Photographers and Martha’s Vineyard

I’m on the Martha’s Vineyard for about a week visiting the folks and doing some shooting. Being here got me thinking about photographers who are working here now and who have worked here in the past. They basically fall into two categories, the photographers who photograph the Vineyard and those who photograph on the Vineyard. What I mean by this is that for some photographers the fact that the photographs are taken on the Vineyard is essential and for others it’s secondary. Alison Shaw definitely photographs the Vineyard. From early in my consciousness of photography I remember her work as an editorial photographer for the Vineyard Gazette and maybe that’s why I still prefer the graphic reductive simplicity of her black and white work.

Stephen DiRado, on the other hand, photographs on the Vineyard. I first learned of DiRado’s work on Alec Soth’s blog (here) and was reminded of him in last Friday’s edition of the Vineyard Gazette (Sept. 14, 2007). The article focused on DiRado’s Jump series and the difficulty he has had showing in Vineyard galleries. This difficulty, I think, is due to the fact that his work isn’t explicitly about the Vineyard and thus gallery owners think that it won’t sell. Interestingly, the series made me think of another photographer who worked on the Vineyard, Aaron Siskind, and his series Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation.

from Jump by Stephen DiRado

Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation
Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation, No. 474 by Aaron Siskind

I don’t think the Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation were shot on the Vineyard, but I do know that Siskind photographed sea weed abstractions, stone walls and other things, including the tree below on the island.

The Tree, Martha's Vineyard
The Tree, Martha’s Vineyard, 1973 by Aaron Siskind

This tree is in the town I grew up in. I rode by it on my bike on the way to kindergarten. It’s across the street from where the bakery we bought cinnamon rolls used to be. Branches have come off in big storms. Here is what it looks like today.

Tree, 2007, Michael Silva

2 thoughts on “Photographers and Martha’s Vineyard

  1. Hi Michael:

    There are so many photographers, a few you mention, who have photographed on the island in the past, as well as the present. Add to the present list; Bruce Davidson, Les Krims, Mitch Epstein, Frank Armstrong, Neal Rantoul and Nick Nixon. There are plenty more but these are names I can confirm for sure. Some, like myself live on it part time. In my case I rent year round and come down to MV all four seasons to specifically photograph, have been for 20 plus years.

    The photographers who live on the island full time, Alison Shaw, Peter Simon and Mark Lovewell publish in island newspapers and magazines. I suspect in order to survive they feed into the island’s self proclaimed image by making prosaic photographs over and over and over. Personally I find it painful to see year after year the same sail boat, sheep, and field of flowers on the front page of these newspapers. It is downright creepy and the island comes off like the 1970s SiFi series The Prisoner.

    The sad thing about all of this is there is a significant audiance thirsty to witness what photographers “see” on and around the island but without censorship. Can you imagine seeing under one roof images by the listed photographers who frequent the place, displayed within the same environment that inspired?


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