Familiar Faces: Barry Mason

Alex Lautin and Claire Goldberg

It’s likely that students have seen him at sports games or performances, and they might even know him as “the person taking pictures with the two big cameras,” but students probably don’t know all of the ways that School Photographer Barry Mason contributes to the school. Not only does Mason photograph school events, but he is also a fine arts painter, and has his own art gallery in Mount Vernon.
Mason has worked for the school since 2008. He originally filled a position in the photo department for Art Teacher Keith Renner while he was on paternity leave, and has covered for every single visual arts class offered in the past 12 years. On occasion, Mason has also covered art history classes as well.
“Upon returning it was clear that Mr. Mason was more than a sub,’” Renner said. “The students gained unique perspectives on their artwork and moved forward in positive and unexpected directions that can be traced directly to their interactions with Mr. Mason.”
Visual Arts Department Chair Dr. Anna Hetherington said that Mason has not only subbed for a few of her classes, but also has chaperoned many of their field trips. “Mr. Mason is an extraordinary, wonderful, thoughtful, helpful, and amazing person,” she said.
Renner originally discovered Mason’s talent at Renner’s ceramics gallery in Mount Vernon and suggested that Mason apply to work at the school, Renner said.
“First impressions can go a long way and Mr. Mason’s kindness, generosity, calm and dedication to the arts was immediately apparent,” he said. “It wasn’t until after our initial meeting that I learned of his innovative approaches to painting and his tremendous talent as an artist.”
Currently, photographing events is Mason’s main job at the school. “I love covering all events, but the hardest to cover is probably sporting events,” Mason said. “For a football game, I try to get into the quarterback’s head and anticipate their next play so that I can go and stand in the perfect place.”
Charles Simmons (12) runs track and feels that having Mason take photos of him at a meet makes it seem more professional, he said. “It feels really cool to see him come take photos,” he said.
Mason coordinates which events to photograph with the help of Audio, Visual, and Technology Associate Marcio Moreira. “A lot of times there are conflicting events for which we have to prioritize,” Mason said.
For Mason, the school’s unique atmosphere makes the job special and fulfilling. “Everyone is so warm and pleasant, and that makes my job a whole lot easier,” he said. “Teaching here has given me the chance to give back and share what I know. As students learn from me, I learn from them. It’s really humbling.”
Photography and the arts have been a part of Mason’s life ever since he was a child. “I would always draw and build things as a little boy; I love putting things together,” he said. Mason drew throughout high school, and his drawing of President Jimmy Carter even ended up in the yearbook his senior year. Working on the yearbook his senior year is also how he became involved in photography, Mason said.
Mason is from Snowhill, Maryland, a rural town without a museum in sight, he said. The total population of Snowhill was around 2,000 when Mason was growing up, he said. For most of his childhood experience, Mason only learned about famous paintings in his classes.
“The first time I went to a museum was in 1979, when I was attending Indiana State University, and I was driving the 18 hours home,” Mason said. “I stopped in Washington D.C., and I got to see the huge paintings that I had only learned about in class. From just seeing something that massive, like that a lightbulb went off in my head. I was blown away.”
In 1982, after Mason received his BFA at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., he moved to New York and began working for Central Broadcasting Services (CBS). “I was doing computer graphics there before people had even heard of email. There were only a handful of people working on computer graphics at the time, and we also made different slides to be broadcasted on the network,” Mason said.
In addition to covering the Olympics in 1984, sports, and the news with CBS, Mason also has photographed many celebrities, he said. “I’ve photographed Larry Bird, Curt Thomas, Barack Obama, and even [the] late Michael Jackson.”
When photographing the president of his family, there is strict protocol to follow, Mason said. “The U.S. secret service checks you out and their bomb sniffing dogs look through your photo gear before you begin to photograph,” he said.
By 2008, CBS had downsized and Mason began teaching, painting, and photographing full time in Mount Vernon. “My studio has been open for the last two, three years,” Mason said. “I’m known for shaped canvases. I cut and shape lumber in various, odd shapes then I stretch the canvas over it. I do mostly abstract art.”
Mason has always had an interest in experimenting with shapes, he said. “When I was little, I started drawing the basics, like a pencil holder or a spice rack, which have now turned to bigger shapes and ideas, like my canvases,” he said.
Mason’s shaped canvas paintings are “adventurous,” art teacher Mr. Kim Do said. “Barry is one of the nicest people on the planet, we’re lucky to have somebody of his caliber working here.”
Overall, Mason feels that working at the school has been a huge opportunity for his growth as a photographer, artist, and teacher, he said. “It is an honor and privilege to document the great things that go on here at the school.”