2012-06-01 / People

Local man travels through the lens

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer


Mason Philip Smith Mason Philip Smith Cape Elizabeth photographer Mason Philip Smith has been taking pictures for a long time. When Smith took a picture of a woman’s worn and gnarled hands in the Yunnan province of China last fall, he was confident he had a great shot.

“I came upon two little women sitting in the doorway in the front yard of their house,” Smith said. “In broken Chinese and broken English, I talked to them and asked if they would let me photograph them. As I walked away, I noticed the woman’s hands in her lap, wonderful shot. So I took one. That’s all. I took one and moved on. I’ve been doing this 60 years.”

The photograph, titled, “Revealed,” won Best of Show at the 2012 Maine Photography Show. More than 300 photographers from around the state submitted 800 photos for the show this year. Judge Andre Gallant, a freelance photographer from St. John, New Brunswick, selected Smith’s photo as the best overall in the competition.


Mason Philip Smith’s photo, titled “Revealed,” received best of show in the Maine Photography Show 2012. (Courtesy photo) Mason Philip Smith’s photo, titled “Revealed,” received best of show in the Maine Photography Show 2012. (Courtesy photo) Smith’s photo was on display, along with other entries Gallant selected from the submissions, through the beginning of this month at Boothbay Region Art Foundation in Boothbay Harbor. Submissions open for the 2013 exhibit in December.

Smith, who was born in Maine, has traveled around the world taking photos – from China to Japan to Holland to rural Russia. But he still enjoys Maine as a subject for photos, although he said he doesn’t take pictures of “lobsters traps and lighthouses.”

Smith said he prefers photographing old buildings, trains, and panoramic views in Maine that he thinks would escape most people’s eyes.

“There’s a place in Thomaston where the train goes right between two houses,” Smith said. “Most people wouldn’t see that. Sometimes you stumble on things. Sometimes you see something and it’s the wrong time of day.”

He gestures to the window outside on a cloudy afternoon.

“I prefer a day like this when it’s overcast (because) you can do more with the textures. I think I try to operate at a higher level and just take what impresses me.”

Smith said there’s no easy trick to knowing what makes a great photograph, but like with many other businesses, experience and practice make for a better quality. He tells the story of a young photographer who asked at a gallery whether he should be looking for light or shadow.

“If you’ve been at this long enough, you recognize it when you see it,” Smith responded. “It’s just there. You don’t go looking for it. I think amateurs go out and say ‘let’s do shadows today.’ That’s how you learn, that’s how I learned 50 years ago. But now, you just see it, you know.”

“A good photographer has a great filter and it’s called the brain,” he continued. “It’s between the eyes. Things just appeal to you … I know what will be a good photograph when I see it. I don’t care if it’s a good photograph to anybody else. I’m shooting for me. I’m photographing for me.”

Smith has been working for himself since 1962, when he began his photojournalism career after brief stints in public relations and newspapers. He was the first photo intern at the state’s largest daily in the late 1950s. Smith said those jobs were valuable in teaching him what he didn’t want to do and leading him to a career in photojournalism after he graduated from Boston University in 1960.

Smith plans to make one more trip to the Yunnanprovince to take photographs. Whether there is another awardwinner in his future or not, Smith will continue to take photos that personally appeal to him.

Staff Writer Jack Flagler can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 219

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