Photographer Olga Merrill at Maquoit Bay in Brunswick, one of her frequent photography locations, especially in winter months. (Kelli Park photo)

BRUNSWICK — Olga Merrill’s coastal photography reflects a varied shape of reality. Merrill, who relocated to Maine from Russia, tries to challenge preconceived notions of traditional landscape photography through a surreal, dreamlike lens.

Merrill’s latest body of work will be on display in “Secrets and Spirits,” an exhibition at Bath’s Green Lion Gallery from June 21 through July 14. A few her selected works will also be on display in “Maine Viewpoints: Contemporary Photography and Painting” at Thomas Moser in Freeport, which debuts Thursday, June 27.

“Friday Night in Cinque Terre” by Olga Merrill. Cinque Terre in Italy, September 2018. On display at Green Lion Gallery and Thomas Moser. (Courtesy photo)

Merrill hails from East Russia in the Arctic Circle near Alaska, where she was born during a spring blizzard. She grew up watching her father create images in the darkroom while enjoying the vast surrounding landscape. As an adult, she finds herself most comfortable in the Northern regions of the world.

“There’s a lot of freedom in the Arctic,” she said during a recent interview. “There’s a lot of space for your imagination. There are no borders.” 

Merrill eventually moved to Moscow to pursue a career as a financial manager, not because she likes numbers, but because she enjoys connecting with people, she says. Although art has always been part of Merrill’s life, she says that her family was surprised when she began making art after a long career in finance. Merrill has traveled to 46 countries and lived in Norway, which she lovingly refers to as “paradise country.” Her diverse experiences have allowed her to develop an appreciation of stark landscapes, small towns and bustling metropolis areas, which has inspired much of her work as a photographer.

“They all have their own charm,” she said.

Merrill, who moved to Maine in 2013, began to explore abstract Impressionism with her camera three years ago, creating photographs that resemble Impressionist and Expressionist works of art. She considers herself a visual artist rather than a photographer, and challenges herself to see beyond reality when she’s shooting along the coast of Maine.

Merrill has different visions in her mind of what she hopes to depict using her surroundings and places great value on being intuitive and spontaneous as an artist. She works with a Pentax KS2 and prefers to create dreamlike images during shooting rather than editing. Many photographers rely on editing techniques to achieve various effects, but Merrill prefers to keep post-processing to a minimum. Merrill strives to share her Expressionist style with images that symbolize mystery, intrigue and a surreal “dream world.”

Instead of focusing on the technical aspect of creating images, Merrill pursues the exploration of emotion that underlies each fragmented depiction. The lack of tangible focus becomes Merrill’s focus, in a sense, providing more opportunity for an emotional, imaginative response from the viewer. The lack of clarity in her images creates space in the minds of those who allow themselves to become absorbed in Merrill’s dream world, much like the sense of physical space that she has become enthralled with after growing up in the Arctic.

“I’m fascinated with Olga’s work because it uses photography to be so painterly. Its partial abstraction makes room for our imagination and wonder at the same time its photographic origin grounds us in some reality,” said David Morgan, an artist and the owner of Green Lion Gallery. “Olga manages to combine the immediacy and spontaneity of plein-air painting with the more detached and process-oriented creativity of printmaking.”

Merrill has spent the past few years developing her style along the coast of Maine, creating images of sailboats, rocky coastlines, textures found in nature and architecture.

“The coast of Maine is like a dreamy fairytale, sailing from harbor to harbor,” she said. “The waves, the water is a wonderful subject to photograph. She developed a love of sailboats during the Windjammer Days celebration in 2017 and looks forward to visiting Rockland during the event this year to find inspiration for future work. Her nautical images “evoke an earlier time in Maine,” states Meg Hurdman, assistant manager of Thomas Moser in Freeport.

I colder months, she’s found other inspiration in Maine.

“This is paradise for me in the winter, shooting ice here in Maquoit Bay,” she said. “I crawl around looking for [saltwater] patterns in ice. They’re different from freshwater patterns.”

She developed an “Ice Series” based on the shapes and textures she found in the ice in Maquoit Bay.

Her work has been published in five magazines so far this year, including publications in Barcelona and Paris, and she has received six awards in the past year from as far away as Malta. Merrill has recently participated in five group exhibitions, one in Malta and one in Budapest, and will participate in group shows in Rome and Milan this month. Merrill plans to continue crawling around among sheets of ice at Maquoit Bay this winter, searching for patterns that strike her aesthetic vision, and looks forward to creating abstract images based on her imagination and the rugged beauty that surrounds her on the coast of Maine.

“I love the North and I love Maine. I feel comfortable here,” Merrill said.

For more information, visit olgamerrill.com.

“Trio” by Olga Merrill. Part of Harbor Series. Photo taken at Windjammer Days in Rockland 2017. On display at Green Lion Gallery. (Courtesy photo)

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