Salve Success: Mark Dunn ’09 captures stunning images through photography
As a child, Mark Dunn ’09 spent hours drawing in nature.
“I was always an artist,” Dunn recalled. “Art is my way of connecting with the world.”
When Dunn was 15 years old, his father bought him his first camera — a Minolta film. Receiving this gift was a life-changing moment for the young artist, and he began capturing photographic “moments of art” involving family, friends and landscapes.
“I loved the process of exploring and finding myself through this medium,” said Dunn.
During his college search, Dunn submitted his portfolio for review, and Barbara Shamblin, a now retired art professor at Salve Regina, recognized his potential. He chose to attend Salve Regina because of her encouragement.
“Barbara Shamblin saw my portfolio and knew I was something,” says Dunn, who considers the former chair of the Department of Art one of his most influential mentors. “She really believed in me and pushed me to hone my skills and challenge my comfort zone.”
In 2008, Dunn pushed his comfort zone even further by participating in a study abroad opportunity offered through Salve Regina’s partnership with the Lorenzo de Medici Institute in Florence, Italy. While at the institute, Dunn experienced his first taste of fashion photography, and photos from that class remain part of his professional portfolio today.
“Living in Italy transformed how I see the world,” he said.
Dunn graduated from Salve Regina with a bachelor’s degree in studio art, graphic design and photography. As a professional photographer, he has travelled the world, including places such as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Caribbean and France. Some of his past commercial clients include but are not limited to Wayfair, U.S. Polo Assn, Reebok and Keds.
“I never set out to be anything, in particular, as a photographer,” said Dunn. “Only to live creatively, to use my hands and imagination to push the scope of my experience through passion, storytelling and adventure. I’m hypnotized by unfamiliar frontiers. This is where my heart beats hardest and my mind expands with purpose.”
In 2015, Dunn entered the Coast Guard where he completed six years of service as a storekeeper in logistics, eventually returning to photography in public affairs.
“I have always had an affinity for the ocean, its magnificent power and beauty,” said Dunn. “The United States Coast Guard was the perfect manifestation of all my ideologies and what I believe in: honoring the power of Mother Nature by protecting the environment, saving lives during natural disasters or when lost at sea and protecting our freedom at all costs.”
For Dunn, having a grandfather and uncles serve in World War II offered an immediate connection to the importance of serving to protect freedom.
“The Coast Guard allowed me to be part of something bigger than myself,” he described. “It taught me integrity and the importance of sacrifice, I learned the perspective of knowing not to take life for granted, respecting each other and Mother Nature, and honoring those who give up their lives to protect freedom from tyranny and injustice in this beautiful world that the Spirit has given to us.”
After the Coast Guard, Dunn returned to professional photography. Currently, he is a full time photographer based in Boston and New York City, contributing to multiple fashion, food and lifestyle publications worldwide. He develops engaging concepts to help motivate, uplift and inspire others through the stories that come to life in his professional work.
Dunn often works side by side with production companies and consultancies in digital television, print, editorials, art buying, video production, special events and celebrity endorsement.
As Shamblin once challenged him to test his comfort zone, Dunn now challenges his clients and companies to do likewise.
“I like to challenge my clients to think past the traditional stereotypes and be more inclusive and focused on the needs representing their target audience,” Dunn explained.
With a mission to help clients in the commercial, private and public sectors, Dunn has helped companies turn themselves around by encouraging them to step outside the ordinary into the possibility of the extraordinary.
“I love helping clients push boundaries and step outside comfort zones,” said Dunn. “Especially on definitions of gender, masculinity and other areas of inclusion. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable is where growth happens, and there is usually a good photo in this moment. If we stay where we feel safe, we may never explore our full potential.”
Dunn often finds himself returning to the lessons of his mentor and tries to instill a message of empowerment in his photography subjects.
“I learned that photography is an art piece from Barbara,” he said. “She taught me the importance of believing in yourself. I like helping people from all walks of life feel beautiful. I love honoring the beauty that is around us. Everyone has a purpose. There’s always a story to tell from a photo.”
Article written by Tara Watkins ’00
Editor’s note: This article was published in Report from Newport’s 2021 spring edition. Parts of this article have been edited from its original form.