Ray Matthews creates images with light, capturing his vision of the Outer Banks and regional scenes including Lake Mattamaskeet and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 69-year-old Nags Header is having an exhibit this month at the Dare County Arts Council in Manteo. He will be showcasing approximately 55 framed works and more than 100 matted photographs.

From a Milky Way — a backdrop for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, to floating water lilies in coastal North Carolina, he shoots like a man in love and processes his prints like a painter. Matthews controls the process from start to finish from discovering the image, taking the photo, editing and printing it, cutting his mats and glass and building his frames.

In the end, viewers get a feel for what Matthews felt when he decided upon a scene to memorialize.

What does one see? A blurred Corolla horse capturing poetry in motion, colorful lights warming a darkened pier, sky reflecting in water bordered by verdant fields, and a mother bear leading her cubs across a fallen log.

The native of Pasquotank County has lived and worked in Dare County for 47 years. While he has done his share of commercial photography covering real estate, boat building, architecture, restaurants, weddings, and portraiture, his calling is the landscape. “That’s what attracted me to photography in the first place way back in the 70s,” says Matthews. “I still love the landscape and still love to go out and find something new and different.”

There was a time when Matthews shot nothing but slides and negatives. For the last fifteen years he’s been shooting in digital format. He still is working out of the same studio that once housed double sinks for processing film and spools of film. The former darkroom shutters now are open to light, the sinks gone, and Matthews hands are dry. He’s embraced the digital process. “I am much happier with the results I get digitally,” he says. “I can realize more of what I want to show, what I can present to the public."

In the old days, when a piece of trash or a phone wire spoiled an otherwise photogenic image, he was stuck with it. Now, using Photoshop, he can tweak it.

Some of Matthews peers didn’t want to go digital; some got out of photography all together. “I had no choice,” he says. “I had to make a living out of it.” It cost him between $20,000 and $25,000 to make the transformation.

The exhibit shows off his vision, and photography, and photoshop skills to the max. Images include aerial views, nighttime photography, infrared, and black and white images, his techniques that turn a portrait of a violinist into an old style image and converting a Portsmouth Island view from a porch into a veritable painting. He enhances colors when inspiration speaks, takes multiple exposures, drops them into an image, and removes whatever detracts from what captures his heart and soul…the essence of the vision.

Visitors will view summer sea oats, lightning in a purple sky, a surfer in a curl, and bears on a picnic. From an image of a dramatic thunderhead to pastel hued water lilies, Matthews capture the moods, magic, and mystery of the Outer Banks.

It takes patience and timing to achieve what Matthews has achieved. There are aps available today that will alert him to exactly when the sun or moon will be situated above a specific environment. That allows him, weather permitting, to achieve what’s in his mind’s eye. He also must explore the land, study the sky and watch the sea, not to speak of being observant seasonally to the flora and fauna that populate his idyllic region. “I’ve been looking for a long time,” says Matthews. “I still think the Outer Banks is still beautiful.”

The current show “Beauty and Wonders Abound” is dedicated to his wife Pam, as this year marks their 45th wedding anniversary.

Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.

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