By Clara Lincolnhol
Michigan 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.”
Lighthouses of Michigan-Lower Peninsula, 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, a life-long Michigan resident now living in Portland where she has run a portrait photography business, Reflections Photography, since 2005.
Michigan’s 129 lighthouses are the most of any state. 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, president of the Port Austin Reef Light Association.
“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. Once while shooting the Tawas Point Lighthouse 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 the 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 for her 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 lighthouse she photographed is the Huron Lightship, the last operating lightship in the Great Lakes. It was retired in 1970.
Her favorite lighthouse is Point Betsie in Sleeping Bear Dunes. She finds not only the lighthouse itself to be 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 Michigan’s 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.”