Olga Merrill’s landscape photography has taken on a wide range of subjects, but one recent body of work has coalesced around a particularly strong set of images showing boats at harbor on the Maine coast. Several of these have been published recently in Spain, New York and France.
Merrill’s photographs are loose and pictorial. They have a multiple image sense to them, and this is an aesthetic the Brunswick-based artist works hard to achieve, both with the camera in hand and during her post-production process.
Merrill produces large RAW files with her Pentax K-S2. She prefers the slow shutter speed of ⅛ of a second. This setting helps Merrill relate her largely black-and-white prints to the traditional sense of pictorialist graininess, an almost meditatively slow feel of a painted picture. To further the softness of the image, she intentionally moves her camera while the shutter is open, often
with a gracefully upward flick of the wrist. This produces a shifting image, often with smaller or more slender elements appearing doubled.
Merrill prefers the soft, diffuse light of atmospheric scenes. But this means she typically doesn’t have the right light to get the shots she wants. So she waits, patiently. Sometimes, she hunts. But she is always hunting — always keeping an eye out for that particular combination of composition and atmospheric texture.
“The fog in the secret harbor in Rockland was a surprise: It was moody,” muses Merrill, who took full advantage of the opportunity. “It’s peaceful. It’s twilight. The fishermen are back — but they have gone home. Everything is gone. I think about boats as something alive. It’s their time for rest. Work is done. The lobster is gone. It’s quiet.”
This sanctuary is for the boats, and it lets the fishermen head off to sanctuaries of their own.
Merrill loads up on doubling: work/repose, fishermen/boats, harbor/ocean, boat/home and so on. This is not to say that Merrill’s work is based in binary logic but, rather, in dynamism. Where she finds stillness, she finds time. Instead of toggling back and forth between two variables, it is more like one of her terms leads to another and so on, step by step. Her impressionist feel continually doubles back to the viewer’s subjectivity and, in this way, viewers develop their sense of the work more as a conversation than as if it were a single, fleeting image.
“When I see the right scene, it’s instant,” explains the photographer. “It’s all about composition for me. If I have the right elements of atmospheric texture and composition, I know it will go well when I take the image into Photoshop.
“Every harbor has its own spirit, personality, attitude, mystery, and, I don’t know the English word, but it’s something like mysticality.”
at top: Olga Merrill, Harbor Secret