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Huntington Woods photographer chosen for Porcupine Mountains residency program

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 30, 2015

 Thorpe was chosen for a two-week artist-in-residence program at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Thorpe was chosen for a two-week artist-in-residence program at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Photo provided by Steve Thorpe


HUNTINGTON WOODS — For nearly 40 years, Huntington Woods resident Steve Thorpe has backpacked the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula, always going for time and distance.

Now, however, Thorpe has the opportunity to stop and take in his surroundings at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, as he was named an artist-in-residence as part of a program put on by the Friends of the Porkies organization.

Thorpe, 53, began his photography residency on Sept. 21 and will continue his time on the more than 60,000 acres in Ontonagon County through Oct. 5. Dan Urbanski, founder of the Friends of the Porkies and an award-winning photographer, was the inspiration for the program.

“I have backpacked these mountains since 1978, almost 40 years, and I felt like I spent too many hours trying to make the miles — like a male thing to show I’m tough, I’m big, I’m strong,” Thorpe said. “I wasn’t spending enough time stopping and looking around. These two weeks, I can stop and look around and photograph things as mundane as fungi to things like the shoreline and owls.”

Thorpe’s proposal for the residency was called “Above Your Head and Beneath Your Feet,” based on the idea that he wanted to take photos of everything around him, both on the groud and in the sky.

Sherrie McCabe, with the Friends of the Porkies, said Thorpe was one of six artists selected for the residency.

“His credentials stood out as a premier photographer and writer, one who we are certain will be able to interpret the vast 65,000-acre wilderness through his photos and writing,” McCabe said. “Steve is enthusiastic about the Porkies and has visited and backpacked the park frequently over the past 40 years. I’m excited to see what inspiration he finds and shares with the public, allowing them to perhaps gain new insights and enjoy the park through his unique interpretations.”

Thorpe grew up on the east side of Detroit, and while attending Wayne State University, he took a copy boy job at the Detroit News. Noticing that the girls all talked to the photographers, Thorpe said he started hanging out in the photo department and “picked all the photographers’ brains” to get his start.

Thorpe said he became the youngest staff photographer at a major daily newspaper in the country and did that for 10 years before becoming a photo editor. His career also took him to the Ann Arbor News, a software company and Chrysler before becoming a reporter for the last few years of his career.

Growing up in the city, Thorpe said he didn’t have an appreciation for the outdoors until his late 20s, when he purchased an aircraft and flew over Ontario.

“I remember thinking I might be badass in Detroit, but if you go into the trees, you have no idea how to do anything, and that kind of sparked my interest in the outdoors,” he said. “The biggest thing it does is make you feel small. You sit on a mountaintop in the middle of the night, and nobody is around for miles and you look up — you really do get a sense of the immensity of the universe and the tiny little speck you are.”

As part of the artist-in-residence program, Thorpe will be provided a cabin to stay in, but it will have no bathroom, no running water and no electricity, but compared to using a tent for most of his hikes in the Porcupine Mountains, he said the cabin will be the “lap of luxury.”

Having been a photographer for the Detroit News for 12 years, Thorpe said he is hoping to produce a different array of photos compared to the urban lifestyle in metro Detroit. After the two weeks, he will look to create a digital presentation of his photos for the Friends of the Porkies to use.

“I think programs like this are important because, increasingly, public entities like state parks are not getting the funding they used to get,” he said. “To donate my time to heighten the visibility of something as wonderful as the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, I consider it a privilege to do that.”

For more information on Thorpe or to check out some of his work, visit