A Kellogg’s Corn Flakes mini 110 camera was the first tool of Mark Benson Reeder’s trade. He took it on a field trip to Hill Air Force Base in Northern Utah to see then-President George H.W. Bush speak. “I couldn’t see over the crowd, so I handed my camera to an Airman to take a picture for me,” he said. “I still remember him showing it to his buddy and them both laughing that it said Kellogg’s on it.”
Reeder has come a long way since then. The 34-year-old U.S. Air Force pilot and combat veteran is a professional landscape photographer whose work is on view in “Jewels of the Earth” at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn through June 29. Late last year, his work was featured in both “Sacred Places,” a juried multimedia exhibit at the Kentlands Mansion, and “Monochrome,” an invitational black-and-white photography exhibit at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park.
The artist himself is not always nearby; he is frequently on an Air National Guard assignment while his wife Jayci, a painter and stay-at-home mom to their three young children, Mont, Emmy and Lochlan, await his return at the Lakelands home they moved into more than a year ago. “When we first saw the area last year, we were instantly hooked and knew that this was the area that we wanted to move to,” Reeder said. “We absolutely love it.”
His father was in the Air Force, and Reeder followed suit. “I always wanted to be a pilot as long as I can remember and worked steadily at it in everything that I did from winning a scholarship to Space Camp as a child to later winning a full-ride scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy,” Reeder said. While growing up in South Jordan, Utah, his family also nurtured his appreciation for music and performance arts, and fine art.
Three years after Reeder’s 2005 graduation from the academy, he moved to Alaska on a military assignment. There, he bought his first medium-format panoramic camera and “fell in love with panoramic landscape photography,” he said. “This foundation in a slow, composition-oriented medium worked as a great advantage, shooting with wide-angle panoramic medium formats. This can only be explained in that this is the way we view nature with our own eyes: unlimited, unrestrained, and unmatched in detail.” Seeing the Northern Lights, Reeder recalls, “is an amazing experience that you will never forget, and I have been hooked since.”
Reeder is self-trained. “I learned photography by doing an excessive amount of research on depth of field, film speeds, landscape photography fundamentals, asking the right questions, and through trial (and error) with every camera that I have owned,” he said. He feels that “understanding the weather and light is almost more important than understanding the workings of your camera gear and is really what separates an OK shot from an excellent shot.”
Distinguishing a postcard-type photograph from a fine art photograph is key, and Reeder has help from the artist closest to him. “I am grateful to my brutally honest wife who helps me differentiate between (the two),” he said, acknowledging that his failures exceed his successes. He sets high standards for his photographs. “It is important to not pollute your portfolio with work that diminishes the quality of what you have to offer. Equally important is the printing process and how you present your work.”
Barns and waterfalls are among Reeder’s favorite subjects. “Old barns are fascinating to me because of the stories that they can tell through a photograph,” he said, citing a barn in North Dakota that is one of his favorites that hang in his home. He returned to the spot the following winter, intending to shoot it in a different season “to find it had collapsed the day before in a wind storm. It was amazing to me that I was able to preserve the beauty of that scene never to be repeated again through a photograph.” Bringing in “atmospheric lighting and weather elements that, in nature, only exist for a brief moment, but greatly enhance what is seen” have become a hallmark of his work. “I love capturing something amazing in nature on a large scale and reproducing huge prints from it.”
Reeder plans to continue honing his skills and growing his business. His goal is to tell “more of a story through my photographs …I would rather sell one 8-foot-wide print that makes a statement than hundreds of 8-by-10 prints any day, and I strive to do this.” He derives great pleasure from his clients’ who say that his photographs have enhanced their homes. “Nothing is more satisfying,” Reeder concludes, “than to capture the majestic outdoors, reproduce it on a large scale and enhance our living and working environments where most our time is spent.”