When Martha Dougherty was 12, she took her first photograph with a camera her father had bought for her.
Sixty-seven years later, she's still taking photographs.
"I'm having as much fun with photography now as I ever did," Mrs. Dougherty, 79, said.
An exhibit of her work recently opened at the Washington Community Arts and Cultural Center in Washington, Pa. Although she is sharing the space with three other photographers, her work is displayed in one of the prime locations in the spacious gallery. The exhibit will continue through the end of March.
"My favorite subject matter is heritage photography, images I gather of old barns, covered bridges, grist mills, lighthouses and even outhouses," she said. "Once I even did a series of outhouses."
On her website, MarthaDHeritage.com, she writes that "too many pieces of our lives, both past and present, are being lost to 'progress.' "
She goes on to say that she likes to think that the work she does may add a little richness, enjoyment and pleasure to the lives of anyone viewing her photographs. It's also a way of preserving our past through digital imagery.
Basically self-taught, Mrs. Dougherty believes that hands-on is the best teacher and that, when she makes a mistake, she corrects it and hopes never to repeat it again. She also says she learns by talking to other photographers and reading a slew of books and magazines on photography.
Born and raised in Martins Ferry, Ohio, she moved to West Alexander in 1957 when she married her first husband and has never moved from the town.
Before her marriage, she worked in a number of offices but became a stay-at-home mom until her divorce in 1970. Returning to the work force, she worked for five years in a doctor's office, and then started a 22-year career working in the Washington County controller's office until she retired in April 1999. She and her second husband, Tom, liked to travel the country, and wherever they went, she took her camera.
"Tom's the one who encouraged me to turn my photography into a business," she said. "He told me every time we came back from a trip that I had all these beautiful photos and that they should be shared."
In 1979, she entered three of her photos in the first Christmas arts and crafts show held at the Citizens Library in Washington. She sold two of her entries, "got a kick out of the experience" and has been selling her work since.
Her photographs have been exhibited at the Artisan Center in Wheeling and at the Covered Bridge Artisans in Washington and West Alexander. Her work has also won her ribbons and prizes at places such as the Salt Fork Festival in Cambridge, Ohio, where she won a $250 cash prize, and the 2009 Friends of Wheeling Annual Photography Exhibit, where she took home a third-place ribbon in the professional category and saw two of her photos included in the organization's 2010 calendar.
She also exhibits her work at arts and crafts festivals in the tri-state area.
She has published three photo books by Double Edge Press titled "If Only I Could Talk," volumes 1, 2 and 3, which are available on her website and on amazon.com. Each consists of short stories she has written that are told from the subject's point of view.
"I have a lot of my photos lining the walls of my home, but I also sell a lot to parents of local exchange students who want to send the host family in another country a gift that represents something local," she said.
Since the death of her husband in 2006, she has traveled on her own or with a group of friends on bus trips and cruises.
"I've been to Alaska twice and to Hawaii, and I recently returned from a 12-day bus tour through Ireland with a friend," she said. "Once, I took over 5,000 photographs on a five-day trip."
In April, she plans to visit her stepdaughter, Linda, in Phoenix and then spend 10 days in June on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. In September, she will go to Maine to begin a road trip with her son, Andy, that will take them to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
"You can bet I'll have my camera with me," she said.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.