Since childhood, sailing has been part of Louisa Gould’s life. “I got into sailing because I did not have a choice,” the Vineyard Haven gallery owner says. “I was born into a sailing family. There are pictures of my mother eight months pregnant and sailing here on the Vineyard.”
Fast-forward a few decades; Ms. Gould still works extremely closely with sailboats, but from a different perspective. Instead of tacking and jibing, she photographs the action. Since the 2000 America’s Cup race in New Zealand, Ms. Gould has traveled to the South Pacific, England, and the Mediterranean to capture the drama and action of sailing races, and in the process turned her passion into a career.
Ms. Gould also raced, albeit not professionally, participating in races every weekend from April to November on Long Island Sound when she worked in Manhattan on Wall Street. When she got a chance to be part of a team competing in the America’s Cup, she realized she couldn’t continue to juggle working full-time and sailing.
In a way, lucky for Ms. Gould: her company, unwilling to give her a leave of absence to travel to New Zealand for the race, simplified her decision-making process. She quit her job, and flew down to the Southern Hemisphere.
She recalls, “In the cab to the airport, I looked at the professional camera I just bought and thought, ‘This is going to be a part of your life.’” She says, “It’s love and obsession, and I guess passion and profession, too — all in one.”
In 2007, she worked as the French America’s Cup team’s main photographer, which took her on many different kinds of boats and helicopters for the best photo opportunities.
“I’m looking for action,” Ms. Gould says. “I understand that there are certain angles to the boat. Almost like shooting anything, you want to portray it in the best light.”
Trying to capture the best moments of both the boat and the crew while in motion poses many challenges, especially if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
“Sometimes it can be really unpleasant out there,” she says. “It’s gray, and there’s no wind, so you have to sit and wait for hours. Potentially you could sit there most of the day, and there’s no race, but I understand that that’s the nature of sailing.”
In fact, on a gorgeous sunny day in Miami, Ms. Gould went out on a sailboat during one of the regattas, but there was absolutely no wind. Subsequently, to pass the time, she started taking pictures of the clear blue water. As a result, she now has a photograph that freezes the movement of bright blue ocean water.
“Photographing is just as exciting as actually sailing because you never know what’s going to happen,” she says.
A few years ago, Ms. Gould flew with a Vietnam veteran pilot during Key West Race Week. She describes the flying condition as a wind of 30 knots (roughly 35 miles-per-hour), with both doors of the chopper open. Usually, pilots descend in a forward direction. But this pilot brought the helicopter to the front all the race and descended while flying backwards.
“For the first 20 minutes or so, I had no idea what he was doing,” she remembers. “But once I got used it, it gave me the best pictures I have ever shot from a helicopter.”
She is clear about her intention: “You want to create movement and excitement. You want to bring the viewer into the photo. Sometimes you want to get the overall photo, but sometimes you want to get narrow and get that sense of man versus nature.”
Her experience has served her well. She says, “Shooting yacht racing in combination with my history on the water, it’s always safety first, no matter what. It’s also using your intuition. The boat could be rocking and rocking, and all of a sudden, I would know there was bigger wave coming.”
Looking back at her collection of racing photos, she says, “Sometimes I have to admit, I’d much rather be racing, but I know you can’t do both. I chose photography, and I’m very lucky and very grateful that I can do what I grew up doing.”
Ms. Gould’s photographs are on display at Louisa Gould Gallery, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-7373.