Topic: Martha's Vineyard (35 posts) Page 3 of 7

Finding Your Bliss

Finding Your Bliss? Where's he going this time, you ask. Well, it all started with this:

Sally Mann's iconic photograph of a dead tree in a river.

A few weeks ago, as I was giving a gallery talk at the Peabody Essex Museum, I paused in front of this photograph at the Sally Mann show and realized I could probably go on for hours about it. In fact, I didn't get to talk about the whole show, partly because, I am sure, I was going on about this one so long. The photograph, I believe, speaks to Mann's essence as an artist. Surreal, ethereal, minimal, powerful and deeply felt, it is one of those works that takes your breath away, yet is so very simple.

Can we channel everything we've got, harness all our power as artists and focus it into one piece, one image? Can the stars, the planets align and the powers that be all come together in one sublime result? What a rare thing that would be. Sally Mann seems to have done just that. 

I believe part of the reason that I connected so strongly with this one photograph is that something similar is embedded in my own artistic past, from a discovery I made in 1976. This is because, as I age, I find I am looking back more, stepping off the treadmill that means new work is needed constantly and settling on past discoveries and even a few epiphanies. Let me give you my own example... and, fair warning, this may take a few posts to really get to it for I need to place one photograph I made in the 1970's in context. 

1976. Where was I? 3 years out of grad school, teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston and I would start teaching at Harvard 2 years later. I would exhibit at the Addison Gallery in Andover the next year. There was much I did not know, but I was plunging along at a frantic pace, making new pictures and discoveries. Heady times, for I was living the dream, it would seem: traveling, photographing, printing, showing. Plus, I had started using black and white infrared film and was fully immersed in the weirdness of never knowing quite what things would look like for it sees things we don't.

But to home in our story we have to go to the island of Martha's Vineyard and the summer of 1976. I have always photographed on the island, ever since starting out in photography in 1969. In fact I have new work made from this past summer on the site (Menemsha).

Our story is intertwined with the recent Judge Kavanaugh hearings,  white privilege and entitlement for the photograph of mine I am referencing wouldn't have been possible without privilege and the right pedigree. My parents were members of a club, a beach club on Martha's Vineyard that allowed access to some of the most pristine and gorgeous shoreline on the island known as the Hornblower land in Chilmark and Gay Head (now Aquinnah). Some of this beach was later where Jackie Onassis bought property but in in 1976 it was still held by an extended family of Hornblowers and their relatives. 

Membership to the club, I am sure, was awarded to the privileged few, having the right pedigree and standing to be allowed on the beach.  No clubhouse, nothing at all but a key to a locked gate, allowing you in your 4 wheel drive vehicle access to the winding sand path and up over a ridge right on to the beach itself. To say the sense of entitlement was large would be an understatement. I couldn't go on my own as it was my parents that were members. But that summer of 1976 I did go with them, to picnic, to swim, to walk what seemed like endless miles of south shore beach facing an open ocean with not a house in sight. 

Earlier that summer, the year of the US Bicentennial, I had driven cross country in a motorhome with a friend making pictures. In 9000 miles, we had adventures both small and large, met great people, and photographed so many new places. It was a "grand tour". I remember after that trip I had a sense of being more open and of feeling the world was at my doorstep, beckoning me to plunge in, to fully immerse in all that my life as an artist could be. 

By late August I was at the Vineyard with my my parents at the family home in Chilmark. One gorgeous blue sky day off we went to the "Associates" beach.

The club was called "Squibnocket Associates" and afforded access to what we used to call "Zack's Cliffs". This is the beach that has the biggest dunes on the island. In 1976 I was 30 years old and leaned towards the  Airplane, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, and the Stones, maybe some Dylan in the mix.  Being a photographer by then I would bring my Nikon F with the 24mm lens, a length I loved as it seemed to agree with the way I saw. I shot a lot of black and white infrared film in those days. Use a 3 stop red filter and the film will "see" into the infrared spectrum. Once we settled in at the beach, got the stuff out of the Jeep, maybe went for a swim and had a sandwich, the long hot afternoon would have me wandering off with my camera to explore and take pictures.  I would head back into the dunes behind us because if you went far enough you'd come across Squibnocket Pond. Ah yes, the pond!

Few houses, completely private, I might take off my suit and swim in the warm shallow brackish water.

And photograph.

Finding your Bliss (1) will stop here. Hope you'll come along as we get to the one picture that popped into my head as I was standing in front of Sally Mann's photograph in Salem a few weeks ago.

The dunes behind the Squibnocket Associates beach on Martha's Vineyard

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted October 3, 2018

Then and Now

In the summer of 1989, while on Martha's Vineyard, I made a photograph of what we always called "Keith's Farm", along Middle Road in Chilmark. That photograph would be used to make this poster:

for the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) for their 20th year anniversary. I made it using the 8 x 10 inch camera and cropped it (rare for me) to fit a panoramic format. Michael McPherson (of Corey McPherson and Nash Design) was the designer and we used a local printer and applied a slightly yellow varnish overcoat to give the image its somewhat warm look. I donated my photograph and Michael charged a basement rate for his design. This was a time in my career when I was working to help various non profits promote their causes visually by offering my services pro bono. 

While on the Vineyard I drive by this same field daily as it is less than a mile from the family home. I always think of the circumstances under which I made the poster image and thought I would share them with you. 

In the summer of 1989 my friend Rob Gooblar and his partner Gail Hill were renting Ozzie Fischer's cottage down at Beetlebung Corner. The evening I made the poster photograph we were having a cookout on the beach at Squibnocket with a group of friends. I had proposed to VOLF earlier in the year that perhaps they could improve the effectiveness of their message by using pictures of mine of the island. They countered with an offer to allow me on their managed properties to make pictures. By the time I made the poster image that evening I knew what they wanted and Keith's Farm was part of their charge, to help the family position some new houses with site lines that would not obstruct the view to the South Shore coastline.

What prevailed that summer was this: my father had fallen while walking down stairs in May in Providence,  hitting his head. He was in critical care and in a coma in a hospital on the mainland. My family and I were frequent visitors, going over for the day to see him and then returning to the island. My mother was a confused and disoriented mess. She had been married to my dad for 49 years and was completely out of sorts, making odd decisions and finally renting an apartment in Providence to be close by but then when visiting him only staying for a few minutes.  The whole summer was like being in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the second shoe to drop. My dad died that fall.

I drove by the field the other day at dawn, remembering that odd summer infused with impending tragedy, the ending of my Dad's life, a long life well lived. I think about a place where we have some history, where a drive down a familiar road can resonate, where there has been so much change and so much has stayed the same. I stopped. Pulled out the tripod, put the camera on it and framed the farm pond much as I did 29 years ago when I was 42. Before 9/11, before Obama, before Trump.


Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Digital

Permalink | Posted June 23, 2018

Gail Hill

My very good friends, the artist Gail Hill (Website) and her husband Hal Kay from Toronto couldn't make it this fall for a visit to Martha's Vineyard. Via emails and text messages Gail's been bugging me to at least share some pictures with her, since she couldn't be here.

So, here we go:

Oak Bluffs, taken two days after the mass shootings in Las Vegas

I photograph most days while here, usually centering on a specific place, and go back over and over. This time it is Oak Bluffs and it is difficult because it is so very familiar. I have been trying to see it with new eyes, as if for the first time.

Gail Hill is a very special person, with an active art career that spans photography and painting as well as playing a large role as a career advisor and mentor  (Creative Self) to many many in Toronto. She also is a wonderful cook.


I occasionally photograph from my kayak, as above. This falls into the "high risk" category but I try to pick calm water and slight wind. This from Poucha Pond above the famous Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick where May Jo Kopechne lost her life in the car Ted Kennedy was driving one night after a party.

I hope you like these, Gail. Wish you were here.

Topics: New Work,Martha's Vineyard,Color,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 4, 2017


This is pretty much what I had for three weeks at Martha's Vineyard this spring. This is the table we sit at outside the kitchen on the deck in bright sun at breakfast sipping our coffees. Some of our conversations can go on for hours here with seconds and even thirds on coffee so strong that thirds are only for those made of hardier stuff than me. But today, in contrast, there is a "gale force winds" warning, it is 48 degrees and yes, it is raining.

Mind you, I am not complaining, for a cold rainy day at the Vineyard is a far cry better than the same almost anywhere else, but it has been like dodging bullets the past week or so trying to make pictures. I keep the camera in the car ready to go. Plus the clock is ticking on my time left as I have just a few days. It is always like this, I am beginning to get some work done and I have to leave.  Visual ideas are coming as needed these days and this place is certainly gorgeous. But really, looking at it through the car's window isn't quite the same as being in it. But, like I said, I am not complaining. It has been exceptional as flat light can be gorgeous.  A lot of my landscape work over a long career looks like it was made in optimal conditions, but not this new work:

Update: I  am now back on the "mainland" for two days and fully immersed in a life with traffic jams, lines to wait in, deadlines to meet, people to see, emails to answer, book proofs to review, prints to make and bills to pay. Spending time on the island puts much of your regular life on hold, a benefit in some respects but a detriment in others. The character of the island makes you step off, disengage, take a vacation and recenter your daily life to a different set of priorities. To be honest, for me, much of the mainland goes away. Although, I admit, I did watch the Comey testimony last week, it came through with the peculiar filter of watching something distant as though coming from a different country, amazing to hear what he was saying but not directly important as I  wasn't really there, was I?

Ah, Martha's Vineyard. Thinking of visiting? Try it off season, spring or fall. It is even amazing during the worst weather months January-March although come prepared. Summer is a form of siege on the island, not my favorite.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England

Permalink | Posted June 11, 2017

New From Martha's Vineyard 1

Since I no longer teach I get to spend time every year in the spring and fall at Martha's Vineyard. My parents built a summer home here in 1964. After they died my sisters I inherited it and have kept it. We rent it out during the big tourist months of July and August and use it for ourselves and a large extended family in the spring and fall. (Interested in renting? Go to and search for the Eliot Noyes house.)This results in me and my camera being here about three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

Being a compulsive photographer means that I work here, sometimes on specific projects (see Tom's Neck and Spring and Fall or MV aerials) as well as making pictures I see as I travel around the island. It is ironic that we acrue real miles driving from place to place here. The island is 25 miles long and our house is in Chilmark, called "up island" by locals. As the towns, hardware stores, markets, restaurants and much of anything urban is "down island" this means lots of driving. I almost always have a camera and a tripod with me and will often combine a trip to do an errand with a stop to make pictures, especially if the time of day is right or the light is exceptional. One of the advantages of living on an island is nothing is so very far away.

This spring my time here so far has been notable by the weather being really awful: cold and rainy. The Vineyard in the spring, with the island surrounded by cold water, can often be shrouded in fog. 

In between downpours I've been able to get some pictures I like from places like Chilmark Pond, Wasque on Chappaquidick, the cliffs at Aquinnah, Squibnocket Beach, Lobsterville and Long Point in West Tisbury. This in between going for lobster rolls in Menemsha, shopping for ingredients down island we will use that night cooking for guests at home, excursions and showing the island to first time visitors, home improvement projects, trips to the beach, driving to drop friends off at the ferry or to pick them up, driving to buy wine or beer, getting the island car inspected and on and on. A never ending combination of fun stuff and regular stuff on this island just a few miles from the mainland, yet a world apart too. 

The Vineyard has its problems, of course: a loss of industries such as fishing, rich people building mega houses,  affordable housing, a work force more dependent on immigrants each year, too many people in the summers, the Wampanoag tribe at Aquinnah fighting for the right to build a casino. One, for me as a photo-grapher, is that it is far too pretty. Years ago when I was teaching a workshop here, the photographer Bruce Davidson and I had a conversation about the difficulty of photographing on the island. Substantial and relevant pictures in an island paradise? Not so much. In some ways, it is a unique and large challenge to transcend the completely beautiful environment here to say something with your pictures.  This I mostly fail at, but not for want of trying.

Perhaps my most elegant solution a few years ago was to photograph it from an airplane. 

This allows abstraction and a sort of wonder at its sheer magnificence.

I will stop here for this post. But I will continue as so much work has come from here. In Martha's Vineyard 2 I will go back a little into pictures made in past years, some good some not so good and trace my exhibition history here as well.

Sty tuned.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted June 4, 2017