He sees Annapolis in black and white

It was the kind of day that tempts most people to crawl back under the covers - bleak, drizzly and cold.

But for Annapolis photographer Dermott Hickey, the conditions could not have been better.


"The mood today is just right," said Hickey, grinning as he looked up at an overcast sky outside his home Monday, one day before an exhibition of his photos was set to open at the gallery at Annapolis City Hall.

While he occasionally takes pictures on clear, sunny days, Hickey said it's "moody weather" - fog, mist, rain, snow and clouds - that inspired most of the thousands of black-and-white photographs he has taken of Annapolis and its surroundings over the past four decades.


"A picture is your view of what you are seeing, and different days present very different views," explained Hickey, a round-faced man with dark eyes framed by large, circular glasses.

The 62-year-old - who has devoted his time to photography since retiring as assistant Annapolis harbormaster last summer - confessed to some jitters on the eve of his first show.

"I've never really considered myself an artist," Hickey said.

Born in 1941, Hickey dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot and attending the Naval Academy like his father, a 1935 graduate. But he failed the physical entrance exam because of a heart murmur.

Hickey now calls the rejection a blessing in disguise. That year, he landed a job at Hacks, a variety store on Main Street in Annapolis, and sold almost everything - including cameras. To sell cameras, Hickey had to learn about them. From the moment he borrowed a store model and took it out to shoot pictures, he was hooked.

On June 14, 1964, a photographer named James Stewart "Stu" Whelan dropped into Hacks, looking for photo equipment. He also was looking for an assistant to process film and do lab work for his studio.

Hickey ended up working for Whelan for 10 years, helping him photograph weddings, events at the Maryland Statehouse and commercial assignments.

With a family of three boys to support, Hickey left Whelan in 1974 and took a job with the Annapolis Police Department. Still, he almost always carried a camera, working as crime scene photographer for the Police Department and as a weekend wedding photographer.


"I went from bleeding bodies to blushing brides," Hickey said. "I was never quite sure whether to shout 'Smile!' or 'Freeze!' "

In 1993, Hickey left the department because of heart trouble and took a job as assistant harbormaster. Even then, he was rarely without his camera.

"He's really thorough and works really hard at what he does," Harbormaster Ric Dahlgren said of Hickey. "He was like that in his work here, and in his work as a photographer."

Hickey said he learned everything he knows about photography from Whelan, who trained with Marion E. Warren, one of Maryland's most celebrated photographers. To this day, Hickey said Warren is the photographer he most admires, one he said inspired him to "make" photos - not just "take" them.

Reached at his Annapolis home, Warren said he plans to visit Hickey's show, adding that in the 30 years he's known him, Hickey has become "a very good photographer."

Although Hickey has photographed countless weddings and events, his most prized pictures are those that capture the heart of Annapolis, particularly before the tourists and T-shirt shops came.


"I don't want to sound negative," he lamented. "But Annapolis is not the little town it used to be."

That's why Hickey is spending most of his time this winter in his darkroom, retouching old negatives of Main Street and the City Dock in the 1960s and 1970s.

His favorite photos include a series of six scenes he shot at the City Dock on a bleak, foggy day in February 1969. At the time, Hickey said, he was just experimenting with his camera. When he developed the roll, however, he said he was moved by the images.

"I looked at them and thought 'This is something interesting,' " he said.

Those six photos became his signature images, ones he displays proudly on his business cards. The large, black-and-white prints show work boats docked in the harbor - still scenes made beautiful by the patterns of tall, tangled masts reflected on the glassy surface of the water. Together, the photos demonstrate Hickey's talent for capturing a slightly different perspective on everyday scenes.

"You can take the obvious angle, but then you've got to get the angle that no one else has seen," he said. "You might have to climb a hill or stand on a roof, but that's part of making the photo."


Hickey said his dream is to take pictures on an aircraft carrier, combining his interest in planes and photography. For now, he's content to work on his personal collection, and has plans to publish a book of photographs of historic Maryland churches with Lou Ann, his wife of 30 years, who takes color photographs.

Having spent decades working in a darkroom he built in his basement, Hickey is a self-described perfectionist when it comes to developing film and balancing light and dark in his prints.

"The first time you see a print come up in the darkroom, it's like magic," he said. "You don't ever lose that feeling. I still get a thrill when I get a good print."