Photo expo offers free advice and lots of inspiration

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News
Student work, such as this landscape by Araya Hansen, will be part of the photo expo.

The Western North Carolina Photography & Graphics Expo at McDowell Tech on May 5 will offer photographers, for free, what they would pay hundreds of dollars to get elsewhere.

A host of photographers and graphic designers from across Western North Carolina will share their work and technical expertise with amateur enthusiasts and professionals alike. The event is free and open to everyone. Register at

Blake Madden

“We’ve gotten a whole lot of different photographers with different backgrounds together to expose the students to different philosophies of and ways of looking at photography,” said Blake Madden, a Black Mountain resident who created the expo with Jay Perry, who heads up the college’s graphic arts department.

Michael Mauney's portrait of Dick Cavett was on the cover of the Oct. 30, 1970 Life Magazine.

Workshops, held from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at McDowell Technical Community College in Marion, will include “Photographing Appalachia” by noted Asheville landscape photographer Tim Barnwell and “The Art of Portraiture” by former Life Magazine photographer Michael Mauney. David Simchock, who shoots many concerts in the Asheville area, will talk about concert photography. Noted Asheville commercial photographer John Warner will do a photo drone demonstration. Talking about creating video will be Keith Wright of Wright Creative in Asheville, who has done campaigns for Apple, Condé Naste, Lululemon and MTV, among other clients.

Graphic designer Onee Pressley will talk about finding your niche in design. Susanna Euston will give a presentation about creating abstract nature photography. Professional body painter Maribell Sarate will give a workshop in bodypainting. Noted wedding photographer Parker Pfister will talk about fine art photography.

"No one knows how old these megalithic structures are," said expo photographer Jon Michael Riley of these rock in Ireland, "but it is safe to say 4,000-5,000 years ago. I was photographing it as the child walked over and said, 'Mommy, watch!' and then proceeded to lean into the stone. It was a 'give' to me."

Photographers often gather in workshops, but the sessions tend to be organized around a single genre, such as wedding photography or nature photography. Madden decided it would be fun to pull in photographers from several areas of specialization.

Blake Madden, the college Photographic Technology’s only full-time instructor, has been working on the expo about three months.

“We have so many talented photographers in this region that I wanted to show the diverse talent we have in this area,” he said. The expo’s photographers and graphic artists, many of whom are adjunct instructors at the college, supported the idea and agreed to present for free. Madden has been able to keep costs low by advertising on social media and by word of mouth.

McDowell Technical Community College’s Photographic Technology program was started in 1990. The program teaches a wide range of photography, for aspiring professionals and anyone else, in genres that include landscape, portrait, wedding, documentary and photojournalism.

“We allow students to find the direction they want to go in and given them a strong foundation for doing that,” Madden said. Students are on campus one day a week; they take the rest of their classes online.

An art show showcasing students’ photography and graphics work - also part of the May 5 event- is indicative of the freedom students at McDowell Tech experience, he said. Elsewhere, student work often reflects the styles of their instructors. McDowell’s approach is broad enough that students tend to find their own voices, Madden said.

Jim White, who made this photo of himself, is a student at McDowell's Tech's photo technologies program.

“It’s opened my eyes to possibilities,” said Jim White, a retired Black Mountain resident who has been taking classes in the photo department. “It’s a gem of a program down there. I would just as soon go to Marion than A-B Tech and Asheville.”

“It’s just a fantastic program,” said Asheville student Gail Higgins. “One of the classes I’ve taken was taught by a Life Magazine photographer (Mauney), so you have this wealth of knowledge you can draw from.

“And Marion is not that far. It’s a 40-minute community from my house. Some people commute that much one way every day.”

The school’s Photographic Technology program offers a two-year associate degree and a one-year certificate.

“Some students want to be professionals, and some just want to take better pictures,” Madden said. “Our biggest challenge is, people in Black Mountain and Asheville are totally unaware we are here. There are a lot of people interested in photography and they don’t know where to go for instruction.

“And we’re right here. We hope this expo gets the word out about our program.”