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Ben Ham: Transforming landscapes into fine art

Photographing only for personal pleasure, he never dreamed of making it a career.

Ben Ham is a world-renowned, fine-art nature photographer. His stunning black and white landscapes, captured on film with a folding wooden camera, hang in private, corporate and government collections from Australia to Dubai, Canada to South America and all points in between.

He is a self-taught photographer, inspired as a teenager by the work of Ansel Adams. His only training came from Ansel’s three books: The Camera, The Negative and The Print. He is a traditional photographer working on film in the same style as Adams, using an 8×10 wooden camera, dark cloth and hand-held light meter to determine his exposures.

Born in Georgia, his family moved to South Carolina when he was a young child. It’s where he has lived since.

Summer Morning on a Creek • I do this crazy thing. I come up with an idea for a photograph and then try to get out and find it. This was just the case. I wanted to use a tree to frame a view onto the marsh. As the name implies, it was the middle of July, when the mornings are hot and humid.

At an early age, a love for the great outdoors drove him to explore the mountains of the South Carolina Upstate and the marshes of the Lowcountry. He is predominately known for his arresting and peaceful images of the Lowcountry, but through his extensive travels he has also built collections of the Rockies, the Southwest, the Pacific Coast and Italy.

Photographing only for personal pleasure, he never dreamed of making it a career, but through the urging of friends he entered the fine-art market around 2000. His wonderful compositions and unique style quickly brought about a large demand for his work with over $5 million of his art having been sold.

In Search of a Great Spot • We usually only have these great clouds in May. But as I worked hard through the early summer building the displays that would go in the Charleston gallery, they hung around for days, taunting me. I could stand it no longer. I hooked up the boat and off I went. I shot over a couple of days as these beautiful clouds rolled across the warm summer sky, the air thick with humidity and the smell of the marsh.

His art is available only framed and exclusively at his own galleries. He opened his first gallery in 2011 on Hilton Head Island followed by his second gallery on King Street in Charleston in 2013. In 2017 he opened his third gallery in Old Town Bluffton.

Ham’s work continues to be sent over the world, but the Lowcountry has always remained home.

Collector highlights

HGTV purchased one of Ham’s large pieces for one of its Home Giveaway shows and featured it prominently in the broadcast.

Silver Oak Winery of Napa Valley purchased Ham’s Napa collection for the offices and conference room at its new winery.

The U.S. government purchased 13 pieces, in two separate waves, to grace the walls of the Center for the Families of the Fallen located at Dover Air Force Base. The base commander and the director of mortuary affairs also purchased pieces.

The Michael Mondavi Family hosted Ham for a two-month, one-man show at its vineyard in Napa Valley.

Vino Nobile • I came across a small wine office and tasting room as I strolled the side streets of a small Tuscan town. After a wonderful lunch, I was sure I had enjoyed this wine before — at my good friend Mike’s house. The proprietor spoke perfect English as he told me of their wines. “I know your wines,” I replied, and told him about Mike. He was surprised and responded, “I have 60 bottles of ’04 Reserve left. I’ll open a bottle, and we will taste the portfolio. While it breathes, let me show you the cellar.” How could I resist? We descended the many steps and popped out into this amazing scene.