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Ben Thomas aims to show the timeless beauty of Rhode Island

December 13, 2010

If you enter the tiny Ben Thomas Gallery at the end of the deck at 88 Brown St., you’ll find yourself surrounded by images of familiar and beloved spots in the Ocean State.
A Jamestown native, Thomas is a photographer who possesses a boundless fascination with lighthouses at sunset, dories tied up at the dock, seagulls in a row, bridges emerging from fog and quirky views of sails. His topics include historic spots, too, such as the Gilbert Stuart birthplace.
He likes to experiment with reflected light so many of his pieces have a mirrored effect.
Thomas controls the entire process: He chooses the subjects, takes the photos, then prints, frames and hangs them.
His gallery is full to bursting with works both large and small, from matted photos in bins to post-card size images displayed in racks.
“I also print other people’s work,” he says. “It’s high-end printing.” He has the ability to use archival inks and paper or print on stretched canvas. “It makes it look like a painting. Some people tell me I’m a really good painter and I don’t correct them.”
Thomas has no formal training in photography, noting that his last art class was the beginners’ course at North Kingstown High School.
He has taken pointers on lighting – his favorite element of photo composition – from his other job as a freelance location scout for movies, studying the techniques of directors of photography.
Thomas has worked on “Brotherhood” for TV’s Showtime, and for the theatrical products of “Underdog”; “Dan in Real Life”, starring Steve Carrell; “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (People’s Sexiest Man Alive); and for the upcoming movie “The Zookeeper” starring comic actor Kevin James and a cast of “talking” animals.
He was on the scene at an unfortunate moment. “I was there when the giraffe died,” Thomas says. “It was old age. His name was Tweet and he was actually the Toys R Us giraffe.”
Thomas has provided such filming sites as Jamestown and Rockport on Cape Ann, Mass.
“Once we find locations, it’s like planning a wedding,” he explains. “Every day it’s finding a place for 100 people to eat and park, getting permits from the town, calming down angry neighbors.”
He functions as “liaison between the show and the community.”
Thomas, who easily could be the winner of the Vince Gill look-alike contest, started location scouting five years ago. “I take a lot of pictures to show to the director” to help choose a location.
He opened his first gallery two years ago in Jamestown but it wasn’t a success. “I wanted to make it work but it didn’t happen.” When a Wickford businesswoman told him of an available space nearby, Thomas says he “snapped it up.”
Relocating to the village seemed a natural move.
“I pretty much love the area, having grown up here,” he says. “It’s corny but I want to show people how beautiful it is. People who have second homes here can take photos back with them.”
The new gallery “started with a bang,” he says, but the economy has been tough.
To keep things going, he has turned to community photography including portraits, real estate, yachts and that old standby, matrimony. “A lot of friends are letting me do their weddings,” Thomas says. “I’m building a portfolio.”
He has no studio but, being a good location scout, he chooses such settings as Beavertail and various beaches.
He also does PhotoShop work and photo restoration and has ordered a machine that creates jigsaw puzzles from clients’ pictures. They can be made of cardboard, wood or turned into magnets. “It’s your photos and my equipment,” says Thomas who will charge $20 for a letter-size puzzle and $30 for legal size.
Meanwhile, his photographer’s eye is always searching for the next great shot.
“I’m more of an opportunist,” he says. “I keep a camera with me; I look at things you see every day in a new light. It’s a timing thing: If I’m driving home and see a beautiful sunset, I’ll stop.”

Martha Smith can be reached at mgs3dachs@ cox.net.

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