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A Rising Star in Baker City, Oregon Special

By Scott Ungerecht     Jun 20, 2011 in Entertainment
Baker City - Friday, June 3, 2011 - Artist Megan Dorrah waited patiently for the crowds to arrive at the Crossroads Art Center. This was a big moment for her.
After all, it's not everyday that a photographer has an opportunity to be a First Friday featured artist in her community. Being accepted as a featured artist is like winning an Academy Award. You never forget the experience.
Megan tried to keep occupied by mingling with a few people who were already there. When would the large crowds start to show? This was the most anticipated question of the evening.
As time slowly ticked away, I followed Megan around and asked her a few questions about some of her framed pictures. My primary mission was to take pictures of Megan while she talked to visitors about her work.
Suddenly, a small crowd entered Crossroads, including Dennis Dorrah, who is Megan's father and the mayor of Baker City.
Megan reintroduced me to her father, whom I had previously met 3 months ago at Sterling Savings Bank in Baker City. As Mayor Dorrah signed a guest book that was laying open for visitors to sign, he said to me, "I have a feeling this is going to cost me."
I wasn't sure if that was a joke or something serious. Unfortunately, I didn't ask, so one can only guess of the possibilities.
As the evening continued on, I began snapping pictures of Megan as she talked to one or two people at a time. She started to feel more relaxed as she pointed to her framed pictures of tulips and yo-yo's while describing them.
Megan's pictures were displayed above individual pieces of beautiful glass art work that were created by John Nelson, a glass blower/artist who lives in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Nelson was having a combined exhibition show with Megan's photo exhibit. Like Megan, Mr. Nelson was also waiting to talk with visitor about his work.
As Megan answered questions from the public, she captivated their attention with her friendly smile and warm personality. In addition to taking pictures of tulips and yo-yo's, Megan also loves capturing the beauty of Eastern Oregon (and other places) with her digital camera.
Last week, I had an opportunity to interview Megan by email about her photo exhibit and her origins as a photographer. Below are her answers to my questions:
SCOTT: Megan, please tell us where you're from, originally, and why you enjoy living in Baker City, Oregon.
MEGAN: I was living in Eugene before I moved to Baker City about a year ago. I lived in Baker City when I was younger, and returned with a different perspective. I love the small town atmosphere, but mostly I love the surrounding area.
As a photographer who loves the outdoors, I consider it a job requirement to live in a beautiful place. The wide open spaces of the valley framed by picturesque mountains are perfect for landscape photography, and there is a lot of wildlife to see. Occasionally I escape into the mountains to find hidden treasures, lakes, wildlife, and wildflowers.
SCOTT: What is your background, training, and education as a photographer?
MEGAN: I was given a camera when I was young, probably ten or eleven years old. I loved looking through the viewfinder and I took photos of everything I could find. In other words, I wasted a lot of film, and it became an expensive gift!
But I think that got my imagination started, and inspired me to eventually learn how to use the camera with better results. I got my first digital camera, another gift, about ten years ago. I was planning to move to Ireland and I knew that I would want to make a visual record of my adventures overseas.
My boyfriend at the time had experience as a professional photographer and he helped me understand the elements of a good photograph and how to get the results I was expecting. With practice, my self-taught photography skills grew and I began taking photos that I was proud of.
I took a "Photography 101" class at my local community college, which filled in my knowledge gaps and provided a structured approach to taking photographs. My interest was piqued and I went on to take another photography class to learn about film development and all the mysterious things that happen in the darkroom. I love to learn and I expect there will be more photography, art and design classes in my future.
SCOTT: Do you come from a long line of photographers or artists in your family? If not, are you the only one?
MEGAN: I think there must be very few people who can claim to come from a "long line of photographers," as the technology and costs made it an impractical hobby for the general public until a few decades ago.
My parents bought their first camera, a Minolta SR-T 101, in 1967. This was just before my oldest sister was born, so I imagine that starting a family and recording the memories was a driving factor for the camera purchase, as it is for many.
The camera was ordered and shipped directly from Japan, and they took a photography class to learn how to use it. I now have this camera, in its leather case with several extra lenses. I consider it a family treasure and occasionally use it for my black and white film photography.
My sisters both have nice digital SLR cameras and their large families provide a lot of interesting subjects and reasons to keep a camera at hand. One of my sisters is also interested in photography as art, she has some beautiful forest photos that she framed and put on the walls in her home.
SCOTT: What inspires your heart to take pictures? How does your soul "speak to you" when you look for interesting photo subjects?
MEGAN: In a way, the camera gives me permission to be childlike, to play, and to be amazed with the secrets that the world is whispering. Once again I can get on my belly in the grass and look at bugs and flowers and moss through a magnifying glass - only in this case, it is a macro lens.
Because I have my camera with me, my impatience and nagging sense of "I should be doing something productive" disappears, and I can wait forty minutes to enjoy the sunset. Driving to the next valley is no longer a waste of fuel; it is an adventure in photography.
Even a miserable rainy day can be redeemed by one fantastic photograph. Everything I love to do, whatever I am interested in learning, I make my camera a part of it. Because I am making something, learning something, seeing something that I can share with others, the adult part of my brain can't scold me for wasting time.
I can feel that fresh young sense of amazement with the world with every season and every turn of the road. My biggest challenge as a photographer is to edit myself, recognizing the experiences and views that would yield a good photograph, and those that should just become memories.
SCOTT: How you were selected as a First Friday featured artist at the Crossroads Art Center?
MEGAN: At the beginning of the year, I submitted my portfolio and application to be considered as a featured artist in 2012. I was accepted, and was planning to be a part of the October 2012 show with another photographer.
However, the photographer that was scheduled for June 2011 decided that he was not going to do the show, and Crossroads contacted me to ask if I would be interested.
SCOTT: What was your first reaction when Crossroads selected you as their featured artist?
MEGAN: Excitement and panic. I had only sixteen days to prepare, from phone call to hanging the photos on the wall. This was a lot of work to do at the last minute, but when opportunity knocks, I must answer.
We decided which collection of photos would harmonize best with the glass sculptures of other featured artist, John Nelson. The photos had already been taken, and my favorites selected themselves. All that needed to be done was printing and framing.
SCOTT: Is this your first photo exhibition at a professional art gallery? Have you ever been a featured artist at other places?
MEGAN: This is my first exhibit, but not my last. My next showing will be featured in the Short Term Art Gallery on Main Street in Baker City during November and December, 2011.
SCOTT: Please tell us about your photo exhibit. Does it have a specific name or theme? Are you displaying a specific body of work?
MEGAN: This exhibit is a collection of photos that I took in spring 2009. Most of the photos feature tulips from my garden in Eugene and yo-yos from One Drop Yo-Yos. My friend is a co-owner of One Drop Yo-Yos, located in Eugene, and I did their product shots.
The yo-yos are beautiful, made of anodized aluminum, bright colors and a beautiful shape and texture. I got very creative with the still life photography for their business and combined the yo-yos with tulips for some crisp and colorful photos. I also spent an afternoon with a yo-yo that was trapped in a block of ice, and got some amazing shots there too.
SCOTT: How did you choose which pictures to display for your photo exhibit? Did you have a certain selection in mind, or was it something random?
MEGAN: After some discussion with the gallery, we agreed that photos from my tulip and yo-yo series would be a good match with the glass sculptures of John Nelson, the other featured artist.
These photographs had two years to marinate in my mind, so when I looked through the photos, some of them just jumped out at me like old friends. It was as if the photos selected themselves. They are such colorful, happy photos of beautiful objects, and I am very pleased to see them on display together.
SCOTT: What kind of camera did you use to take your pictures? Did you use any special equipment?
MEGAN: I use a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi. At the time these photos were taken, I was experimenting with my new macro lens and was reveling in the details of simple things, like the curl of a deteriorating tulip petal.
For some of the photos I used a tripod and some makeshift studio props to create the scene, but most of the time I used the handheld camera to record things as they were.
For the photo shoot of the yo-yo frozen in a block of ice, I drank a mojito. I'm not sure if that is considered special equipment, but it seemed to make the process more enjoyable.
SCOTT: As a featured artist at Crossroads, what are your plans for the future? Will you have a photo exhibit at other professional art galleries? Or, will you focus on local events for awhile in Baker City?
MEGAN: My plan as a photographer is to say "yes" to every opportunity that comes along. I am interested in many different aspects of photography, and not all of these avenues lead to a framed photo in a gallery. I am set up to print my own photos, posters and greeting cards, and I get some business from that.
I truly love Northeastern Oregon and would love to develop a larger library of landscapes, wildlife and other images from this corner of the state. I want to inspire other people to visit and enjoy this area.
So it makes sense to keep things local, at least for now. I am always building my image library, trying new things, accepting new challenges and exploring different techniques. Wherever my interest goes, I will follow.
SCOTT: Is there anything else you would like to mention about your photo exhibit or your work as a photographer?
MEGAN: The gallery show will be on display at Carnegie Crossroads Art Center until June 25, 2011. I share my most recent images online almost daily at
SCOTT: Megan, imagine for a moment that you are the Director of Photography for a new Hollywood movie that was filmed entirely on location in Baker City, Oregon.
Now imagine you just received an Academy Award for best Cinematography and a Golden Globe Award from the National Film Critics Association for your contribution.
Who would you publicly thank in Baker City for their unwavering support and why? Who would you also thank as your favorite inspiration and support as a photographer?
MEGAN: I would like to give a million thanks to my father, Dennis Dorrah, who simply believes I will do whatever I set my mind to, without doubt or falter. Without his support and influence I wouldn't be in Baker City at all, and it is hard to imagine missing all the wonderful photos I have taken of this area.
I would thank David Metz, my former partner, who sparked and mentored my growing interest in photography and supplied me with many beautiful yo-yos. I am also very grateful for Sam Chen, who sold me much of his used camera equipment at a very friendly price, and all the people who have purchased my prints and otherwise sponsored my photography habit.
More about megan dorrah, Photography, crossroads art center, Baker city, Oregon
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