Living the lensman's life
By HILLARY SAGES, For The Capital Photo by Joshua McKerrow - The Capital
After being told on the first day of college that less than 1 percent of graduates make a living as artists, Doug Barber has spent 30 years doing just that.
The Rose Haven resident photographs locations, people and motorcycles - not the normally lucrative trio of weddings, family portraits and pets. He prefers the simplicity of capturing a moment without an entourage.
The jolly, bearded man loves to take pictures, but can't give them away like toys from Santa Claus. He loathes the business aspect of his job, and gets help from his wife, Susan, who does his bookkeeping.
"I am not a photographer to make money," he said. "I make money to be a photographer."
He must be doing something right, since his work has been featured worldwide. In the Governor's Cup professional photographers' competition, he won the Silver Award in 2002 and the Gold Award last year.
His work has been featured in the Susquehanna Art Museum and the America's Gallery, and he had an exhibit, "Old School Biker Photos," featured at Gettysburg Bike Week in July.
E. Steuart Chaney, owner of Herrington Harbour Marinas, has been hiring Mr. Barber for at least seven years to shoot landscapes, architecture and portraits.
"He's quite skilled in many facets of photography," said Mr. Chaney, adding that he's very personal and jovial. "Doug has an instinct of how to capture the best photography using natural light."
His makeshift studio houses his computer for digital imaging, space for studio work, a light stand, a darkroom and his custom old-school chopper, which he built in 2001.
Mr. Barber can pinpoint his love for travel to his childhood, when he moved every two years, as his father was in the military, and lived in several places in Maryland.
At age 16, while living in Okinawa, Japan, he first picked up a camera, rode a motorcycle and coincidentally started photographing them.
He landed a full scholarship to the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he earned a bachelor's degree and met his future wife, who was studying sculpture at the time. Mrs. Barber has since earned an accounting degree. They now have two daughters, Casey, 19, and Erin, 17.
Mr. Barber traveled a lot in his early years as a photographer, working for colleges in the spring and fall, shooting up to 20 rolls of film per day.
He was working in a photo store when a major figure in the motorcycle world offered to pay him to shoot the funeral of the sergeant at arms of a motorcycle club in Baltimore.
"It was a real eye-opening experience, and I rather enjoyed it and felt a peculiar kinship with those guys, and I've been (photographing events for them) ever since," Mr. Barber said.
He also spent a year as a photographer for the National Park Service for the Mid-Atlantic.
"They were sending me to every swamp, forest, beach," he said. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. At the end of that year, the government cut his travel allowance, put him behind a desk and gave him the title of photo librarian. He promptly quit.
"It was a comfortable salary and would have been a wonderful retirement," he said. "Security has never been something I relished."
In the mid-'80s he was an up-and-coming advertising photographer in Baltimore, until he realized that he didn't like working with small armies of people.
"When I photograph somebody, I like it on a one-to-one basis, as opposed to having an art director, designer, account reps and two stylists running around, being a major distraction," he said. "It's like a small circus."
Instead, much of his work came after he showed his portfolio to collateral houses, design firms for nonprofit groups and schools.
Since he started his Web site 10 years ago, www.dougbarber.com, new clients find him on the Internet.
"I may not be doing things the right way, but it's my way," he said. "It ain't easy, but it has its rewards."
Hillary Sages is a freelance writer in West River..
Published February 01, 2005, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2005 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Reprinted with permission The Capital, Annapolis, Md.