SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Those who enjoy seeing Acadia National Park, and other areas of Maine, through the vibrant camera lens of J.K. Putnam will have to look no further than 334 Main Street starting in May.
When his previous shop’s landlord decided to sell the building behind the library on Village Green Way at the end of last year, Putnam jumped at renting another open storefront on the main strip of town.
“I was there for three seasons in a row,” he said in an email about his previous downtown space. “The day she called to tell me she was selling, I spotted a ‘For Rent’ sign on Main Street. I called that day and a week later signed a lease … I didn’t want to give up having a storefront in Southwest Harbor.”
It is a larger space that will continue to display the name J.K. Putnam Photography and feature the colorful images Putnam captures throughout the region as prints, postcards, books and other souvenir-type products. Using the store as a base, Putnam will also continue to teach photography workshops for visitors and residents alike through the national park and as far as Machias Seal Island, which is home to a puffin colony.
“Workshops have always been the bulk of my business here and I have a great time running them,” said Putnam in an email. “I love teaching. I love showing off our island to other photographers and I love being outside. It’s the best job in the world.”
John Putnam, who goes by J.K. Putnam as an homage to his grandfather who used R.S. Putnam, has been taking photos professionally for about 13 years. He earned a degree at film school before focusing more on still photography. Putnam said film school was useful in learning the art of how to tell a story visually.
After graduating from school, Putnam purchased what he qualified as a really nice digital video camera and went out looking for subjects to record. At the time, he was living in Rochester, N.Y. and stumbled upon a collection of garter snakes in a local park, took a few photos and kept going back to shoot stills of the reptiles.
“I really enjoyed the time outside and capturing the images,” said Putnam. “Around that same time I attended an exhibition of images by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting.
“His images opened my mind to the idea of nature photography as art,” he continued. “I’m happy to say I’ve come a long way from crawling around in the dirt with snakes … though I still do it.”
Outside of having a space to display his striking photography, Putnam enjoys having a storefront where he can connect to people.
“I try to incorporate my personality into my business,” he said. “For that reason making myself available to people is important. I enjoy seeing people’s reactions when they look at [my images] and answering their questions about how I captured them.”
Sunset and sunrise set the compass for many of Putnam’s captures, which can also be influenced by factors such as the tide, weather, time of year, among a few. On a typical day, he will trek out nearly an hour before sunrise and can be behind the camera for more than a couple of hours after that. Daytime light does not contribute as fruitfully to his creativity, unless the weather is unfavorable, bringing more moody atmosphere into a scene. Sunset has the same draw as dawn for Putnam, who will set out close to an hour prior to the sun sinking out of sight.
“I like the mornings best, and in general I like to be out 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise,” he said. “I like to be there and waiting for the light rather than chasing it.”
In addition to running his photography business, Putnam is full-time dad to a 10-month-old son who frequently goes on site with him. A traditionalist for the full process of photography, Putnam believes there is more to the medium than just capturing the right moment.
“A photo isn’t finished until it’s printed, that’s how we should be viewing them,” he said. “Not on our phones.”