Butchers Hill photographer Cheryl Atkins is a master of atmosphere. In “Empty Benches,” an after-dark photo taken in Fell’s Point, the lamps on the promenade illuminate a contrast between the foggy air and the glossy—almost slimy—water’s surface. In “Eye Level,” the reflections in some shards of glass fallen on a farmer’s porch and the hints of bright green landscape pushing into the borders of the photo bring a sense of optimism to an otherwise abandoned and decrepit old farmhouse.
Atkins, 61, works in real estate with her husband Tom. As the couple buys and renovates old buildings, bringing them back to life before selling them again, Atkins’ photos are full of life and buoyancy, whether shots of old buildings, landscapes, flowers, streets or people.
In keeping with that theme, Atkins will be donating the proceeds of her upcoming show to Patterson Park Public Charter School, located at the northern edge of Patterson Park.
“I just like what the school does for the neighborhood,” Atkins says. “With these kids around, the neighborhood’s so much more alive than it used to be… I just wanted to be a part of that, so I decided to donate to them.”
Atkins will attend the show’s opening this Saturday, June 1, 6-9 p.m. at the Laughing Pint, 3531 Gough St., Highlandtown. Atkins’ work will remain on display and for sale at the Laughing Pint through the month of June.
Expect to see familiar places, with a twist.
“A lot of people in East Baltimore will recognize a lot of the places I show,” Atkins says.
However, the places—new and exotic at the first glance—may take a couple looks to register.
“It’s different takes of what you would normally see,” she adds. “It’s looking at it in a different way.”
Having attained some notoriety for her “drive-by shootings,” or black-and-white shots taken from a moving vehicle, Atkins has lately fallen in love with a certain atmospheric phenomenon.
“I love fog,” she says, “and getting up in the morning to shoot in the fog. My show will be a lot about that.”
Though Atkins incidentally studied some photography in the 1970s during her pursuit of a painting degree—which turned into an art education degree—at Maryland Institute College of Art, she did not delve seriously into the camera until about 40 years later. Shooting on a Kodak Easyshare, she was encouraged by a friend to upgrade to the Canon Rebel.
In 2007, Atkins joined Flickr, an online photo sharing and posting platform.
“Then [my photography] really took off,” she says.
Atkins credits the Flickr community—the constructive criticisms, positive feedback, candid sharing of techniques and responses to questions—with helping her become the photographer she is today.
“Now I shoot with a full-frame camera and have a collection of lenses, tripods and all that stuff,” she laughs.
While Atkins got started using chemicals in a darkroom, she has embraced digital photography.
“I like it for the pure reason that it is less wasteful,” she says. “You don’t have to waste solution and film to develop things just to see if you like them.” She also finds photo-editing software useful.
“I went from Elements to Photoshop, and now I have Lightroom,” she says.
Most recently, she has gotten into photographing “abandoned farmhouses and that kind of thing.” The photo excursions can be adventurous, and “trying not to trespass” can be challenging.
“Sometimes you don’t know you are [trespassing] until somebody comes running up and says, ‘You can’t do that!’” says Atkins. “We always say, ‘No problem.’”
Atkins enjoys shooting all over Maryland and beyond, but East Baltimore is a special place.
“I just think that we live in such a fantastic and interesting place,” she says. “I never get bored taking photographs here.
After the Laughing Pint show, Atkins’ photos will be hanging in the Blue Moon Cafe, 1621 Aliceanna St., in Fell’s Point. See her work on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/tomkitty.
by Erik Zygmont