Beholding Beauty Through Photography

Cassville Artist Captures Nature’s Images on Film
by Mary Glindinning

Cassville, Wis. – It’s wrong to call Doris Hembrough’s work nature photographs, although they are pictures of nature.
But Hembrough goes beyond the nature that’s visible to most people at first glance.
She looks closer.
“These images are metaphors. They represent the idea that right in front of us at all times in our world, no matter where we are, there’s something very, very good going on, if we could only see it,” she said.
She sees patterns in a beach’s sand that most people would just walk by. She notices rock formations that look like faces, angels, creatures or hieroglyphics.
Through her work, she lets people see the good she sees.
“I don’t know why, but I was given this extreme sensitivity to things that other people don’t see,” she said. “I’m just drawn to it like a magnet. It’s a really powerful experience for me when it happens. I can feel it in my whole body.”
She uses only natural light and does not manipulate the scene that nature gave her.
But she’ll wait until the light – her guide – reveals the secrets.
“I may spend two or three hours in a particular spot, knowing that the image is there. I’m not the kind of photographer who shoots rolls and rolls. I take one and I have one. I may stay there a long time, until my eye tells me I have it. I’m just very particular setting it up and making it until I know that everything is in the image that is supposed to be in there.”
She can sense when she is going to feel the magnetic pull again, and it’s going to happen soon.
“I’m not a person who carries a camera. It’s a matter of living in touch with your intuition and acting on it. I’ve been feeling it in the last two to three weeks,” Hembrough said.
Earlier in her life, Hembrough, 41, buried those feelings. She went to a fashion merchandising school and was a clothing buyer for seven years. She was married for seven years.
But trying to “live like everybody else” didn’t work. In 1977, “I stopped everything and began to study and work full time with photography,” her biography tells gallery browsers.
“In 1982, I surrendered my life to God’s will, or maybe I should say, He found me when I had nothing left to surrender except my stubborn will,” the biography says.
Surrender gave her the sights she captures on film.
“There is something very mysterious in these places,” she said. “Whatever phase of your own journey you’re on, there’s something that will hit you.”
Sometimes she sees things in the finished photograph that she didn’t notice while she was taking it.
And other people see things she didn’t.
“They are a language written without letters, and they speak to everyone differently,” she said.
Some of her photographs of the environment look to some people like abstract paintings. It doesn’t matter that sometimes viewers can’t tell what the medium is. Their response is what matters, she said.
“I talk about these images feeding, and I mean it. They’re like a current of energy. If you can sit there with them and be quiet enough, they’ll give you that nourishment.
“I call it a journey of the soul, a journey of healing. It’s about love and the power of love to heal,” Hembrough said.
She lives in her upstairs gallery on Cassville’s main street. One hundred pieces of her work are spread among white-walled rooms with creaking wood floors.
“My work is about finding the unexpected and accepting that you found it there,” she said.
Finding an art gallery – which she opened in 1986 – in a small village like Cassville is unexpected for many people. Travelers aren’t as surprised as “people from the region. They practically tell me ‘you can’t do this here.’ It’s all about altering our perspective. Things aren’t what we think they are,” she said.
People need to spend time with her work to see what’s there, she said.
“There’s always movement in the images trying to pull you through to something else, through open doors into light that’s beyond,” Hembrough said.
“I have seen so many wonderful responses to them. That keeps telling me I must go on,” she said. “I will continue to grow and open myself up to it, keep accepting it more.”