‘Remnants’ by Ted Fines opens at museum

With an estimated 50,000 photographs taken over the years, Ted Fines faced a daunting task winnowing his work down for a solo exhibit at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan. In the end, he honed in on a single subject matter – remnants of forgotten places and abandoned buildings.

His new exhibit, appropriately titled “Remnants, The Photography of Ted Fines,” features 43 photographs spanning the years 2006 to current day. An opening reception will be held in his honor Saturday at 3 p.m. at the museum. It is free and open to the public.

Many of the images in the exhibit strike a melancholy mood because they depict pealing paint and broken down furniture inside structures no longer in existence today. But as Fines likes to say, “Photography remembers when all is forgotten.”

“The majority of images represent places that don’t exist anymore,” he said. “They are pieces of historical archeology.”

Though Fines and his wife, Chris, retired to Lost Lakes Woods in Lincoln in 2013, they spent many years living and working in the Detroit area. Some of his photographs reflect desolate urban buildings, while others were taken in more rural places, such as along Poor Farm Road in Alcona County, after he settled full-time into Northeast Michigan.

With a keen eye, he’s always on the lookout for subject matter to photograph, and experiences a particular rush when seeing the inside of an old building for the first time.

“When I walk into a space I get such a rush walking into a building I’ve never been in before,” Fines said. “I don’t know what’s behind that door. It’s a time capsule.”

He also finds the beauty in the abandoned.

“I love the composition and angles in an abandoned building. I don’t touch anything or set anything up,” he said of the many structures he’s been able to photograph that outlived their usefulness over the years.

Playing with light and settings, he uses a Nikon d300 to choose what aspects of his overall composition to highlight. It might be vintage tools on an old work bench found in an abandoned rural barn or a dilapidated couch centered in a once grand room of an abandoned urban landmark. The editing process afterwards also factors largely into his finished images.

“I never use a flash. Never, ever,” Fines said. “So I’m manipulating light all the time. As a photographer, you have to make decisions on what you’re going to expose on – that’s the beauty of working with raw images. You can bring things out by editing.”

Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski first approached Fines about two and a half to three years ago about doing an exhibit at the museum. While he was honored with the request, it didn’t come together until this year. Witulski said she is pleased to be able to offer an exhibit on a subject that’s not been highlighted before at the museum.

“His work is unbelievable,” she said. “I can still sense a presence in the emptiness. I’m really pleased with this exhibit and it’s unique depiction of abandoned spaces.”

Witulski also said there are many retirees relocated from the Detroit area to Northeast Michigan who can and do relate to some of the images included in the exhibit.

“They connect to his images,” she said.

Fines, who prints his work through a photography lab in New York City, also puts much thought into how best to display each piece. Some are framed while others are printed on metal and left unframed for a distinct look and feel.

In addition to the 43 photographs displayed on the Trelfa Gallery walls, the exhibit also includes a video slideshow of 175 other images. Fines will give a special talk Aug. 26 at 4 p.m. on his experiences capturing the images in the different locations he explored. He will also introduce a six-week digital photography course he will be teaching through the museum.

The course, Fundamentals of Digital Photography, runs Thursdays, Sept. 6 to Oct. 11 from 6-7:30 p.m. It is for the novice photographer who would like to learn more about their digital camera. Students must have access to a DSLR camera or an advanced “point and shoot” camera that has the capability to set aperture, shutter speeds and ISO.

Cost for the series is $120 per person or $110 for museum members. To register, call the museum at 356-2202 or email bessermuseum@bessermuseum.org.

“Remnants, The Photography of Ted Fines” will remain on exhibit now through Oct. 22.