In Michael Northrup’s latest book Dream Away, the Baltimore-based photographer has curated a photographic timeline of his relationship with his former wife, from when they first met to the birth of their daughter.
Michael has decades of professional experience under his belt; he is an accomplished photographer, a practiced university lecturer and an established commercial artist. “I think photography discovered me more than I discovered it. I was in my third year of college and about to drop out after trying everything from theatre to aeronautics. Nothing excited me. The Vietnam War was raging. So I did something I had never attempted before — I tried fine art. I took a photography course and by the end of the year I was hooked,” Michael tells It’s Nice That.
“The thing that really convinced me that I was on the right track was the guidance I received from Jack Welpott,” Michael continues. “Before finishing my undergraduate degree, I wrote to several photographers who were famous at the time and asked if I could do an apprenticeship with them during my final semester. One of the six wrote back and told me to ‘come on out to California and we’ll see what happens’. It was Jack Welpott and Judy Dater who were both very popular at the time.”
Michael’s formative creative years were spent with his then wife Pam; they were together throughout two graduate degrees — in San Fransisco and Chicago — Michael’s first photography exhibitions and when Michael initially embarked on his teaching career. In true photographer style, Michael snapped pictures of their everyday lives together but thought nothing of them at the time. When Michael released his first book Beautiful Ecstasy in 2003, his publisher saw the photographs of Pam and encouraged Michael to compile them into a book. “A year ago a student told me that I needed to get on Instagram. I started posting two images twice a day, every day, starting with my archive from 1972 to 1997,” Michael says. Stanley/Barker stumbled upon his account and offered to turn his family album into a book: Dream Away.
Dream Away is an uncensored visual diary of a couple’s day-to-day life; the book gives the viewer a detailed insight into a six-year relationship through a number of mundane moments like roast dinners, breast pumps and… car tyre bonfires. From 1976 to 1983, the book spans early pictures of a sunbathing Pam to heartwarming photographs of the couple’s daughter. “It’s mostly autobiographical but that’s by accident. I think there is some kind of hidden non specific narrative to my images but I couldn’t tell you what it is. I want to keep a certain amount of openness to my work so viewers can get inside the image. I like seeing things come together out of context,” Michael explains. Dream Away is a testament to photography’s thought-provoking potential to transform routine into an intriguing and compelling piece of art.
Michael is particularly inspired by snapshot aesthetics, a term coined in the 1960s to describe a genre of art photography that focuses on everyday subject matters and off-centred framing. Yet, what renders Dream Away so striking is the photographer’s appropriation of “formal qualities of West Coast photographers of the 40s and 50s”. Michael says: “My work is a stream of consciousness as I go through life, stopping for moments here and there, exploring, making records of things that excite me.”