A 20 second exposure of the Milky Way above Lake Francis in Pittsburg, NH. Probably the darkest area of the state, however you can still see some light pollution along the horizon.
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CENTER HARBOR — When someone compliments Jon Secord's photography, he often deflects the praise, saying he's "lucky." It's not that there's anything accidental about the photograph – he studies geography, weather patterns and even astronomy so that he can be in just the right spot at just the right moment. The reason he says he's "lucky" is because he is alive and in control of his life.
Secord, 28, lives in Center Harbor and was raised in Meredith, graduating from Inter-Lakes High School in '06. He said that he was never a good student, except when it came to photography. He took a photography elective, where he found himself working with black-and-white film.
"That's where I fell in love with it," he said. When he went on to Southern Vermont College, in Bennington, he chose to major in business, thinking that photography wouldn't be lucrative enough to figure into his career. Before he could finish his undergraduate degree, though, Secord's youthful indiscretions had gotten the better of him. What started as an enthusiasm for partying had led him to hard drug use, and by his junior year he was addicted to opiates and was kicked out of college.
Without school to attend, Secord's addiction gained more power over him. Until, one morning, he woke up and decided to change – and that is why he feels lucky. Some of the people he knew from those days have since died, or are still ruled by the addiction.
"I got sober five years ago, that was definitely a catalyst for major change," said Secord. He was one of the first residents of the Riverbank House, a drug detox and rehabilitation center in Laconia. And, he rediscovered photography.
Today, Secord's sobriety isn't a defining aspect of his identity – he doesn't even think about it on most days. Instead, he focuses on the beauty of a world that has always been right in front of him, yet he was unable to see while he was using.
"You live a pretty dismal lifestyle for a period of time – things are pretty tough (when using drugs). When you get over that, you rediscover life."
Secord's photography is the work of a man doing just that: discovering beauty that anyone could see, if they knew when and where – and how – to look for it.
He describes himself, in general terms, as a landscape photographer. Secord picked up a camera as a way to occupy his time and energies when he stopped using drugs, and remembered the fascination that he experienced as a high schooler.
Through his camera – Secord shoots with a Nikon D750 – he has been able to record images that few have taken the trouble to look for, and some images that aren't possible to see with the naked eye.
Secord began his career in photography at a time when camera sensors became sensitive enough to capture photons of light from stars in galaxies so far away that they aren't visible to the casual observer. The technological advancement revolutionized astrophotography, and allowed photographers to capture rich images of the Milky Way's galactic center using only a tripod, camera and lens.
To do so, though, requires some forethought. Secord generally uses a 20-second exposure to photograph the Milky Way, and if his camera is sensitive enough to see light from distant stars, it is also sensitive to light sources much nearer. In New Hampshire, Secord said only the North Country is dark enough to get a clear picture of the galaxy.
"It's not dark enough around here – the light pollution is a huge issue in most of the state," he said.
Secord also photographs during the periods at either end of the night sky – sunrise and sunset, when the light is warm in tone and low in angle. His favorite place to be to capture such a moment is at a mountain peak – but being there is easier said than done.
"You wake up at 2 (a.m.), hike five miles in the dark, it sucks," he said, but, "You get to see the world come alive. It's amazing."
Photography doesn't pay all of his bills just yet. Secord works as a house painter when he needs to, but is working toward a day when he can devote all of his attention to photography. His business education, it turns out, is helpful after all.
Five years ago, photography was a means to keep himself busy. Today, it gives him purpose and a means to greater understanding.
"It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. It's a teacher," he said. In the pursuit of photography, Secord has studied geology, biology, meteorology and astrology. "To really get great photos, you have to understand the world around you. I'll never get rich from this, but the life experiences I'm getting from this are worth more than any mount of money ... The world is a pretty amazing place if you just stop to look around."
"When I'm up on top of a mountain and watching a sunrise, I feel lucky because I'm seeing something that most people don't get a chance to see."
Thick fog blankets Squam Lake on a Fall morning from Mt. Percival
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