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Art People profile: Photographer Jill Lewis of Easthampton

  • Jill Lewis in her studio at Cottage Street in Easthampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Jill Lewis in her studio at Cottage Street in Easthampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Photograph by Jill Lewis in her studio at Cottage Street in Easthampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Don’t call Jill Lewis a landscape photographer, a documentarian, an abstract artist or a still-life photographer. She’s got her own style that’s best described as a little bit of all of the above.

Lewis, of Easthampton, says she’s guided less by specific subjects than by what appeals to her gut, whether it’s the play of shadow and reflection on a city street, the facade of an old industrial building or the details of an abandoned bird’s nest.

“I shoot emotionally and visually,” she says. “I like to have my camera in my car at all times so that if I see something I like, I can take a picture of it.”

A native of the city who graduated from Easthampton High School in 1970, Lewis says she’s “a purist at heart” when it comes to developing pictures. She’s made the transition to digital photography for economic reasons in recent years, but if she had her druthers, she’d still be working in a darkroom.

“That to me is Zen,” she says with a laugh. “You can watch an image come to life in the chemicals ... you can get all kinds of unexpected things in a way you don’t get with a digital image.”

Lewis got a late start in photography, taking it up around 2000 when she went back to school; she attended Greenfield Community College in the morning to accommodate an administrative job at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. The only class she could take at first was in photography — but she loved it.

Lewis went on to get her bachelor’s degree in photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, and today she works out of Cottage Street Studios in Easthampton. Shooting in both black and white and color, she leans to ethereal, abstract images, like a white blouse by a window or morning fog by the Connecticut River oxbow.

But she’s also documented rural life in India and Haiti — she went to the latter country earlier this year as part of a volunteer medical mission — and she just opened an exhibition of work that’s closer to home: the old mill buildings in Easthampton.

“Changing Face, Changing Facade,” on view at the Elusie Gallery in town, has an array of images — shadow and light on the metal stairs outside one building, the broken windows and worn brick of another, and the spruced-up exterior of the Button Building, the former home of Landry Furniture that now houses new businesses. She’s also laminated old Gazette articles about the city’s manufacturing history.

“I’m hoping some of the older residents will come to see this,” said Lewis, who will give a talk at the gallery Saturday at 10:30 a.m. “It’s a great way for the camera to tell a story.”

— Steve Pfarrer

Lewis’ exhibit is on view through Sept. 7 at the Elusie Galley, 43 Main St., Easthampton.

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