The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Check out his work

Lemay’s book and other art can be seen or purchased at

How to see differently
St. Paul’s teacher publishes photography book

By Kelly Sennott

 When he’s teaching photography students at St. Paul’s School, it’s important to Charlie Lemay that his lessons go beyond art.

“I talk about a lot of stuff that isn’t directly photography,” Lemay said in an interview at the Bridge Cafe in Manchester recently. “What I’m really teaching is awareness. This is just how I do it.” 
Lemay, who’s been teaching full-time for 15 years now, shares a bit of his method in his recently self-published book, Seeing: Insights and Images. The text is a compilation of 40 photographs and 40 of his most-said phrases in and outside the classroom. The images are black and white, taken in a way that abstracts their subjects, and the sentences alongside them are short and insightful.
A brief snippet: “Unless we make the effort to see differently, we always see what we expect to see.” This quote is situated next to “Starry Stream” on p. 9, a black-and-white still with white puffs of something that seem to float against a contrasting, glistening background.
The image, Lemay explained, was taken of a dam near St. Paul’s, and the white puffs are the ice pancakes that form on the surface every few years. The result, he thought, looked like van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” 
On p. 12, the text is “Believe in nothing, and all the doors are closed,” accompanied by “Grasp,” a picture of a doorknob covered by a cryptic hand statue. It contrasts to the next page, which contains a billowing tree in a storm. Its text: “Believe in everything, and all the doors are open.”
“Most of photography is taught to imitate other photographs, looking through a viewfinder and identifying pictures you’ve already seen before. Nobody asks people to find their own vision, but that’s what I do in my program,” Lemay said. “I make them go out into the world and find their own.”
The idea for the book came about during a dream in which he had a deck of cards: photo on one side, quote on the other. He hadn’t any intention on writing a book at first; some of his graphic design art is illustrated on tarot cards, and initially, he thought it might be projected in that medium.
He became convinced of the self-publishing route during the PhotoAlliance 2014 Portfolio Review. Here he met David Bale and Ted Orland, authors of Art & Fear, who gave him an extra push. (Bales wrote the cover foreword.) Lemay wasn’t certain he’d get a book deal, and he wasn’t eager to wait either.
“There are only 300 of these books right now. If I sell 200, I can afford to print more. I’m not doing it to get rich or famous or anything with this. These are ideas I think are important, and I hope that people have the chance to experience them,” Lemay said.
Lemay had been doing commercial work for some time before the book’s publishing; the freelance graphic design and advertising copy supplemented his teacher’s pay. It wasn’t until a few years ago he decided to give it a rest and see where his own art would take him. 
“I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I was the founding editor of the Cauldron Literary Magazine at West High [in Manchester]. I fell in love with art in college, at Bowdoin, and I wanted to be an illustrator. But then when I started doing that, it was just so much easier to go into advertising.”
Lemay also figured he may as well practice what he taught. When he gave himself time to let his mind wander, this is what came out.
Lemay says most people stumble along the text on p. 25, placed next to a black and white chair with an angry face carved on it. “Try to change the world, and it resists. Change yourself, and somehow the world changes.”  
As seen in the September 18, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu