TREMONT — If one were to take a picture of photographer Nate Parker, it seems as if it would come out slightly blurred around the edges — like one of his own time-lapse shots of moving water.
Even while sitting in a big wingback easy chair, the man is in constant motion, gesturing with his hands, tapping his feet, shifting his weight. It’s as if his considerable energy, barely contained by his body, fizzes out of him like a shaken bottle of soda.
And yet the photographs Parker takes with his big Cannon camera – many of them from the deck of Danny Closson’s lobster boat Never Enough, where he works as a sternman – are so still, so meditative, they are almost hypnotic. It’s as if he concentrates all his capacity for calm into that moment when he sees the image he wants and presses the shutter button.
Parker’s sunsets and sunrises – not the big gaudy ones, necessarily, but the subtly shaded skies and seas captured at that exact transitory moment between day and night – all bear the distinct imprint of someone with laser focus.
Images feature a gull caught hovering between a darkly rippled sea and the rose-tinted underbelly of clouds; the geometry of a white railing descending into a black sea. Parker knows exactly what he wants and what he is doing both behind the lens of his camera and at the computer where he develops his final images.
Like the images of that other Maine photographer of another era, W.H. Ballard, known for his iconic views of Mount Desert Island seascapes and sailboats, Parker’s images are easily recognizable amidst the hoards of other professional photographs inspired by those same themes. His photographic voice has become as distinct as his facial features.
“Ansell Adams famously said that ‘the negative is the score, and the print is the performance,’” said Parker. “He created his performances in a dark room, I use a computer. That is the part of the process where the photograph becomes not just what I saw, but what I imagined.”
A strange and interesting journey brought him to the stern of a fishing boat with a camera slung around his neck. Parker’s apparent restlessness may account for his curious résumé of diverse accomplishments and, perhaps, false starts in life.
Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Stoneham, Mass., like most kids, he used a little Kodak camera to take snapshots of his friends and youthful escapades.
“My dad worked for the telephone company and was a serious amateur photographer who enjoyed giving slideshows of family vacations,” Parker said. “My mom was textile designer, so I guess I understood and appreciated good technique and art at a young age.”
Young Nate was a jock in high school, a star of the lacrosse team, in fact. He also liked to noodle on his guitar, listening to albums and trying to emulate guitar greats such as John McLaughlin and John Scofield.
But at some point toward the end of high school, he said he got off track and fell into alcohol and drugs.
“I lost my way there for a while,” he said. “Started hanging out with a different crowd.”
He credits his friend Ethan Baumer with helping him get back on track by introducing him to both MDI and College of the Atlantic, where he enrolled in the class of ’92. At COA, he took classes from musician and composer John Cooper and rediscovered his interest in music and the guitar. He started arranging his own jazz guitar pieces and got good enough to be accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Although he played with a variety of jazz bands in the Boston area while at Berklee, he said he eventually came to the realization that he wasn’t going to be able to make a living at it.
And anyway, he missed MDI.
So he left the city, came back to Bar Harbor and decided to try his hand at cooking, at art glass blowing for Atlantic Glass and at construction work with R.L. White.
About 10 years ago, he met Sophie Spiker, whom he later married and with whom he now shares a home in West Tremont.
It wasn’t long after returning to MDI, hiking the trails and getting out on the water that he found himself regretting not having a camera. So he got a little Olympus digital with a manual function. After just a few weeks of snapping photos, he said he had a profound sense of something clicking into place.
“I started going to the Jesup Library and reading everything I could find on photography,” Parker said, “Edward Weston, Ansell Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, taking home books on technique and anything I could find to teach me the language of photography.”
It was during this painstaking research that he came to realize fully that there are no shortcuts to success.
“There is no pill you can take to achieve real excellence,” he said. “You have to put in the time. You have to do the work.”
The more he learned, the more impatient he became with the limitations of his Olympus.
“I would have the image in my head, but I simply couldn’t create it without a better camera and better lenses,” he recalls. Since then, he has invested thousands of dollars in his photographic equipment, and now it is paying off.
In addition to his art photography, he has been hired by Friends of Acadia to capture images in the park, has done some commercial photography; has worked for several magazines, “Down East” among them; and is frequently asked to shoot book covers. He also exhibits and sells his prints online at nateparkerphotography.com.
And now he finds that he enjoys teaching, sharing what he has learned with other enthusiasts.
Despite his growing success, Parker doesn’t seem eager to give up the lobstering part of his life. For one thing, he said he enjoys the physicality of the work, and it is how he gets many of his best shots, including his most recent “From the Boat” series, a selection of which will be exhibited at the Shaw Gallery in Northeast Harbor this fall.