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From Farm to Tableau

Photographer Mike McLaughlin Captures North Fork Vistas   

Sometimes, second acts in life are the most exciting. For photographer Mike McLaughlin, a successful, fast-paced career in business analytics for cable giants Showtime and HBO morphed into a slow and penetrating look at nature and the world around him, captured in iconic images. The North Fork which started as a weekend retreat in 2003 became a more full-time residence for McLaughlin and his husband in North Jamesport. “I’ve always enjoyed photography and been drawn to photographs as an art form but it wasn’t until we moved here that I became more serious about it,” recounts McLaughlin, “I fell completely in love with the beauty of the North Fork, the farms, the vineyards, the barns, the potato trucks and the rhythms of the farming and the agricultural scene. I felt the need to capture it.” 

With an upgrade in equipment and study at the International Center of Photography, he honed his craft. The artistic result is a timeless portrait reflecting the dignity and tradition of the land and those who work it. While some shoots are planned, McLaughlin also embraces spontaneity, driving around with his camera, ready when the perfect light conditions illuminate a favorite vista. And often the shot will come with a story. He recounts one of his favorites, “I came across a tractor cutting down a field of mustard. As I was taking the picture the farmer came by and he explained to me the whole philosophy behind planting mustard. When it’s in bloom you plow it and it actually cleanses the soil so that the next crop isn’t contaminated by the last crop. You learn a lot by being alert to nature.”

Where McLaughlin’s past and present career intersect is in his analytical and quantitative approach. He comments, “It’s about minimalism, order and simplicity, nothing extraneous. I took that sensibility and mindset and applied it to both my composition and my post processing. I am able to take these raw images that I capture in the field and process them with digital darkroom techniques to enhance them ever so slightly so what comes forward is the feeling I had when I was in that field or on that beach taking the photo.”

Another way McLaughlin is preserving iconic local images is in his series East End Extractions. He captures classic shops, theaters, diners or churches which embody years of history, almost suspending them in the ether. “Audiences often respond ‘Gee I hope that’s still here in five years,’” he comments, “People have a positive association with a lot of these establishments and it reflects their own history.”

Since the pandemic he has seen an uptick in interest in local art and sales with more people buying homes out East or spending time at their existing ones. “There is definitely a demand for art. With the influx of new people in the area wanting to decorate their homes, the gallery scene really bounced back after the lockdown.” Showing his work at the William Ris Gallery and Alex Ferrone Gallery on the North Fork and MM Fine Art on the South Fork has been his main avenue to connect with his buyers along with his website. His prints are in limited editions of ten but also by size with an attention to presentation in high quality materials. Local galleries have been not only a professional connection but a social one to other artists which form the basis of his community. It was places such as East End Arts where his work won awards which helped launch his career. To be in an environment of like minds is a real gift.

“We are fortunate to be surrounded by water so we do enjoy the beach and some good restaurants,” comments McLaughlin, “But our favorite thing to do with friends is visit each other in their homes.” And perhaps all discuss the incredible experience of second acts while enjoying the local farm bounty.