Ben Tierney is Catalyst Midland’s feature photographer and writes from time to time as well. In his full-time role, Ben serves as the Communications Officer for the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF). MACF is a multi-faceted nonprofit, offering grants and scholarships, allowing donors to establish their own philanthropic funds and taking a leadership role on important projects and programs throughout Midland County.
Tierney also serves as an ambassador for the Midland Business Alliance, is on a variety of event planning committees, and can often be seen volunteering around Midland at various fundraising events as the photographer. We sat down to catch up with Ben behind the lens.
Q: You're pretty plugged into what's happening in Midland. What kind of initiatives or organizations are you currently involved in?
A: More than once, I've heard Midland's prior City Manager Jon Lynch encourage groups to become citizens rather than merely residents. To me, that means becoming involved, listening, learning and advocate for the places you spend most of your time. That had a big impact on me, and ever since, I've made it a point to look for areas I can help the community grow and encourage collaboration.
With that in mind, I sincerely enjoy that my role with the Midland Area Community Foundation has allowed me to work with many local nonprofit agencies doing challenging work in the broader Midland community. One recent initiative was Give Local Midland, the annual 24-hour fundraiser supporting over fifty local nonprofits. On May 6th, we raised over $240,000 - so big thanks to everyone who donated and got involved. Beyond that, I serve on planning committees for the Tapped Craft Beer Festival, the Larkin Beer Garden (what can I say, I'm a fan of beer), Riverdays and the Santa House.
I'm passionate about supporting businesses (new and existing) and economic development in the community, so I'm proud to work as an ambassador for the Midland Business Alliance and serve on the advisory committee for the Michigan Baseball Foundation's economic development arm.
Q: When did you become interested in photography?
A: I've always been a gadget nerd, so it started with my first digital camera purchase. That was back when they were just becoming affordable enough for the average consumer, and the technology has grown incredibly fast. I think my first camera was 3 megapixels. It was $500 and the quality was pretty awful, but being able to manipulate pixels rather than film was way easier and hugely beneficial.
I started taking photography more seriously about seven years ago when I took on my current role at the Midland Area Community Foundation. We work on a lot of community projects that have visual appeal, and as a storyteller, one of the better tools to tell your story is with an image. My interest peaked even more in 2015 when my daughter was born. She's still my favorite subject.
One of Tierney's favorite shots from around Midland.
Q: What's one of your favorite recent shots?
This was taken during last year's Riverdays Festival. It was the first year we merged with the Balloon Festival, and I remember checking with the balloon team to make sure it was okay to fly my drone in the vicinity. They said no. So officially, I climbed onto the roof of The H Hotel to get this shot.
Q: Where are some of your favorite places to visit in Midland?
A: I'm all about gathering spaces. The Larkin Beer Garden and Circle Wine Garden are a blast in the summer - it's great to see a wide variety of ages and even some furry friends enjoying our downtown and Center City areas. With food trucks and other entertainment, those nights aren't just for beer and wine lovers. Gratzi has been an amazing addition to downtown (I’m big fan of their short rib pizza), and my favorite off-the-beaten-path place to eat has to be Beer and Brats (they deep fry their green beans, which is the only way to eat them).
On the recreation front, my daughter and I frequent Plymouth Park, Dow Gardens, Whiting Forest, and the Greater Midland Community Center pretty often. This might be the year I finally pick up a kayak and make more use of our rivers.
Q: You've had weekly photo assignments for Catalyst going on a year now. Any stories that stand out?
A: I've met so many new people through this role! I love the breadth of content. A few weeks ago, I had to pull my muck boots out of my trunk to get shots of horses on an equine therapy farm. A couple months prior to that I visited three different local churches to photograph and write about their unique architecture.
I think one of my favorite assignments was the launch of the Whiting Forest Canopy Walk. It's just such a grand project and uniquely Midland. During the media day, Mike Whiting, who grew up on the property, spoke about his childhood experience there and how the accessible canopy walk allows the community and our visitors a chance to climb the trees that were in his back yard. The design and execution with that project was just incredible.