PORTLAND – Abigail Wellman may well be too young to lay claim to having a rags-to-riches story. But at 31, the Portland photographer still has quite a tale to tell, and her story serves as a shining example to any artist living and working in Maine that hard work has its rewards.

Wellman has the cover shot on the current issue of Color magazine, one of the most prestigious photography magazines in the world. The portrait, titled “Ingrid,” is an image of a co-worker’s wife.

Wellman shot the picture over Christmas this past year, after the woman, Ingrid Merrill, showed up at Wellman’s place of employment. “I spotted her when she came in to see her husband. I thought she looked cool, so I asked my friend, ‘Do you think she’d want to model for pictures?’ “

The answer was a resounding yes. Wellman set up a time to visit Merrill at her apartment, and then posed her in a back room.

The image is haunting, alluring and beautiful. The model’s long dark hair frames her face. One eye is bathed in bright light. Shadows hide the other eye. Her hands are extended in front of her, cupping a pink flower. Her face is a portrait of innocence, wonder and mystery.

There’s no predicting the benefit of landing the cover shot of Color magazine on Wellman’s career. But there’s also no question it will bring her tremendous exposure, said Heather Frederick, director of VoxPhotographs, a Maine-based gallery for fine-art photographers.

“I love the fact that someone from Maine is on the cover of Color magazine,” said Frederick, who represents Wellman. “There is a tremendous amount of talent in Maine, and it’s nice to get that recognition.”

Wellman grew up in Limerick and has been taking photographs since her senior year of high school. After high school, she studied photography with Rose Marasco at the University of Southern Maine.

A few years back, she began a series of portraits of women. She started by taking photographs of her sister, and later branched out to other women whose looks she found striking.

“When I take pictures, it’s a reflection of what’s in my heart and what’s going on in my head,” Wellman said.

In 2009, she self-published a coffee table-style book of her best portraits, “Women Creating Themselves.”

She’s been working with Frederick since 2008.

“Abi’s instincts are brilliant,” Frederick said. “Abi probably doesn’t understand how brilliant her instincts are. But I see it all the time. Her models learn to trust her right away, and the results are stunning. I think it’s interesting and telling that the editor of Color recognized that Abi’s work is totally unique. These days, it’s hard to have work that’s not derivative, but I think Abi has managed to do just that.”

While studying with Marasco, Wellman learned the importance of working hard all the time. Frederick reinforced that lesson.

When the two agreed to partner, Frederick told Wellman to go out and shoot for a solid year. Not a month or six months, but a year.

Wellman never hesitated. She was close to giving up on her photography because it was mostly a sideline in her working life and she wasn’t seeing many results that gave her reason to think something good might come of her interest.

But with Frederick’s encouragement, she felt re-energized, and committed herself to improving her art through the sheer act of shooting all the time.

She found new subjects and placed them in unlikely spots. For one session, she placed a model in the parking garage at the Portland police station. A few weeks ago, she asked a model to pose for photos in the rain out in front of City Hall.

She’s particularly fond of shooting at night and taking advantage of the city’s artificial light.

When Wellman sent her portfolio to Color magazine, she did so with high hopes but low expectations. When the editor called to ask her to send a larger digital file because he was considering putting her image on the cover, at first Wellman didn’t grasp the significance.

But then it hit her — she was in the running for the cover shot of one of the world’s biggest photography magazines.

In that moment, she realized the benefit of her efforts.

“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine anything good happening,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘You’re crazy. Why are you spending so much time on this?’

“But now I realize why I’m doing it. I just feel a lot more reassured in my work, and it’s nice to know that it means something to other people.”

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]