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Middletown Life

Through the lens

Dec 31, 2020 11:13AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By John Chambless
Contributing Writer

As visitors walked around the first major exhibition of her photographs this fall, Jane Mruk heard someone say, “I didn’t know this area could look like this!”

That’s the kind of compliment Mruk was aiming for. “A Wealth of Nature,” which ran from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 at the Historic Odessa Foundation’s Visitor Center, showcased about 40 of Mruk’s luminous views of Odessa’s historic architecture, the region’s vistas of marsh and sky, and the animals and insects that are found right here, if only we look for them.

“My goal with the show was to inspire people to step outside and let nature work its magic on them,” Mruk said. “A lot of people forget about the therapeutic value of just sitting outside. We get so wrapped up in our jobs and lives that we forget to stop to take a look, and a breath.”

The exhibition showed that there’s plenty of the magic of nature in Mruk’s own yard in Odessa. The glowing color images of a young rabbit, a caterpillar arching up to nibble some dill, a monarch butterfly wrapped in a translucent chrysalis – all were found just steps from her home.

“It’s a lot of patience,” Mruk said of her nature work. But luck also comes into the process. “I was on my way to an early morning shoot in the fall, and this fox was on the side of the road. I took two shots before he ran off.” The resulting image, of the fox looking intently over his shoulder in a field of delicately frosted plants, is stunning.

For larger subjects, Mruk has been fortunate to catch thousands of snow geese in mid-flight on the edge of Odessa, and capture other expanses of southern Delaware that radiate light. Her images of the homes and gardens of downtown Odessa reflect history as well as the beauty of the changing seasons.

Photography has been a constant in Mruk’s life since she was an 8-year-old Girl Scout. She got her own flash camera at the age of 14. “My dad was in the service and we lived all over the country,” she recalled. She has lived in Odessa with her husband Eddie, and son Evan, for the past 16 years.

She graduated from the Antonelli Institute of Art & Photography, now part of Harcum College, and spent her early professional career as a graphic designer. She kept shooting all those years, refining her skills and building a portfolio of work. For the past four years, Jane Mruk Photography has been her professional focus.

“The two go hand in hand—graphic design and photography,” she said. “I still do graphic design for my clients by designing keepsake albums, announcements, party invitations and holiday cards.”

An award-winning photographer, Mruk is a frequent contributor to Outdoor Delaware magazine. She also works with Delaware Wildlands, an Odessa organization that gathers and preserves open spaces in Delaware.

In addition to her images of nature, Mruk focuses on families in the region as a portrait artist.

“When my son was born, I got my first digital camera,” she said. “I’ve been focusing on people and bringing them more into my photography.

“I love photographing people outside, with a backdrop of nature, throughout the seasons,” she said. “I truly enjoy capturing people connecting with nature, blending my passion for the outdoors with portrait photography.

“Working outdoors with photography, you practice getting the butterfly in the frame, or a hummingbird in flight. It’s exactly the same patience needed for a 2-year-old,” she said, laughing.

“My end goal is to provide meaningful artwork that people can hang on the wall,” she said, “not just for me to hand you a flash drive with images on it.”

The process, from initial contact to final art on the wall, includes planning for the location, the time, selecting clothing, then working later with a client to select the images that will be turned into heirlooms.

To get an image that is more than just a likeness, “I’ll get down on the floor with the dogs or the kids, just have a little bit of fun with it,” Mruk explained. “I really want to capture who this person is.”

Despite working in an era when images are everywhere, and every phone can take a likeness, Mruk said she worries about the disposable nature of all those photographs. “I feel like this is going to be the most photographed generation that has no photographs,” she said. “I really encourage people to print their good photos, not leave them online. I want an heirloom quality. It’s important.”

Changes in technology or the loss of a cell phone can mean images are lost forever. But if it’s hanging on the wall as an archival print, future generations can have a tangible link to the past. That’s the contribution that Mruk is aiming to make.

For an image of a grinning toddler in a pink pedal car, Mruk brought together a setting, outfit and prop. “There’s a house in town that has more than 1,000 azalea plants that bloom for only two weeks out of the year,” she said. “This little girl’s grandfather restored that cute little car for their family. I said, ‘You have to bring that! We have to get this in a photo!’ It’s such a sweet shot. I’m so glad we were able to create an image that helps tell their family’s story.”

A photograph of a teen with her arms exuberantly raised in a dazzling field of sunflowers shows the kind of attachment Mruk makes with families. “I have been photographing her since she was 1,” she said. “And now she’s a high school senior. She’s the same age as my son. Being chosen as a family’s photographer, time after time, is such an honor.”

Mruk does a good business in the fall and spring by taking senior portraits that show both spirit and maturity, even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The images that express a teen at this critical point in their lives brim with hope and energy.

Mruk’s ability to connect with her subjects extends to the hundreds of adoptable dogs she has worked with for four years. Getting lively images of the incoming animals at a local dog rescue is a matter of not only technical skill, but also capturing the spirit of a dog to help get it adopted. Better images mean more adoptions, especially when featured in social media.

“It can be tough because they’re scared, they’re tired. So we really have to work to make some of them feel at ease and get a good shot,” Mruk said. “I look for a connection with the eyes, or show off their markings. There should be a real communication, whether it’s an animal or a person I’m photographing.”

Although she has been busy photographing other people’s families for years, Mruk said she is careful to preserve images of her own. “You know that old theory of the cobbler’s children have no shoes? Not me. I am totally on top of it,” she said, laughing.

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