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If you enter the tiny Ben Thomas Gallery at the end of the deck at 88 Brown St., youâll find yourself surrounded by images of familiar and beloved spots in the Ocean State.
A Jamestown native, Thomas is a photographer who possesses a boundless fascination with lighthouses at sunset, dories tied up at the dock, seagulls in a row, bridges emerging from fog and quirky views of sails. His topics include historic spots, too, such as the Gilbert Stuart birthplace.
He likes to experiment with reflected light so many of his pieces have a mirrored effect.
Thomas controls the entire process: He chooses the subjects, takes the photos, then prints, frames and hangs them.
His gallery is full to bursting with works both large and small, from matted photos in bins to post-card size images displayed in racks.
âI also print other peopleâs work,â he says. âItâs high-end printing.â He has the ability to use archival inks and paper or print on stretched canvas. âIt makes it look like a painting. Some people tell me Iâm a really good painter and I donât correct them.â
Thomas has no formal training in photography, noting that his last art class was the beginnersâ course at North Kingstown High School.
He has taken pointers on lighting â his favorite element of photo composition â from his other job as a freelance location scout for movies, studying the techniques of directors of photography.
Thomas has worked on âBrotherhoodâ for TVâs Showtime, and for the theatrical products of âUnderdogâ; âDan in Real Lifeâ, starring Steve Carrell; âThe Proposalâ with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (Peopleâs Sexiest Man Alive); and for the upcoming movie âThe Zookeeperâ starring comic actor Kevin James and a cast of âtalkingâ animals.
He was on the scene at an unfortunate moment. âI was there when the giraffe died,â Thomas says. âIt was old age. His name was Tweet and he was actually the Toys R Us giraffe.â
Thomas has provided such filming sites as Jamestown and Rockport on Cape Ann, Mass.
âOnce we find locations, itâs like planning a wedding,â he explains. âEvery day itâs finding a place for 100 people to eat and park, getting permits from the town, calming down angry neighbors.â
He functions as âliaison between the show and the community.â
Thomas, who easily could be the winner of the Vince Gill look-alike contest, started location scouting five years ago. âI take a lot of pictures to show to the directorâ to help choose a location.
He opened his first gallery two years ago in Jamestown but it wasnât a success. âI wanted to make it work but it didnât happen.â When a Wickford businesswoman told him of an available space nearby, Thomas says he âsnapped it up.â
Relocating to the village seemed a natural move.
âI pretty much love the area, having grown up here,â he says. âItâs corny but I want to show people how beautiful it is. People who have second homes here can take photos back with them.â
The new gallery âstarted with a bang,â he says, but the economy has been tough.
To keep things going, he has turned to community photography including portraits, real estate, yachts and that old standby, matrimony. âA lot of friends are letting me do their weddings,â Thomas says. âIâm building a portfolio.â
He has no studio but, being a good location scout, he chooses such settings as Beavertail and various beaches.
He also does PhotoShop work and photo restoration and has ordered a machine that creates jigsaw puzzles from clientsâ pictures. They can be made of cardboard, wood or turned into magnets. âItâs your photos and my equipment,â says Thomas who will charge $20 for a letter-size puzzle and $30 for legal size.
Meanwhile, his photographerâs eye is always searching for the next great shot.
âIâm more of an opportunist,â he says. âI keep a camera with me; I look at things you see every day in a new light. Itâs a timing thing: If Iâm driving home and see a beautiful sunset, Iâll stop.â
Martha Smith can be reached at mgs3dachs@ cox.net.View more articles in: