Mark Sean Orr: Photographer
Mark Sean Orr has lived in Indiana all his life, and enjoys photography and genealogy as hobbies. He is also a music and movie lover, and loves biographies, books and TV. He plays the guitar, drums and trumpet, and was in the rock band Night Shift for six years.
He takes photos of almost anything in his area of the midwest. He enjoys learning new editing techniques like HDR, and just showing the world what his home in Henry County A.K.A. Raintree County looks like. He also enjoys viewing peoples art and listening to new artists/ musicians.
This interview was originally published back in March 2012.
TSM: Mark, thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to do an interview for TSM It’s great to have you here.
MSO: Thanks for having me Jessica. TSM is a great magazine. I‘ve been following it for a long time.
TSM: What inspired you to get into photography? At what age did you start taking photos?
MSO: I’ve always loved looking at photographs. I grew up with magazines like Time, Life and Look. I remember being fascinated by the Polaroid One Step cameras. The idea that you could take a photo and see it almost instantly was awesome! I vividly remember taking photos with a Polaroid and watching it come out of the camera…shaking it (which I don’t think helped in the drying process at all) and having the final result in minutes. The quality wasn’t great, but I still love the look of those photographs. It wasn’t really until much later when I really became hooked on photography. When my son was born, we took a multitude of photos of him, but the whole digital age hadn’t really became popular yet. A few years later I took up the hobby of genealogy. I’d go to different locations like old cemeteries, homesteads, schoolhouses and take photos to document them for my records. I quickly found out that I enjoyed taking the photos, editing them…the whole process really.
TSM: What kind of training did you have in photography, or are you self-taught?
MSO: I have no formal training in photography. I kind of just learned on my own when digital cameras and all the cool computer applications became popular. The instant result of taking a photo on a memory card and being able to see it immediately, much like the old one step cameras was appealing to me, and the great editing programs made it easy and fun to create nice looking photographs. I think my first digital camera was a Toshiba. It had a whopping 2.2 meg pixels…ha. From there I graduated to a Sony Cyber-Shot with 3.2 MP’s, then a Kodak Easy Share and finally the camera that I use today which is a Nikon D40x. The Nikon has 10.1 MP and is considered an entry level camera for professionals, but I am quite satisfied with it. For the price, it can’t be beat. I got in really early on the HDR (high dynamic range) process of editing. I kept seeing these great photographs on websites like MySpace that looked like paintings and I wanted to make pictures like that. I bought the program and practiced for hours on end learning how to use it. I think the best “training” I actually got though was from looking at photographs online and in books. I look at new photos daily and have even interviewed some of my favorite photographers for my website.
TSM: You mentioned that you enjoy researching the history of Henry County. Can you tell us a little bit about Henry County and what you find fascinating about it?
MSO: Henry County is just east of Indianapolis, Indiana. I suppose it is much like any other county in the country, but it is where many generations of my family have lived. It was organized in 1822 as a result of the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818. At that time there were still many Native Americans here, mostly Miami, Kickapoo, Munsee and Delaware. They were allegedly paid 15,000 a year and 150 bushels of salt in perpetuity…and invited to vacate within three years. My first known ancestors arrived here in 1821. So I think that Henry County is a part of me and I a part of it.
I guess Henry County’s main claim to fame is that Hoosier author Ross Lockridge Jr. based his novel Raintree County here. It was the home of his ancestors as well. Other claims to fame of the county include being the birthplace of Wilbur Wright, it’s staunch abolitionists, the American Beauty Rose, Hoosier Kitchen cabinets, the Krell French Piano factory, Maxwell Automobile factory, and home of General William Grose which is now occupied by the Historical Society. Henry County also has a little known, fairly sizeable Amish community. It’s just a beautiful place and I couldn’t imagine growing up in a better area of the country.
TSM: What are your favorite subjects to photograph and why?
MSO: I love landscape photography and taking photos of old barns, school houses, churches etc.., but I think my favorite subject is people. I enjoy taking candid shots of people being themselves. I could never do portrait photography where the subject is aware of the camera. Once that awareness happens, the likelihood of getting a natural looking photo is pretty much lost. I like to photograph parades, rodeos, music events…anything where people are in a natural and comfortable setting. My ideal subject is the Amish, but that can be a tricky subject. Many Amish people still believe that a photograph steals their soul so I want to respect that. There are what I call ‘progressive Amish’ in Henry County, but many still are held to the old beliefs and I am reluctant to ask them for fear of making them uncomfortable. My ideal photo shoot would be to spend the day with an Amish family and capture their lifestyle in photos. I envy their less-is-more lifestyle, although I don’t think I could survive now without many of today’s modern conveniences…ha.
TSM: Who are some photographers you admire?
MSO: Favorite photographers include Shelby Lee Adams, who photographs the people of Appalachia; Robert Frank who disregarded all the rules of photography, yet made some iconic and wonderful photos; the greats like Henri Cartier Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans…all of those great depression era photographers were amazing. There are also many current photographers who I have met online whose work I admire greatly. I’ve interviewed several of my favorite photographers including: Shelby Adams, Mary Ellen Mark, Kim Weston and Dennis Kendal Hall. More recently, I have discovered the stark and stunning photography of Vivian Maier, the “nanny” who took photographs mostly in the Chicago area. For several decades. she never attempted to sell or even display her work, and it was purchased in one of the ‘storage locker sales’ after her death – she was brilliant.
TSM: You’ve had work published in magazines, used on TV and various exhibits. You have also published four books – A Midwest Pictorial, The Road Home and two books in a series – 21st Century Photography . Tell us a little bit about each of your books and where people can purchase them.
MSO: All of my books are available online at Blurb.Com. Hopefully they will soon be available in Apple istores, that’s the plan. Blurb and Apple have just joined forces and I think the result will be great to make my books more widely available. The books A Midwest Pictorial and The Road Home are about Henry County…landscape photos, history and even some poetry. The other books are collaborations I did with other photographers from around the world. They are the 21st Century books, and I just recently published the third book in this series sub-titled The Human Project . They (21st century books) are my favorite photography books that I own, because of the great and talented photographers involved (from places like India, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and more), and equally as treasured because I have become friends with these contemporary photographers. Currently, I am working on a book titled Raintree County Memories which is about the novel of the same name; the epic movie and the real county which is Henry County. I’ve gotten to interview some of the original cast of the movie, which is incredible considering the movie was filmed fifty five years ago. I’ve also gotten to correspond with the son of the author of the book, Ross Lockridge’s son Laurence, who is also a writer and a Guggenheim Fellowship awardee.
TSM: Your photos were used as album art for a German band Mindmovie’s albums An Ocean Of Dreams and Happiness and Tears. How did this collaboration take place and where can people purchase the album?
MSO: Having Mindmovie (Germany’s Achim Wierschem) invite me to collaborate on his album art is one of the coolest projects I’ve done. The guy plays guitar like no one else..he is simply amazing. I think I probably approached him first, on MySpace. I couldn’t believe the sounds I heard coming from his guitar. I listened to several tracks on his player and wrote to him expressing how much I enjoyed his music. A friendship developed and he asked to use one of my photos on his first solo album An Ocean of Dreams. Artist and musician Jef De Corte did the cool graphic stuff using my photo and I could not be more proud of the CD art. Achim again used some of my photos as album art on his next album Happiness and Tears. I think Jef De Corte did the cover for that one with my photos being in the booklet. The albums are available at Itunes, CD Baby and many more sites. I recently did the cover for the English folk-singer Nick Barne’s album Last Train, which was also an awesome project. Nick’s great!
TSM: I read that you also worked on several videos with a great Swedish composer Simon Husberg. Tell us a little about this work.
MSO: Simon Husberg is another great musician I met on MySpace. I don’t remember how I found Simon’s page, but I was instantly hooked. Simon composes masterpieces of music. He does it all and I am amazed at his talent. As with Achim Wierschem, I think I probably approached Simon and expressed how much I enjoyed his compositions. We started to collaborate on videos using his music, my photos and the video production of my son’s Crippleboy Productions. Although Simon is in Sweden, he can capture the mood and feeling of any place or anything. He has provided the music for many videos of my photography and also composed music for the video promos for each of my books. I like his talent and vision to that of John Williams and Danny Elfman. Simon can create any mood in his music from the Americana feel of an Aaron Copland sound to the contemporary music-like used in video games. This guy will do a movie score some day and it will be brilliant. I’m a fan.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
MSO: Wow…that’s a tough question. I think a top priority would be to end suffering of people due to illness, war and hunger. (sounds like a beauty pageant answer..I know…ha). So much of the suffering is needless and could be stopped so easily if intelligent, compassionate people were in charge. I think we often do not realize, as we go about our daily lives, that millions of people throughout the world are in real pain…are starving and fighting wars that are avoidable. We know it is happening, but we have built up a wall around us that prevents us from thinking about it too much. I think the short answer would be to make everyone in the world more empathetic.
TSM: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
MSO: One favorite quote that comes to mind is “ My profession is to always find God in nature” by Henry Thoreau.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
MSO: Just to thank for for interviewing me for your magazine! Most recently I had a photo ‘Birds!!’ published in Bluecanvas Magazine …to me that’s like the Rolling Stone magazine of photography, I love their dedication to art and artists. I’d also like to tell people to watch for the new book Raintree County Memories in which I will have great never-before-seen photographs of the stars of the movie including: Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Myrna Hansen. Plus original photos of the infamous train depot scenes in the movie’s fictional town of Freehaven. I’ll be interviewing some of the actors including: Michael Dante, Christopher Riordan and the stand in actors for Elizabeth, Monty and Eva Marie Saint. I’m really excited about this project.
Readers can find me on my website at: www.collectorsworldonline.com. I’m also on Facebook and the Ovation TV Community websites…and I’m still hanging in there on MySpace, hoping it will return to the great networking site it once was.
TSM: Thanks again for doing this interview and wish you all the best with everything you do in the future.
MSO: Thanks Jessica!