By Ruth Fordon
Her love of photography began early. As a child, Ann remembers organizing other children in her neighborhood into scenes that she would then photograph with her Brownie camera. In tandem with this interest Ann has always been a student of life and has pursued education in many different formats over the years. She earned a degree in English from UNC at Chapel Hill, and then an MEd in Counseling from UNC in Charlotte. By 1975 her love of photography brought her to school again, this time to a certification program at the New England School of Photography in Boston. All of this training and education has allowed Ann to weave a challenging and interesting lifestyle directed toward the exploration of what it means to be human.
In 1971 Ann moved to Ocracoke to teach at Ocracoke School, her first fulltime job. She was one of five teachers and each taught a variety of subjects. She and her husband Michael taught junior and senior high students from 1971-1973,
and then they left to go to graduate school. Her next job was teaching English at an alternative school for 100 kids who had been unable to succeed in regular academic settings. As part of this job, she volunteered to accompany the kids to a media center where they could learn “hands on” about photography, while also
relationships with adults. It was during this work that her childhood interest in photography sparked again.
In 1975 Ann and her former husband moved to Boston. He later was accepted to Harvard, and Ann began teaching in Newton, Mass. while taking a few courses at the New England School of Photography. She soon was enrolled in their fulltime program. This led her back to education and the chance to work full time as a teacher of photography at a junior high school, utilizing her new language, technical skills and creativity to engage the students.
Upon returning to NC in 1978, Ann participated in the NC Artists in the Schools program sponsored by the NC Arts Council, where she spent 10 years working around the state teaching photography. She also taught for 2 summers at the adolescent unit of the state mental hospital in Butner. “Kids would say things when we were in the darkroom developing photos that they wouldn’t say otherwise. It was really amazing and fun.”
After finishing her Photography program in Boston, Ann began thinking about the need for a book about Ocracoke that would portray more than just the history.She wanted to say something with her new language of photography about the island, the power of the environment, and the community. At the time only Carl Goerch’s book on the history of Ocracoke was available. For Ann, it was the opportunity to use her technical skills as a photographer, her instincts for distilling the everyday life of islanders into stunning images and a format for her to convey her love and appreciation of Ocracoke. She had saved enough money to work on the book exclusively for 5 months and made a majority of the images during this time period. Compiling quotes, stories and finding a way to make them intersect meaningfully with the images took several more years and 2 years to connect with the right publisher.
Ann’s completed book,”Ocracoke Portrait”, her photo essay capturing images and stories of island life, published in 1988, was enthusiastically received and enjoyed by all. Ocracoke Portrait is now in its second printing and available in stores around the island. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to look for it. The stories and images are timeless.
One day in the early 1990’s while buying fish at the fish house Ann met Gretchen Sigmund, an artist from Columbus, Indiana. Gretchen and her daughter commented on “Ocracoke Portrait” which led to a friendship and more sharing of art. After a couple of years of building their friendship they began to collaborate artistically, each style complementing the other in a collage format using Polaroid transfer photo images and hand-coloring. They produced, a poster simply named “Ocracoke”. It is found in many Ocracoke homes, rental cottages and is for sale in several shops in the village. Next came the collage poster, “Signs of Life”. Ann then traveled to Columbus, Indiana and together they created a poster of Columbus, Indiana, using the same Polaroid transfer technique.
Ann, as a classically trained photographer was working with more traditional boundaries around what she could or couldn’t do with images. Gretchen’s painting style was very loose and leaned more toward “anything is possible”, an influence that Ann found to be really helpful. As Ann puts it, “My work became messy, and I liked it.” They continue to explore different ways of relating imagery around the theme of Nature and completed a new Ocracoke poster last winter. They try to work together every couple of years if not more frequently.
In 1996 Ann traveled to the concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland, to participate in a weeklong meditation retreat.. Her experience there launched her into a spiritual exploration of the long term effects of war. As she began processing this experience she embarked on a course of study that led to a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Oakland, California. Ann transformed her war experience into an artistic statement, again using Polaroid transfer images and words. Old WWII photos combined with new images from her own travels in Germany were used in this series. She has shown this exhibit at the NCCAT campus in Cullowhee, NC, the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and at several out of state presenter at the NC Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Over the last 2 1⁄2 years, Ann has been collaborating with another photographer and a writer from Charlotte, NC to produce a Daily Meditation Guide, entitled “Connect”. This is a workbook for personal reflection and creative exploration, divided into four parts, one for each season. They plan to launch it in Charlotte this fall.
Ann’s work as a photographer has insisted that she be present to life and in the moment. For her, photography is “about seeing, about being as present as I can be to whatever I am encountering. Photography helps to open awareness. Practicing photography for 30 years has shaped who I am as a person.”
I would add that in Ann’s work I find that there are always several layers of meaning that weave between and among the images she creates with her photos. The spiritual is always present along with humor and a grounded sense of day to day life.
For the photographer just starting out, Ann’s advice is “to take a lot of workshops, follow your interest and see where it wants to take you. Don’t try to figure it out ahead of time.”
Ann’s photographic artwork has been exhibited around the Southeast in galleries, museums, and colleges, both as a solo artist and in group exhibitions. On the island her work can be seen downstairs at the Café Atlantic and at Island Artworks on British Cemetery Road. Her web site is www. annehringhaus.com and she will offer “Island Photography” the last week in October at the Ocrafolk School . She has owned and operated Oscar’s House Bed and Breakfast since 1984 on Ocracoke.