Phillip Mason has always been fascinated by the world around him, seeking to learn as much as he could about it. It’s what propelled the Boston native to study wildlife and, later, to pursue a career in academia.
“I went to grad school at Auburn and got a master’s degree in wildlife, then a doctorate in zoology,” he said. “I went on to teaching at Berry and Unity College.”
Along the way, the professor also started to develop a serious interest in photography. While he first picked up a camera in junior high school, it wasn’t until his adult years that he began studying the art in earnest.
“I started (photography) back in eighth grade, when I bought a Ricoh 35 mm camera and took a lot of slides. I loved it. I remained an interested beginner for many years, taking many pics for my research as wildlife biologist/zoologist,” he said.
“I really came back to it while teaching at Unity College in Maine, where I took courses in black and white, and color photography. The courses changed how I saw things because I learned about composition and how to develop my own photos in darkroom.”
He continued to learn and refine his skills. Luckily, Mason was able to take many work-related trips around the world, and he usually took his camera along for the ride. That provided a number of opportunities to see different cultures through his camera lens.
“I went to Costa Rica, Belize, London and China ... all related to teaching, which was pretty cool,” he said.
As he moved through the world of academia, Mason went on to become a department chair and later a dean. He eventually was tapped by former College of Coastal Georgia president Valerie Hepburn to be the vice-president of academic affairs at the school in Brunswick.
“I was hired on to design and develop programs when the college became a four-year school,” he added.
Mason retired a few years back and was able to devote more of his attention to photography. He and his wife continue to travel, and photography has become part of their routine. Mason often is able to add his love of wildlife into the mix, snapping pictures of animals while on safari or visiting exotic locales.
“This past September, we did an eight week safari in Tanzania,” he said. “We also went to Florence and have taken a couple of different trips to Switzerland. I really like it when I can take my time to shoot what I want to shoot. But if you take trips with other people, that doesn’t always happen. But our next big trip is to Patagonia — just my wife and myself. We’re doing a lot of back roads, so I think I will be able to do a lot then.”
Mason’s photography work has gotten a lot of accolades locally. As a member of the Coastal Photographer’s Guild, he recently entered the group’s Big Photo Show, walking away with a number of prizes. His entry for the “nature” category, which won an honorable mention, featured two zebras standing side by side, heads in opposite directions, and offered something simple but not static.
“I called it ‘Unity.’ I felt something connecting them that was more than just being part of the herd,” he said.
For the landscapes category, Mason submitted a photo of the Colorado River with a red sandstone bluff off in the distance, which was also well- received. But it was his entry for the “people” category that touched viewers the most and won first place in that division, as well as second place in “people’s choice.”
“It was titled ‘Market Day’ and is a photo of a women in open air market near Cuzco, Peru. Her expressions just blew me away. Her face had so much life, years and experiences, yet still so vital,” he said.
“She was surrounded by other woman in greatly colored wool garments that set her off. I had to wait for about 30 minutes to get a clear, candid shot. I feel it is one of the five best photos I have taken.”
This photo embodied an important element of photography as an art form — finding the beauty and magic in daily life.
“That’s the thing about it ... you learn to see with a different vision and find the uncommon in the common,” he said.
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 912-265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.