Photobook illuminates the beauty of Michigan lighthouses

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Capital News Service 

LANSING — Photographer Danielle Jorae wrote, designed and published “Lighthouses of Michigan-Lower Peninsula” to fulfill a wish of her childhood self.

“I ran across a document from when I was in kindergarten that outlined how I wanted to become an artist and a writer one day,” Jorae said. “When I found that, it was in that moment that I knew that I needed to write a book and make it with these lighthouses.”

With 129 lighthouses, Michigan has the most of any state.

“Lighthouses of Michigan-Lower Peninsula” ($29.99) features photographs and descriptions of 31 lighthouses. 

Jorae, a graphic designer, took the photos, wrote the descriptions and designed each page.

“By sharing the images and sharing information about Michigan, I think that inevitably will create appreciation and bring people here,” said Jorae, who lives in Portland, north of Lansing, where she’s run a portrait photography business, Reflections Photography, since 2005.

Jorae often took her family traveling to the shores of the Great Lakes to see the lighthouses and surrounding communities, she said.

Her interest “isn’t just about visiting the lighthouses, it’s about visiting the area that they’re in as well and experiencing the location,” she said.

The structures are a significant part of Michigan’s maritime history, said Lou Schillinger, the president of the Port Austin Reef Light Association on Lake Huron.

“We call them our castles in the lake,” Schillinger said. “They’re government buildings built very sturdily and are, by and large, 150 years old. With maintenance, they’ll be here 100 years more.”

Lighthouses have provided security and helped to grow the economy of the Great Lakes, he said. They served as visual aids for ships during the times of copper and iron ore mining, and during wartime. Each lighthouse is unique, and many are still in use, he said.

Over time, Jorae realized she wanted to make a book of the photos she had taken during her lighthouse visits. The pictures encompass a decade of work.

She prefers to shoot photographs when the sky behind the lighthouses has a detail, like clouds, a sunrise, or a sunset. Sometimes the weather didn’t cooperate or her timing was off.

“I kept going back, rephotographing things and trying to get the perfect image,” Jorae said.

Each photograph has a story behind it. 

For example, once while shooting the Tawas Point Lighthouse, in Iosco County, at dusk, she noticed the light in the beacon didn’t turn on.

People walking nearby told her the lighthouse was decommissioned. They were volunteer lighthouse keepers staying in the lighthouse for a week and taking care of it.

“I told them my story and what I was trying to accomplish, and they’re like, ‘You know what, we want to help you out,’” Jorae said. “So they actually went into the lighthouse, and turned on every single light in every single window they possibly could, including turning on a light in the beacon to make it look like the beacon was on.”

She got lucky. With their help, she took the perfect photo.

“It just created a magical picture for me and the one that I honestly went there for,” she said.

While taking pictures of Leelanau County’s Manning Memorial Lighthouse, it was raining heavily. She and her family drove around the area, and when the rain finally stopped, a large rainbow appeared, prompting them to return to the lighthouse. They arrived in time to snap a photograph as the rainbow faded.

“I was so happy, and that image particularly is one of the first trips my husband and I took together when I started photographing these lighthouses,” Jorae said. “To this day, that picture is enlarged on a canvas and hangs in our bedroom as a sweet reminder of that journey.”

The most unique one she photographed is the Huron Lightship in Port Huron, the last operating lightship in the Great Lakes. It was retired in 1970.

Her favorite is Point Betsie near the in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the Leelanau Peninsula. She finds not only the lighthouse itself beautiful, but the surrounding beach and nature too.

Accessibility was sometimes a challenge. She was unable to visit some lighthouses because they were on private property or reachable only by boat, she said.

She plans on publishing a second book in a few years that highlights the lighthouses of the Upper Peninsula.

Once that’s done, she’ll switch her focus to other Michigan landscapes.

“After lighthouses, I think that Michigan has a lot of other things to photograph like waterfalls,” Jorae said. “I love this place and I think there’s plenty to do here.”Clara Lincolnhol reports for Great Lakes Echo.

Photographer Danielle Jorae is the author of a new book about lighthouses in the Lower Peninsula.

Courtesy photo

Photographer Danielle Jorae is the author of a new book about lighthouses in the Lower Peninsula.

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