When visitors to Ralston Gallery in Rockport enter the new exhibit space June 10, they will come into a sacred space, Peter Ralston said May 26.

“I am so pumped to be here,” said Ralston. “Tim Whelan had a sign that said ‘Some of the best photographers in the world have come through these doors.’ I feel an enormous sense of obligation.”

“It’s a business, but I really hope it carries on the spirit that Tim built in here,” said Ralston.

For almost two decades, Whelan’s shop sold photographic books and cards at the Main Street location. Tim Whelan Photographic Books, operated in partnership with Maine Media Workshops, is now open on the first floor of the Shepherd Building at 18 Central St., inside the Maine Media Gallery and Store.

Known locally for his work with the Island Institute, Ralston has been making photographs since he was a child.

“I still have the first camera my mother gave me,” he said. That camera, which his mother brought back from England after World War II, was “a little Ansco with no lens to speak of.”

Ralston said the gift was the first of many gestures of support that helped him build his career. He credited “a very creative mother” and the opportunity to view the world through his grandfather’s binoculars for opening his eyes to a unique way of looking at the world.

“I have terrible vision, focus-wise, but apparently was able to compensate,” he said. “Then the day came when I was 11 and I got glasses. All of a sudden the world was a different place.”

Ralston said images in magazines such as Orion, National Geographic and Life compelled him to take his own photographs. He became a professional photographer, doing art reproduction work, traveling as a photojournalist, and selling work to magazines through the New York agency Black Star.

A major influence in Ralston’s life was his proximity and connection to the Wyeth family. A few years after the Ralston family moved to Chadds Ford, Pa., in 1957, Andrew and Betsy Wyeth bought an adjacent farm.

“They were second parents and best friends,” said Ralston.

In 1978, Betsy Wyeth invited Ralston to Maine.

“It was not so much an invitation as an edict,” he said. “It completely changed my life, in many, many ways.”

He said it was his first experience of what the Spanish refer to as “querencia,” a word used in bullfighting to describe that area of the ring where the bull feels emboldened and which it considers a safe haven.

He said the coast of Maine and its islands gave him “a sense of utter belonging.”

A few years after Betsy Wyeth bought Southern Island, she called Ralston to tell him she was buying Allen Island. She told him Allen Island was available to him to live on and photograph. He spent six months there the first summer and eight the next.

“I was figuring out how to make the move,” said Ralston. He sold his business and property in Chadds Ford, and moved to Rockport in 1984.

Allen Island also was the connector that brought Ralston together with Philip Conkling.

“This is at the root of so much of it: I had an absolutely idyllic, off the charts childhood,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. Everybody waved to each other on the road.”

“That changed,” he said. “I saw Chadds Ford become an archipelago of islands of privilege in a rising sea of commerce and lack of long-sighted planning,” said Ralston. “Community was lost. Once you see that, and have the sense of loss and quiet tragedy, you’re attuned to it.”

He said he could see the potential for that kind of change on Maine’s coast and islands.

In 1983, when he and Conkling were in their early 30s, they founded the Island Institute.

Last year, Ralston stepped down from his position with the Island Institute in order to spend more time with family and more time with the people and places of the coast, telling their stories through photographs.

“What on earth is possibly as interesting as our fellow strange two-legged creatures?” he said.

Ralston also teaches photography, work he said can only partially repay the support he got from Andrew and Betsy Wyeth.

“Andy’s mantra was going deeper,” Ralston said of his mentor and friend. “He never went more than a couple of miles from his studios.”

Ralston Gallery will be managed by the photographer’s wife, Terri Harper Ralston. Visitors to the gallery will see the full range of Ralston’s work, from iconic images of Maine’s working waterfront to the blazing energy of the Monte-Carlo International Fireworks Festival. The gallery will also feature limited edition prints by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. Prints, cards and books will be sold.

From Aug. 27 through Sept. 9, an exhibition will feature the work of Lisa Tyson Ennis.

The gallery’s grand opening will take place the weekend of June 10 through 12, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. The store will be open during those hours every Tuesday through Sunday.

“We’re celebrating the whole weekend, because we’re small,” said Ralston. He said he hopes to see many friends and neighbors, “and hopefully a few collectors too.”

Information about Ralston Gallery can be found at the website at peterralston.visualsociety.com or by calling 230-7225.

The Herald Gazette reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.