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Art People: Michael Zide | photographer

  • Michael Zide at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.

    Michael Zide at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.

  • Michael Zide, of Amherst, at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.

    Michael Zide, of Amherst, at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.

  • Michael Zide at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.
  • Michael Zide, of Amherst, at Hallmark School of Photography Monday, Dec. 17.

Years ago, Michael Zide got lost in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, disoriented in the endless sand dunes he’d come to photograph. It was December, the temperature down in the low teens, and Zide, with only his two dogs, Shoes and Mantis, for company, had begun to despair he might not find his way out of the sandy maze.

Fortunately, park rangers found him. And, Zide says with a chuckle, he’d gotten some great pictures.

These days, Zide doesn’t range as far to find good images. The Amherst landscape photographer likes to look for telling details in the woods and fields here in the Valley. It could be air bubbles caught in the ice of a small pond, the play of early-morning light on a forest floor, or the gnarled trunk and branches of an ancient tree.

“I try to find that split second, that image, that speaks beyond the moment,” said Zide, who currently has his work on exhibit at Amherst Town Hall. “And I like mystery — fog and mist, early-morning and late-afternoon light, the kinds of conditions when things aren’t so clear-cut.”

Zide shoots his portraits almost exclusively in black and white, a medium he likes for the emphasis it puts on light, shadow and contrast, as well as its directness. “It really cuts right to the heart of an image,” he said.

He traces his interest in photography to his boyhood in southern California, particularly the day he woke up to find that a rare snowfall had blanketed his familiar surroundings. “I’d never seen snow,” he said. “Everything was transformed. ... It was truly magical, and I can still recall the feeling I had very clearly.”

Today, Zide looks to capture a similar sense of wonder and illumination with his photographs, eschewing grand panoramas for intimate details.

“I’m always looking for new images,” said Zide, who teaches at the Hallmark School of Photography in Turners Falls. “I don’t like the cold of winter much anymore, but I still go out and look, because you can find wonderful details in a winter landscape.”

And he’s persistent. A few years ago, he noticed a gnarled tree — perhaps a maple — on Moody Bridge Road in Hadley that reminded him of the bad-tempered, talking apple trees from “The Wizard of Oz.” He wanted to photograph the tree but the light wasn’t quite right.

So Zide went back numerous times in the following week to try to find the image he was looking for. Finally, he hit on the idea of using a 30-second exposure in early evening, and set two standing lights underneath the tree to ensure his film wouldn’t be overexposed.

“I was so enamored of that tree,” he said. “There was no way I was not going to get a picture of it.”

— Steve Pfarrer

Michael Zide’s landscape photographs are on view at Amherst Town Hall through Feb. 28, 2013.

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