Mark S. Tierney

Mark Tierney came to the South Carolina Lowcountry by submarine. While that might seem an unusual routing, it fits well in the tale of an artist eager to show us what is under, beside and behind the world we tend to notice. His photographs look intimately at how light defines the reality of the scenes depicted, often suggesting much more.

“Untitled 13-87” made in 1987 is such an image. It grew from unexpressed grief over a friend’s death, his urge to explore the technical and creative challenges of a figure in the landscape and his innate curiosity. The oak depicted is one Mark passed every day. Parking his car and walking around the trunk showed a whole different and scarred side to the graceful tree, and to the artists’ thoughts. This grew into a series of pictures he would create over four years.

Born in 1959, reared in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Mark joined the Navy right out of high school. He ended up on a fast-attack submarine based in Charleston. From that home port, he fell in love with the mossy live oaks, swamps, dune fields and tidal channels that comprise the Lowcountry landscape. When he left the Navy, Mark found his way to Hilton Head Island, where he would run a car-detailing company and work as an EMT for Beaufort County, while expanding and exploring his photographic vision. A winter studying black-and-white photographic methods at nearby Savannah College of Art and Design in 1986 helped lead him to purchase a 4×5 view camera and choose to take his time working carefully to compose and expose every image.

Mark learned quickly photographers don’t make pictures of things. They make pictures of light and how it reflects from things. And he embraced Elliott Porter’s maxim that images must speak for themselves. “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes,” Porter wrote. “I photograph for the thing itself – for the photograph – without consideration of how it may be used.”

He immersed himself in visualization – both creative and technical – Ansel Adams’ Zone System and the nuances of photographic chemistry it required for optimum imaging. This led to pictures juried for inclusion in several group shows, sales and a grant to make more pictures. He expanded his vision to include color, and then digital tools, always seeking the best technical rendition of what he helped his camera see.

Mark has studied extensively – on his own and in workshops – digital capture, image optimization and printing. He has left behind the darkroom and chemistry, preferring the vast power and instant feedback of the best digital tools. He captures his high-bit digital images in both 645 and 4×5 formats, with a Phase One P30+ back and a Betterlight HS 6000 back, respectively. He balances his color in the field with an X-rite, 24-patch Color Checker and on his Eizo monitor with i1 software. He digitizes his older film images with a Flextight Precision II scanner. He prints with an HP Z3200, 44-inch printer, in color on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching, 320 gms, and in black and white prints on Hahnemuhle Bamboo, 290 gms, or Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl.

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