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Terry Simmons snaps unconventional portraits and landscapes

Local photographer takes freeing photos

Tom Nagel

Terry Simmons sits in front of the lens at Mississippi Fish Shack . In August, he will have a show at Teller’s Gallery & Bar.

July 15, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Hidden beneath the appearance of a wise dad from a family sitcom, Terry Simmons has a deep passion for capturing life in a creative way and says he wants to take the kind of photos your uncle wouldn’t. Simmons views portrait photography as a way to help people see “the sports cars” they have hidden within.

“While the world might see us as a four-door sedan, inside we may prefer to be seen as a red Porsche,” he says.

Terry Simmons Photography Exhibit

Where: Mississippi Fish Shack, 929 E. Broadway
When: Now through Aug. 1

In his work “Anticipation,” Terry Simmons demonstrates his edgy approach to portrait photography.

Simmons’ work also includes nude photographs, and he receives most of his subjects through a friend-to-friend referral system. Simmons says nude photography requires a high level of trust with his subjects, and his work often acts as a means of healing for them. “Many of the people that come to me have negative opinions of themselves,” he says. “I like the reactions on people’s faces when they see the end result.”

Simmons also tells stories through landscape shots and focuses on things most people don’t notice. “If there are 100 people with cameras pointed in the same direction, I assume the more interesting shot is somewhere else,” he says.

Some of his work blends photos of the past with present themes. He scans his old photographs and blends Photoshop edits with real life. This technique gives the appearance of a hand-painted canvas.

Simmons first took an interest in professional photography while working at Columbia’s former Fox Photo in the ’70s. He once traded a vintage Hasselblad camera for a red Volkswagen owned by a camera-hungry MU journalism student. Apparently, his inner sports car took the form of a Beetle.

Several decades later, Simmons was seven years from retiring as an instructional designer in Minneapolis when he and 26 coworkers were let go in a single day. He and his wife had always planned to move back to Columbia, and the premature retirement sped up the process. Although many baby boomers dream of retiring near sandy shores and balmy climates, Simmons has other visions.

Simmons has traveled and photographed nearly every state, but Missouri remains his favorite because of the seasons and landscape changes.

When he came back to Columbia, the job market for photographers was squashed by the shaky economy and the era of the digital camera. At the time, Simmons struggled to find a job but has since found work at the Salvation Army thrift store.

Simmons says he gains satisfaction from his employment there and is able to help people and stimulate his visual creativity. “It’s like a 24/7 garage sale,” Simmons says.

Simmons has a number of his photos on display at Mississippi Fish Shack. Owner Kim Perry says Simmons’ “down-home style” goes hand in hand with her restaurant’s vibe. “His work is simple, and he wants to reach the genuine person through the art,” Perry says. “He’s not trying to be something he’s not.”

Customers often approach her about purchasing the photos and have pocketed the entire stack of fliers Simmons left to identify his work. “People will just wander the restaurant,” Perry says. “It has become like an art gallery.”

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