By Gina Malone
Photographer Michael Filonow stood in front of the camera before he began working behind it to create high-quality photographs of his own. “I had started a modeling career to the dismay of my parents,” he says.
Although he displayed an early interest in art, he studied engineering before turning to modeling, which took him around the world. “I traveled through Europe for many years learning photography and eventually switching sides of the camera to become a photographer,” he says. “While working as a fashion photographer, I loved color and form and tried to replicate those themes in my images.” Jobs took him to beauty spots that included Peru’s Sacred Valley, Patagonia in Chile and, closer to home, Brevard’s Pisgah Forest. “In all these places, there was something special,” Filonow says, “whether it be the surroundings or the culture itself.”
With the advent of digital photography, Filonow began documenting his trips and using his camera to experiment. “Up to that time if you shot film, it cost money for film and processing, making photography a bit costly,” he says. “This new digital medium allowed me to expand my horizons.”
His first foray into fine art included photographs for his Macro Botanical series. “I had always loved the diversity of colors and forms that nature shows us in flowers,” says Filonow. “I wanted to take a different approach and shoot images that didn’t look like traditional flowers.” He employed a double extender on his camera lens that allowed him to come within an inch of the subject while still being able to focus. “The results were beautiful,” he says. “The images were distorted and surreal.”
These days, many subjects for series suggest themselves to Filonow—from random images in a magazine to something he sees on TV. Being a visual person and having impeccable memory for places and people helps, too. “However, sometimes creating can also be an accident,” says Filonow. An example is his Reflection series. “I had gone out to shoot some beautiful, classic landscapes in Pisgah Forest,” he says. “After shooting for a while, I noticed leaves in the water obscuring the tree line reflection. I decided to take a picture of only the reflection and flip it 180 degrees.”
He was amazed when he looked at the images on the camera and found a depiction of landscape he had never seen before. “Sometimes you go into a project thinking things will go one way and they go in a totally different direction,” he adds.
Kaleidoscope, his most recent series, combines botanicals and betta fish. He used Photoshop to manipulate the images so that they merged into one. “Sometimes I would leave them for several days and then come back to them to see if it made sense,” he says.
Though he lives and works in upstate New York, new acrylic prints from Kaleidoscope may be found at Mars Landing Galleries in Mars Hill. When he began looking for galleries in which to exhibit his work, Filonow remembered the Asheville area from his days shooting for Belk department store and knew that it was an “up-and-coming art destination.” Mars Landing’s founder and director Miryam Rojas has known Filonow for many years. “When I saw the work he was recently doing with his own personal photography, I was mesmerized,” Rojas says. “He has a profoundly keen and tasteful eye for composition and together with his use of color photography creates these graceful yet invigorating images.” His large works, Rojas adds, are particularly popular with gallery visitors.
As with many people these days, Filonow says the pandemic has given him time to reflect and slow down a bit. “It has given me time to experiment,” he adds, “which is the best way to grow. I am trying to show beauty and color in the world around us from a different perspective.”
To learn more, visit MPFGallery.com or Instagram @mpf_gallery. Find Michael Filonow’s work at MarsLandingGalleries.com, located at 37 Library Street, in Mars Hill. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment.