The Amazing Life of Photographer Steve Donahue
Courtesy - Detroit Public Library

The Amazing Life of Photographer Steve Donahue

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Researching topics that interest me in Michigan sometimes takes an address to discover something truly amazing. This is often one among those cases. I explored the  Detroit library digital collections, looking up any material on the Historical Bay Port Fishing District. I had written a piece of writing last year and wanted to freshen it up. I used to be disappointed as Photographer Steve Donahue has taken only a couple of black and white shots in the 1970s. It wasn’t much to create, but I downloaded them to see what I could do with them later.

The next day I  was in a frame of mind that wanted to understand who took those photographs. I discovered that the photographer was Steven W. Donahue. Steven was born and grew abreast of his family farm near Port Hope. He moved away and began studying the humanities, including photography, in Chicago. He was within the military during the Vietnam War and has become a Military Policeman. A part of his job was to photograph deaths and burials. employment, I’m sure wasn’t pleasant.

About Steven Donahue

Steven was born in Michigan near Harbor Beach on July 28, 1944. While growing up, he spent many hours playing and studying nature within the wooded portion of his parents’ 160-acre farm near Port Hope in Michigan’s Thumb and was an amateur astronomer.

When he took pictures through the telescope, the local drugstore didn’t process the shots because they said there was nothing there, just spots. That caused him to ask the local photographer in nearby Harbor Beach to show him how to print his own pictures. This began his over 50-year career as a photographer and master of the darkroom. 

While living in Chicago during the 1960s, Steven explored the Rhythm and Blues music scenes. Photographer Steve Donahue studied blues harmonica with Corky Siegel.

Steve And Paula In Harbor Beach

Steve and Paula Donahue
Steve and Paula Donahue

I was fortunate to contact Paula Donahue, and she or he gave me more insight into their time within the Upper Thumb.

Steve met Paula in Chicago in 1971 then got swept up within the back-to-the-land movement. They moved back to the family farm with its 100 acres of woods. The 1800s brick farmhouse was built after the Michigan fire and had beams made from burnt wood within the basement. The beams were low, and Steven kept hitting his head on them.

Paula considered it had been a secure choice for 2 starry-eyed young adults in their 20s. She was an avowed city gal with an arts degree.

Paula used the upstairs of the house as a fiber arts studio then took an audiovisual librarian job within the Harbor Beach establishment. She noted, “I defined the work loosely in order that I could get the youngsters involved in doing art projects.”

Donahue’s Life in Michigan’s Thumb

Great Lakes Lighthouse by Steve Donahue – Courtesy Detroit Public Library

He opened Steven’s Studio in Harbor Beach and photographed the world extensively in black and white: towns, people, woods, farms, old machinery, winter, and water shots. Exhibited photos of the Thumb Area in Lansing and Port Huron/Canada art shows.

Photographer Steve Donahue was kind gentleman with a wonderfully wry sense of humor. He was a working artist and photographer for over 50 years, teaching others about the art of the darkroom and studio.

In the 1980s, he established Central Photographic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Late in his career, he focused on portraits, mythology, nudes, and abstract nudes. Steven Donahue died from brain stem tumor complications on Flag Day, 2013.

His collections are often found at the Detroit Public Libary, University of latest Mexico Center for Southwest Research, and Ryerson and Burnham Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Paula and Steve were married for 42 years. After Steve’s death, Paula began to achieving and arranging his work for donation. This task remains being done.

Photographer Steve Donahue collections are often found at the Detroit Public Libary, University of latest Mexico Center for Southwest Research, and Ryerson and Burnham Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Steven Donahue Photography website contains details of the artist’s life and links to his many collections.

A sample of Donahue’s work can be found at The Amazing Michigan Photography Of Steven Donahue

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