was on film. There were certain things that I missed about it, one of those was how moody you could be with film, messing around with emulsions, and how you processed those shots. I try to keep a uniformity between each image, so that when you look at them as a whole, you can scroll through and get a sense of uniformity, but when you look at the photos individually, you can identify each subject and notice the subtile changes in season, lighting, things like that.

 

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One of the recent additions to your camera arsenal was a drone. How do you like using it for photography? Have you run into any challenges with it yet?

I love my drone, but it definitely has its challenges. I wanted one for a long time, but I didn’t make the leap until recently when the DJI Mavic came out. I wanted something that I could bring with me, and the Mavic is fantastic for that reason - it’s super small, I can throw it in a backpack, and I don’t have to think about it. Flying it is surprisingly easy too, sometimes scarily so. I’m still terrified every time I fly that I’m going to tank it into the water or into a tree, but thankfully they have a lot of built in safety features and it’s relatively easy to navigate. It did take me a while to learn, and that’s one of the biggest challenges, along with the 20 minute battery life.

When I first got it, I was almost overwhelmed by how much I could do with it. The first few times I put it up in the air, I was trying to take video, take photos, all these different things; what allowed me to use it well was limiting my intentions. I had to remind myself that I’m not a cinematographer right now, and that helped me focus on using it to take pictures. Now when I go out to shoot with it, I know what I’m going to do, I visualize the shot, and I plan out what my course will be. I’m more methodical about my approach, rather than using it as a toy.

 

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Speaking of drone photography, you recently started posting bird’s eye view photos to Instagram of lobster boats. Tell us a bit more about this series, where the idea came from, and where you hope to take the project.

I’ve always been obsessed with lobster boats. When I first came up to Maine and was around Acadia, I fell in love with Bass Harbor, Stonington, and the other working harbors in the area. Lobster boats have a real rugged appeal; they run on diesel engines that sound so good, yet their lines and contours are smooth and clean. They kind of echo Maine in that they’re a little jagged and a little bit rocky. I’ve always wanted to look down on lobster boats from above, because they're very similar when viewed from the side; If you go to Stonington for example, you’re going to see different colors, different numbers, and maybe slightly different orientations, but the boats basically look the same from that perspective. When I took the drone out for the first time, it was almost by accident that I looked straight down, saw the outline of one, and thought to myself, “hey this is kind of interesting.” I've been a big fan of top down photography because it gives you a certain perspective that you don't see often. This particular series wouldn’t be possible without something like a drone, because you have to get close enough to the boat to get the right perspective and detail without causing a disturbance.

For me, this project is about answering, “How can I represent lobster boats differently than what I've seen before?” I want to document as many boats and as many harbors as I can for a series - just solitary boats against the calm ocean, which is what I've been doing thus far. In Maine, the water in the harbors is usually pretty deep, so it looks really dark in the photographs and the boats really stick out well. I also want to try to document the differences between boats from different harbors too. I just recently started talking with the Maine Lobsterman Association; I think being able to work with the folks who do this every day, I can get a more information about, say, the differences between a Stonington lobster boat and a Jonesport lobster boat. I’m going to try to work with them to do a series on working boats too, with actual crew members on board doing various tasks.

So, in theory, that’s where it's hopefully going to go. People have had a really big interest in it, and honestly you never know how people will react when you first post something. People seem to really enjoy it though, and I think it's a different way of looking at something that's very iconic in Maine.

 

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There’s a very active and connected community of photographers here in Maine. Do you enjoy networking with the other creatives in the State? Does anyone stand out or inspire you? 

Absolutely. I first started to up my networking and collaboration game when I was working for Downeast Magazine. During that time, I tried to talk to as many photographers in Maine as I could, and I’m truly blown away by how much talent is in this little state. Compared to other photo communities I’ve seen in different regions, the community of photographers here is more accepting, and there's not as much competition. I don't think I've ever really seen anybody being negative - I think everybody is very positive and everybody supports each other. That may be because there are not a ton of photographers that fall into the same category and directly compete with each other. Now there are, for example, several portrait photographers, but I can't think of two that are so closely related you'd say, “Well OK, I have to hire this person or that person.” It’s a diverse group of photographers, which is unique and pretty amazing.

As for people who inspire me, well, how much time do you have? Brian Fitzgerald, because he was embedded in Iraq for a long time. Tristan Spinski, who lives in Portland, has worked for the New York Times, Mother Jones, and has done some incredible work. Greta Rybus, who has shot for damn near every publication in the country at this point, but also somehow manages to find a way to do a personal project on global warming's effect on numerous countries around the world.

The things that people do outside of photography, or around photography, inspires me just as much. Cam Held is doing amazing things on Instagram, but is also working to create a publication inside the state, grassroots style. Ben Williamson could shoot the best sunset in the state no matter where he is, but he's also tracking weather patterns. Jamie Walter, not only for his photography skills, but also for the fact he can jump out of a helicopter and somehow not kill himself.

People here are making their living doing creative endeavors, and they're not losing track of that, even with all that’s going on in the world. They're pushing themselves to be creative, they're making a living in creative endeavors, and being creative about how they're doing it. You don't see people anymore struggling with a dead end career or what they perceive is a dead end career. Rather, I see a lot of friends that are branching out into various and sundry things and working their butts off. But on the flipside, they're happy, they're constantly upbeat about it, and they're constantly pursuing their dream. I think that’s amazing and inspiring on way more levels than just saying, “oh I like their work.”

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You can check out more of Mark Fleming's work on his website or Instagram page.


Jamie Walter
Jamie Walter

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