Note: “Our Town” is a regular Beachcomber feature that is presented in partnership with Vashon Island Visual Artists (ViVA), spotlighting movers and shakers in Vashon’s vibrant visual arts scene. Here, we meet up a familiar face to many: photographer Michelle Bates.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, Michelle Bates was so focused on science as her interest that she declared that she wasn’t a creative person.
With a degree in biology, she then started pursuing a budding interest in photography. Graduating from Maine Photographic Workshops, she discovered the Holga, a cheap, toy, plastic camera, which became her photographic muse. Biotech developing diagnostic tests took her to Seattle in 1992 where she fell into the art world. The Fremont Arts Council, Summer Solstice Parade, The Oregon Country Fair, fire festivals, UMO Ensemble, Burning Man, Seattle’s Moisture Festival and more pulled her deeper into the arts.
Bates continued shooting with her faithful Holga, exhibiting photographs around the country, and internationally. She has taught at Seattle’s Photo Center Northwest, and across the country and oceans. In 2006, she published “Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity,” a book that documents the history of the toy camera genre, highlights the work of many talented and distinguished photographers, and gives how-to information for those interested in these tools. In 2010, she published the second edition, including 50 photographers.
Bates was drawn to Vashon by a friend who moved to the island, and her connection with UMO. She first moved to the island in 1997, and ran the Blue Heron Gallery for several years, working with the Island Arts Council, Islewilde, and as a board member of Vashon Allied Arts. As an EMT, she volunteered with VIFR for several years. In the years living off-island, Bates has remained an active member of the community, volunteering with VashonBePrepared and CERT during the pandemic. She continues to photograph the arts on and off the island while continuing her science work as a medical writer. She hopes to make Vashon her mostly-full-time home again soon but won’t fail to show up for fun events in the meantime.
Visit her website at michellebates.net. Find out more about ViVA and shop for Vashon art at vivartists.com.