Hingham photographer Alyssa Fortin explains her craft

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / September 1, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

It was a rainy day in August, and photographer Alyssa Fortin was looking over her work, dozens of photos splayed all over her office desk in her Hingham home, small black and white eyes gazing up intently from the table.

“That picture, that is what it's all about for me, that connection,” Fortin said, pointing to one of the dozen black and white photos on her desk. In the photo (at left), twin infants sleep soundly in each other's arms, hands gently touching, legs intertwined.

Fortin is all about black and white photography – of children and newborns, to be exact. To her, the subtle gray tones are what are most captivating about a photo, something that elevates her work to more than just a captured childhood moment.

A Hingham resident, Fortin has come a long way from her days teaching high school photography to students in Georgia. In the past two years, her work has grown from only portraiture of children to include portraits of newborns, simple photos of day old babies against an all black background.

“My argument is, you with your digital camera shoot color all the time, and I'm trying to send you something special and different,” she said of her black and white photography. “I want it to be just about the child and there not to be distractions of color.”

But what is most unique about Fortin's photography is that it is all done with natural light, a film camera, and darkroom prints, a method of photography rarely seen in the age of flash, digital cameras, and photoshop.

“Everyone is digital now, and I am still film, but that is really really important to what I do,” she said.

Although using film requires much more technical knowledge of the camera, that knowledge didn't come from her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Florida, or from her Masters of Art Education from the University of Georgia, she said. She wouldn't truly learn the intricacies of the camera until she had to teach them to herself.

“[As a teacher], I was forced to really study how the camera works, and be able to explain it … a lot of people now, with digital photography, you don't have to know how the camera works to do it.”

For Fortin, the draw of both film photography and photographing children is the difficulty in the work, the knowledge and patience it takes to get the right shot, the perfect shot, for every client.

“I wanted the challenge. I easily get bored with things, and easily need to challenge myself with something new. And newborns are really, really hard. I mean, they are little people! You can't predict what they are going to do,” she said.

It doesn't hurt that Fortin herself is a mother of three. Not only does she understand the finicky nature of young kids, but she is able to communicate the intrinsic value of her art – capturing a moment that is gone far too quickly.

“The baby you so lovingly cradled in your arms grows up and becomes more independent every day. There is a magic in childhood that [I] long to capture most,” Fortin wrote in her artist statement.

Even still, the simple elegant photos that adorn the walls of her studio are the result of years of work and hours of thought. Even finding her own style was difficult, Fortin said. It wasn't until a seminar seven years ago with photographer Cheryl Jacobs that it all really clicked.

“What her whole mission was, was to find who you are as a person and create the type of pictures that are your inner self. Her point was, think about who you are,” Fortin said.

“And if you look at my pictures, now I totally get it. Cause my pictures are direct, and I'm direct. They are honest, and I am honest. They are raw, they just – they are what they are. There's not a lot of props to them. They are simple. And that's who I am as a person as well.”

It is that trust in her skill that has catapulted Fortin into success, especially in Hingham.

“Being in a small town, it was so easy to build my business. Every year I saw it double. It grew so fast, and it was all just word of mouth,” she said.

Despite the economic crisis, Fortin said that her business, though no longer rapidly growing, has remained steady.

“What has happened is that the clients aren't ordering as many prints,” Fortin said. “Often I'll have people call me to book a session and they will call me back and say 'not now, we can't do it.'

“But when the economy crashed, I decided I'm not going to lower my prices, I'm not going to offer specials, or give free prints, because I didn't want to. I want to be that high-end photographer. And my costs are really expensive with film. So I've kept my prices the same for the past three years. I don't think it's been less clients though,” she said.

Although Fortin is dedicated to being high-end, she is still active in the community. Prints of children eating ice cream hang on the walls at the local ice cream shop Nona's, the result of a charity project Fortin has done with them over the past three years.

“I get a lot of people who show up for that event, who might not be able to hire me for a full shoot, but they like what I do, and it's a way for them to buy one picture or two pictures, and it's fun! Little kids eating ice cream. It's great for everyone,” she said.

In addition, Fortin does a fundraiser for the Hingham Community Center every year. She recently also worked with illustrator Donna Green to raise money for the Magical Moon Foundation, a charity for children suffering from cancer.

“When I give back to the community, I want to give back to [this area]. I love it here, and I want to give back to the South Shore in some way.”

But at the end of the day, Fortin's passion is her work. Despite the distractions, the difficulties, and the long hours, she maintains an uncompromising promise to herself to produce art that shows who she is.

“I believe the product is going to sell itself ... I just lay down my beautiful prints on the table, and if you like them, they will stand for themselves,” she said.

For more information visit Fortin's website.