Kentlands Photographer Is All Into Inspiration

Photo | Cara O’Connor Tom Marchessault’s photo, “Manhattan Cross Street,” is on display in the Fall/Winter Crystal City Underground FotoWalk Exhibit sponsored by Exposed DC.

Photo | Cara O’Connor
Tom Marchessault’s photo, “Manhattan Cross Street,” is on display in the Fall/Winter Crystal City Underground FotoWalk Exhibit sponsored by Exposed DC.

Tom Marchessault had no difficulty choosing the name “Inspiration Photo” for his work. “It evokes the feeling that I get—inspired to capture a scene—and it is the name of the street I live on,” said the 20-year Kentlands resident.

Although he has been “making photographs” since 1976 when he purchased his first SLR (single lens reflex), a Canon FTb, the retired economist relied on the other half of his brain to earn a living. “The brain is not completely bifurcated between left brain and right brain, but my career used the one side of the brain more—analytic, rational, computational—while my photography uses the other side—creative, inspirational, feeling.”

Unsure he has “artistic leanings,” the self-described “mostly self-taught” shutterbug said, “I just like to take photographs that capture a moment or tell a story.”

Despite that modesty, Marchessault’s work has been included in City of Gaithersburg exhibits at the Arts Barn and the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, and he has served as a judge for several local photography competitions.

A member of the Gaithersburg and the North Bethesda camera clubs, Marchessault said the groups are “an invaluable resource” and he “learns from the speakers they present and the critiques of the photographs entered into the competitions.”

Recently, for the second time, a Marchessault photograph has been chosen as part of Exposed DC’s Crystal City Underground FotoWalk Exhibit, a 150-image gallery that rotates every six months. “Manhattan Cross Street,” taken from a 20th-floor balcony at the Marriott Pulse Hotel on West 37th St. in New York City, is on view on “the first corridor block nearest to the Crystal City Metro.” He promised to send “a small copy of my photograph to anyone who takes a selfie of him/herself and my photo and posts it on Facebook or Twitter.”

In his native Cambridge, Massachusetts, Marchessault spent college summers and breaks working at the factory that employed his father. Although “I really had no idea what kinds of jobs were available,” he recalled, “I just knew I didn’t want to be a factory worker—and my folks did not want me to do that either.”

After evaluating his strengths, he started out as a math major at University of Massachusetts in Boston “with no clear idea of what I would do with that.” He subsequently switched to economics, seeing it “as a way to combine my analytical skills with an interest in real world issues.”

Photography as a career never presented itself as viable option. His family took snapshots on special occasions rather than “taking a photograph for its own sake,” but he did find the Life and Look magazines in their home “an accessible way to see great photographs in all styles.”

Marchessault moved to Maryland to do graduate work in economics at the University of Maryland, where a summer job evolved into a 34-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation. While working full-time, he “found time to take evening classes in photography and practice darkroom skills to develop film and make prints.”

Then about a decade ago, he said, “as I approached retirement, I began to reorient my focus and priorities and began to pay more attention and time to making photographs, finding satisfaction in the creativity the camera gives me to capture moments and images and preserve them in pixels.”

He no longer goes into the darkroom. “Everything I do is digital,” he said. “You only have to decide afterwards whether to make an image color or black and white.” Recently, he added, he has been “experimenting with selective color. Some of the image is in color, while some is black and white.”

Marchessault said his “style tends more toward a literal view of the world with only occasional forays into the abstract. I am interested in simple, clean images as opposed to complex images.”

As for subject matter, Marchessault started out with restaurant facades, which he continues to do in the Kentlands ( but has “expanded to other examples of the ‘built environment.’”

He said that in an effort to go beyond his comfort zone, “I have begun to look for natural environment captures. I think I am getting better.” He noted that “this is one of the benefits of belonging to a camera club. If you want to compete, you usually have to do so with a topic they choose.”

This photographer is willing to branch out. “For the longest time, I avoided landscape, floral, wildlife photos. And other than event reporting, I did very little people photography. Perhaps, I will try portrait photography at some point.”

Marchessault is all in to his art. “My camera is always at hand and my eye is always watching for the next opportunity to capture an interesting image,” he said.