The works of self-described traveling photographer Jack Holmes are somehow bursting with vibrancy and steeped in stillness at the same time. It’s easy to imagine yourself stepping through one of his frames and living in the world his camera has captured and created.
Some of these works are on display in “Images from Near and Far: Jack Holmes, Traveling Photographer” at Sage Gallery through the end of the month. It is his first time as the featured artist at the gallery, which is run by Janice Donnelly and opened last October.
The photographs featured in Holmes’s exhibit were drawn from a variety of times and places. In one, Holmes captures two oranges suspended from the branches of a tree in Spain. In another, two black chairs sit — inexplicably — amid the richly camel-colored sand dunes of Morocco. It’s a lesson in finding something out of context, Holmes says. Yet another photo depicts a seemingly endless and pleasingly geometric red-orange walkway to a Shinto shrine in Japan.
Holmes, who lives in Andover, Mass., and maintains a studio at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, has been traveling with a camera in hand for as long as he can remember. At his recent 50th high school reunion, he was reminded that he wrote that he wanted to be a traveler in his yearbook. He taught chemistry and physics for 37 years and saved his summer vacations for traveling and documenting those travels.
He and his wife, Meg Holmes, have traveled all over the U.S., and after their children went off to college, they began traveling internationally as well. Holmes’s goal for each trip he makes is to bring back the place through photos and words; in addition to photography, he blogs about his experiences. Holmes has visited six continents, most recently venturing to Antarctica.
“It’s just like here, only with more penguins,” said Holmes of the coldest continent, laughing. “Their summer is like our winter.”
Holmes, who shoots with digital and film cameras, says that after getting scenic photos of the landscape and the “cute face” of a penguin or seal, he seeks to dig deeper with his lens.
“The whole idea is to try to photograph behavior,” said Holmes, calm and soft-spoken. “I have to keep asking myself, ‘How do I get the patience to photograph the behavior?’”
Holmes somewhat jokingly calls himself a National Geographic photographer for his extended family, but the distinction is not too far off. His first photography workshop was with National Geographic in 2004, and he won a grand prize — a photography cruise to Baja — from the nonprofit scientific and educational institution in 2008 for one of his photos.
“In 2004, I was really getting ready to retire, and I remembered my dad counting down the days left to his retirement from the Navy,” Holmes said. “I vowed to retire to something, not from something.” So he retired to the pursuit of his passion for photography, nearly full-time.
Holmes also now has time to teach photography and basic editing privately and to small groups. He is often invited to give slide show presentations of his work to organizations such as the Andover Senior Center, the Appalachian Mountain Club of New Hampshire, and the Manchester Artists Association, for which he serves as librarian.
His photographic style has changed over the years, and he attributes the transition to the company he keeps. He says he absorbs the techniques of the painters around him in the Lowell artist community and has shifted from a more documentary photography style, which is fact-based and objective, to something more like fine art.
“Fine art means you have an idea about what the image would look like,” said Holmes, who prints and mats his own photos. “You’re not just taking pictures; you’re making pictures. ... When a painter puts elements on a canvas, they’ve chosen the image, the light, the palette. It’s the same thing [with my photographs], but I have to find those things where I am.”
Holmes still remembers his first photography lesson, a lesson his National Geographic workshop instructor, David Alan Harvey, taught him in 2004.
“He told me, ‘You’re walking around too much. Find a place, sit down and let the pictures come to you,’” Holmes recalled. “I was being a tourist, but [what I needed to do] was find a space and be there. Once you’re there, no one sees you with a camera, and they can be who they want to be. You can photograph life happening as it passes you by.”