Stephen Donaldson’s time at Ohio Wesleyan University kicked off a career in photography that can be described as nothing short of a journey. Next weekend, he will return to Delaware for his 35th class reunion at OWU, where his “Blue Light” photography exhibit is currently on display in the Mowry Alumni Center.
Donaldson’s passion for photography is rooted in his travels as a child. His stepfather, a Chrysler engineer, was on the move frequently, and Donaldson grew fond of taking “basic” pictures along the way, “not really knowing what I was doing,” he admits.
“The experiences I had traveling in really exotic parts of the world, and just using a camera left a really deep impression on me,” Donaldson said. “I took an introductory class at Andover (High School) and that’s where the flame really got lit. A lot of the classroom time was in this theatre, where he would project all this photography, set to classical music, of all the great photographers who I still revere and love, and who are my heroes, such as (Alfred) Stieglitz, André Kertész, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, even guys like Paul Strand. I was just captivated by it, and that was what really lit this fire.”
At Ohio Wesleyan, which did not offer photojournalism classes at the time, Donaldson enrolled in a photography class that he would not finish. With the only photography class available to him no longer an option, Donaldson shifted his studies to international studies, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, with minors in economics and history.
After graduation, he headed to New York City to work in finance, but that certainly wasn’t his endgame.
“My dream was to have a good, solid career, make some good money, quit, and go around the world starting a career in photography.”
After living in New York City for eight years, Donaldson came to what he described as a watershed moment when he decided to move to Los Angeles. After a year-and-a-half of working in electronic sales in LA, he realized the opportunity in front of him to chase his dreams.
“I didn’t have any anchors in my life,” he said of his freedom to make the decision. “If I walked around and asked anyone I knew, ‘what would you do if you could choose to do anything you want?’ … to a person, they would say they would just drop everything and travel around the world. I realized I could do that, I had nothing holding me down.”
Beginning in April 1993, he began three years of planning — physically, financially, and the trip itself — with Jan. 1, 1996, circled as the beginning of his journey across the globe.
In total, the trip would take him across all six inhabited continents. Since then, Donaldson has published several photography books on the western New England region, where he now lives, and has contributed photographs to numerous other publications. He is currently working on authoring the book that will tell the story of his travels.
Donaldson’s literal and figurative journey is one of overcoming adversity, something every person can relate to as they embark on their own journeys.
“The most important thing is to understand yourself and what your talents are, whether you have talent in a particular pursuit. And then, if you really objectively determine that, then never give up. Perseverance is a cliche, but perseverance will pay off, and dedication and commitment is the only way, in a lot of things, you are going to succeed.”
Of his “Blue Light” exhibit on display in the Mowry Alumni Center, Donaldson said he gained his inspiration from an interesting water-themed exhibit he and his wife came across while visiting the Museum of National History in New York City in 2008. He was able to capture a shot of the exhibit that featured a blue light shining through mist that began a new journey to put the collection together.
“I got this one shot that worked, but what really made the shot was this quality of blue light … I thought I could make something out of this, but it’s going to take a long time because I don’t want to manufacture them. I don’t want to do this in a studio, I want this to be organic. I want to, in the course of doing my work and exploring the world, I want to find these opportunities where I can create more expressions of this theme. And that’s how it evolved.”
There will be an open house at Mowry Alumni Center on Saturday, May 19, at 2:30 p.m. Donaldson will give a short presentation of his work, followed by a Q&A period.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.