Mike Poggioli has long heeded the call of the wild, but he never thought it would result in his first book.
A native of the greater New York City area, Poggioli subsequently lived in Chicago and Cincinnati. Surrounded by asphalt and other urban sights, he sought out green spaces whenever possible.
“Even from early on, I always felt more connected to nature, as cliché as that sounds,” he says. “I would always make efforts to go to botanical gardens in the cities and find places to go in upstate New York.”
Those same cityscapes, however, also set him on the path that led to the Asheville transplant’s debut photography collection, Blue Ridge Dreaming, out Tuesday, Nov. 29, through Chicago-based Trope Publishing Co.
In 2015, Poggioli was teaching first grade in an inner-city Chicago school, and while he knew that his work was meaningful, it wasn’t fulfilling. Furthermore, the demands of the job left the self-described introvert feeling physically and emotionally drained at the end of each day. As he sought a creative release outside of work, inspiration struck on his commutes aboard the L train.
“Something I love about Chicago and the trains is it kind of weaves you through downtown — it’s like a little built-in architecture tour,” Poggioli says. “So, I would just step out, take pictures with my iPhone and then start sharing them [on Instagram].”
In the process, he discovered a community of fellow Windy City photographers likewise posting their urban images online. Though Poggioli took a basic film photography elective in college, he also initially majored in architecture as an undergraduate freshman at Stony Brook University before switching to psychology. His introductory-level design classes helped him develop an eye for compelling compositions, but he credits group photography outings around Chicago with truly elevating his skills — and an approach that soon became defined by cityscapes at sunrise or sunset.
“We’d be in the same place, shooting the exact same thing at the exact same time. But then we would post photos that looked very different,” he says. “There was a very healthy, almost competitive element. That pushed me to grow but also opened me to different perspectives, different ways of working with light — things like that.”
Poggioli continued to pursue photography in Cincinnati while earning his doctorate in clinical psychology from Xavier University. And in July 2019, he relocated to Asheville for a yearlong predoctoral internship at the Charles George VA Medical Center. The move marked his first encounter with the area.
“It was this discovery process,” he says. “I challenged myself to try something completely new and take my same style and how I like to bring out certain colors in my photos, and the Blue Ridge Parkway was kind of a playground for that.”
As his internship wound down, Poggioli wasn’t sure where he would be placed for his postdoctoral fellowship. Figuring he wouldn’t be in Asheville the following year, he made a point to spend at least one morning each weekend on the parkway, shooting sunrises while he still could. Though he didn’t get paired with the Charles George VA for the fellowship, he landed in Roanoke, Va., at the Salem VA Medical Center, which allowed him to continue documenting the region.
“Photography-wise, it was another really nice way to see a different area of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the parkway,” he says.
Completing the puzzle
Setting his professional sights on Asheville, Poggioli’s wish came true when he joined The Pisgah Institute in 2021 after completing his year in Roanoke. All the while, he continued to photograph and share his images of the Blue Ridge Mountains online.
Though he had no intentions of publishing his work as a collection, his shots soon caught the attention of Trope Publishing Co.
“They basically said, ‘Mike, not sure if you’re going to continue with all this Blue Ridge photography, but if you do, keep us posted,’” he recalls. “So, I kept taking those pictures, and then they said, ‘I think we might have a book here. Could you share some of your favorites?’”
By then, Poggioli had spring, summer and fall imagery. The Trope team suggested adding winter shots to round out all four seasons. Poggioli agreed but quickly discovered challenges capturing the mountains’ colder months.
“I had this dinky 2005 Toyota Corolla, and it basically was out of commission in the winter and at higher elevations because of snow and ice,” he says. “For a while, I’d seen people going up to Roan Mountain and getting these winter wonderland scenes. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh — I need to get up there, but I don’t trust my car.’”
Monitoring weather forecasts, Poggioli (and his car) braved the parkway a few days after a winter storm. By then the roads were clear enough to safely travel, landing him the final shots for Blue Ridge Dreaming.
The book’s final version features over 70 photos, whittled down from over 120 options. Poggioli hopes that the variety of cloud inversions he captured as fog rolled through the ancient mountains resonate with readers. Along with his photography, poetry by notable writers — including Rachel Carson, Hamlin Garland and Regina McIntosh — round out the cloth-bound coffee table book.
“I think combining poetry with images is one of the most powerful ways to get messages across. And it’s all writing about the beauty of the mountains and going into nature,” Poggioli says.
Mindfulness, he continues, also factors largely into his overall goal for the project. He hopes the work inspires readers to get out and immerse themselves in nature — something the photographer continues to do.
“I just went to the Chimneys in Linville Gorge and felt a sense of regret. Like, ‘Why didn’t I get here sooner to put them in the book?’” he says. “But then I thought to myself, ‘Don’t be silly. The Chimneys aren’t going anywhere. You can just enjoy them for their beauty.’”
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