In today’s world, people are constantly bombarded with visual representations in all aspects of their everyday lives. In the hyper contextualized world of Instagram and Facebook, it can be easy for a person to forget the refined authority of a trained photographer’s eye – one that can tell a comprehensive story. And given the ease in which a person can now experiment with photography via their mobile phones, there are only a precious few who still have these talents without the crutch of modern tools.
Mark Edward Atkinson is one of these precious few. He is a rare and illustrious photographic artist whose ability to transform experience beyond time and space into a single frame has singled him out even amongst his peers. In honor of this career and the transformative photos he has shot globally over the years, a retrospective of his career called PROOF opens this Friday in Norfolk at The Hermitage Museum. And with it comes a unique sense of purpose, since his body of work can never be replicated through the comfort of your mobile phone, only through a lens that has experienced all that life has to offer.
Atkinson, began his journey as a photographer during his years at Wake Forest University studying print journalism before finding his way behind the camera. Yet his years as a photojournalist compelled him on a journey that has chronicled his keen ability to tell life’s stories through powerful images. He has effectively translated this journey into solid, striking moments through his lens – capturing icons or everyday people in portrait form – each stolen spirit living within the frame, which speaks from a place far beyond the space it was taken from.
In today’s world there are so many ways to quantify a photographer’s talent: 1,000 likes or $1,000, but to experience the depth of character, the darkness of the moment, the rapture of being present requires a certain kind of alchemy to translate still photos into a linear story for the viewer.
PROOF is full of this visual storytelling, and each subject (alive or inanimate) represents a turbulent character arc. All of which is the mark not only of a seasoned photographer, but a great story-teller. Atkinson’s body of work carries the stories of 1,000 different lifetimes and through his work and publishing will inevitably inspire and influence thousands more.
Atkinson’s roots are local to Norfolk, making him one of the most prolific artists still producing a body of work in Virginia today. For this reason, Carrie Spencer, Hermitage Curator of Contemporary Art, has said, “While many of Mark’s photographs have been taken all over the world, his roots are here in Hampton Roads. These photographs provide a window to various places both near and far.” She went on to comment how through his images people were “able to traverse the globe and gain a glimpse of the international human experience.”
These local roots have always been important to Atkinson and informed his experience as a photographer. In the 1980s and after college, he moved to Norfolk and became the photo-editor of Commonwealth Magazine. He eventually opened a studio and began to explore commercial work and advertising.
Atkison’s exhibit PROOF is an exhibition that will also debut the release of his book of the same title. In doing so, the viewers of his work will hopefully see that the power of photography and what those photos convey is more than just a printed picture. That it isn’t who possesses the camera, but how the camera possesses the operator, acting as a channel to capture the beauty, tragedy, and solemnity of a moment in time that would otherwise be lost forever.
This is an age in which photography is playing a critical role in our lives. Least of all, because the magic and mystery behind the lens have dissolved with the increased access to technology – a camera hides inside the pocket of each American. Yet it is storytellers like Atkinson who continue to show us that art can still come from behind the camera and that certain photos will always breathe their own rhythm, with a conductor that knows how to properly align each piece.
PROOF opens on Friday, April 13th. Members are encouraged to come early at 6 pm for a cocktail hour and the general public is invited to join at 7 pm. Tickets are available here. The exhibition runs from April 13th to July 22nd at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
Photos By: Mark Atkinson