Through the Looking Glass
How do you hold on to a memory or place? Maybe it’s a collection of trinkets or a small souvenir? Often times, it is the imagery we place in our homes, that transports us to that special place or moment in time. For fine art photographer Mike Sleeper, capturing a portal into a cherished memory is what he does best.
At the young age of 13, Sleeper held his very first camera in his hands. “I began taking pictures of birds–I was really into bird watching back then,” he remembers. “By the time I graduated from high school, I was at the point where I was developing my own film.” Soon enough, Sleeper started to gravitate his eye towards sports photography, “While I was at Boston College (during the Doug Flutie years) I began photographing the football team,” says Sleeper. His love of the craft grew exponentially at the time, leading him to travel around the United States for five consecutive years, focusing on expanding his talent while capturing his memories.
After graduating from Boston College, Sleeper started work as a commercial photographer, “I was doing a lot of product photography,” he explains. Soon Sleeper found himself indulging his travel bug once again, this time traveling the globe for 10 years, capturing every moment. “I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to every continent except South America,” notes Sleeper. It wasn’t until about 20 years ago, when Sleeper finally decided it was time to get out of commercial photography for good and focus his creative eye exclusively on landscape photography–something he has loved since his earliest of days.
Growing up in the coastal town of Marshfield, it is no surprise he found influence in the natural world around him, “I’m really fascinated by anywhere the water meets the land,” shares Sleeper. Today, you can find Sleeper exploring estuaries, harbors, dunes and salt ponds, “They are constantly evolving,” says Sleeper. “The sunset, tides, and colors are different every day and each season. I can visit the same location 100 times and have 100 different images, which is really what draws me in.”
Sleeper shares that many times, he gets just as much enjoyment out of scouting locations as he does photographing them, “It takes me a long time to figure out what I am going to photograph, and I really have to plan it out because I work exclusively with film … I don’t even own a digital camera,” he laughs. “If I want to go to a new place, I’ll go there four or five times to figure out what I want to shoot, what time of day and where the tide will be. Sometimes I only have one opportunity to take a photo.” He continues, “Because I work with film, by the time I am done exposing it, I’m pretty much done at that point because I don’t take the photos and manipulate them. If I’ve got it, I’ve got it and if I don’t, I don’t. I really don’t know how it turns out until the film comes back–which takes about three weeks.”
For the past 20 years, Sleeper has entrusted the same printer and framer for his fine art prints. “A huge amount of my business is doing large format prints,” he explains. “A lot of people have bigger walls and bigger spaces in newer contemporary homes, so they end up with these big blank walls.” Those walls have become Sleeper’s canvas, filling them with his panoramic images from his extensive portfolio. “Most often people will choose a photo based on a certain location or choose an image that reminds them of a special moment in time,” he says.
Because Sleeper shoots film, he can make huge prints, “I can make them 10 feet wide if necessary,” he notes. “The best part? You don’t lose any quality.” Sleeper’s images are made into limited edition giclée prints, using fine art archival paper, “The beauty of that process is, because I shoot mostly transparency film (which is like a giant slide), the printer can take the film and exactly match the print to the film without having to manipulate or distort the image.”
The end result of this process is an image that feels as if you could walk into it–transporting you to a memory, if only for a minute. “People often say my work livens up their walls and gives them a moment to escape–even if they are just passing by.” He shares, “What I hear from a significant number of my customers is that my work is like adding a window in their home to their favorite place or a destination they dream of going.”
To see more of Mike Sleeper’s work, visit mikesleeper.com.
Christina Galt is the digital coordinator and editorial assistant at Cape Cod Life Publications.