By Jack Shea
Even though Newmarket-based photographer Harry Lichtman has travelled the world and captured many of its most stunning landscapes on film, his favorite photograph is one that he took at a Bruce Springsteen concert in 1999.
“I snuck my camera in,” said Lichtman. “I’m a huge Springsteen fan. His music and inspiration and passion just drives through my pictures.”
And clearly, it does. Lichtman was recently announced as the Landscape Category Winner in the Smithsonian’s Nature’s Best Photography Competition for 2015, which, despite Lichtman’s humble and somewhat casual acknowledgement of his achievement, is a big deal in the photography world, but Lightman is soft-spoken and seldom without a smile. Lichtman’s photo, “Autumn in Assiniboine, British Columbia,” was chosen from over 20,000 entries from all over the world, and will be displayed until October of 2016 at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, where Lichtman accepted the award on Nov. 12.
He graduated from UNH in 1987 with a degree in resource management, and now works full-time as a physical therapist’s assistant at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Lichtman describes photography as something he simply “fell into” without any professional training; he learned by simply bringing his camera along on hiking trips, during which he discovered he had an eye for landscapes. Before long, Lichtman began entering photo contests, publishing his work in magazines, and selling prints, transforming his picture-taking hobby into a part-time career that has taken him to many picturesque places across the globe, including Patagonia, New Zealand, and most recently, Iceland.
While travelling the world and taking pictures might sound like a vacation to some, Lichtman emphasized that it is still work, and that the path to a great photograph takes a great deal of patience and perseverance. It can be dangerous, too—he refers to a close brush with a pair of grizzly bears in Denali, Alaska as one of his most fearful moments. But the harsh times, which sometimes include doing pushups and sit-ups to keep warm in freezing temperatures, are an important part of the job that Lichtman still manages to enjoy. “I kind of like looking back and remembering how bad the weather was, or how cold I was,” he said. “It kind of makes it more memorable. It makes that memory more intense.”
Call him crazy, but his grit certainly pays off; Lichtman has an undeniable knack for capturing landscapes in dreamlike perfection at their finest moments, which often occurs when the rest of the world is sound asleep in their beds. But he doesn’t seem to mind— for him, photography is all about freedom, enjoyment and solace; it’s an escape in which he can take shelter from society and breathe in the outdoors.
“I love getting out,” said Lichtman. “Things are just very simple; it’s just you, wherever you are, the weather and that’s it. You don’t have to worry about schedules and about making other people happy. It’s your own space.”
It’s Lichtman’s unconditional love of nature that fuels his art—the money he gets for selling it is just a bonus. He said that a more cash-driven photography career would be “depressing,” and would likely make it a less enjoyable experience. “I would probably end up doing things that I wouldn’t want to do as much but that I know would pay or that I would get money, so I’m trying to avoid that,” he said. Had he chosen the more lucrative path of a wedding photographer, he says he would probably be out of the field by now.
“I just stick with what I love and what I’m passionate about,” he said.