Martha’s Vineyard Artisans Festival features photography

Artisans Festival photographer Ben McCormick specializes in underwater photos like this squid. — Photo by Benjamin McCormick

People have been capturing the beauty of the Vineyard through the lens of a camera and offering their images for sale to the public almost since the dawn of photography. Witness a series of old black and white images of Oak Bluffs newly gracing one corridor of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

A handful of local photographers are keeping up this tradition by selling their work at the twice-weekly summer Vineyard Artisans Festivals. Although they primarily capture scenes around the Island, each has focused on one individual element that makes Martha’s Vineyard unique.

Nancy Noble Gardner specializes in close-ups of flowers and shells. She captures the often overlooked beauty of small things in a still-life fashion.

Ms. Noble Gardner’s intimate shots require patience and precision. She uses a macro lens and a tripod with a special attachment allowing her to change the angle by minute increments. Setting herself in front of her subject –– be it flower or beach find –– on a fisherman’s stool, she works every possible angle and lighting possibility until she is satisfied with the outcome.

“It’s all about just settling in and taking a lot of shots,” she says. “Moving around and just staring you start to see things you didn’t see at first.” She often leaves her tripod in place and returns later to experiment with the light at different times of day.

“When I see something in nature that I want to shoot, it’s a way of celebrating it and paying homage to it,” she says.

Janet Woodcock creates atmospheric nature photos using black and white film and traditional darkroom techniques. Her toned gelatin prints –– often sepia tinted –– give her animals, nests, trees and other solitary subjects an air of mystery and a fantastic, mythical feel.

Ms. Woodcock has resisted switching to digital photography. Of film she says, “It’s very slow –– kind of methodical. I like the alchemy –– the chemistry of the dark room. I’m not a machine-driven person at all.” Ms. Woodcock has recently moved on from her popular barnyard series and has started capturing the beauty of design and durability of bird’s nests.

Her third series, Short Stories, deals with subjects whose only connection is the way Ms. Woodcock envisions them. “They’re a group of photos that are not necessarily connected visually but seem to have more of a narrative,” she says.

Ms. Woodcock’s style is unmistakable, regardless of her subject. Her haunting monochromatic prints hold the viewer’s attention by some primal draw. “I like the way a photograph feels when you move around in it and get lost in it in a way,” the photographer says.

Debra Gaines works with dramatic land- and seascapes, including spectacular wave photos and iconic lighthouse shots. She recently started focusing on a series combining encaustics (beeswax painting) with her photos. “With a photo the goal is to depict the dimension you see on a flat surface,” she says. “With the wax you can add another dimension. It’s a challenge. It’s different.”

Underwater photographer Benjamin McCormick combines two passions to create unique works of art. Mr. McCormick, an avid fisherman, captures his prey both on hook and camera lens. His extreme close-ups feature incredible clarity –– no easy accomplishment in the Vineyard’s murky waters –– and intense color. An experienced diver, Mr. McCormick carries his photography equipment with him while fishing and dives in when an opportunity presents itself. The process requires persistence. Mr. McCormick says of his pursuit, “It has a pathetic success ratio.” When he gets his shot, it can be a spectacular moment in the underwater world.

Mr. McCormick also shoots extreme close-ups of birds, animals, and other objects on land, but he is most enthusiastic about his underwater work. “I initially started doing this just for the fun of it,” he says. “Now it’s my excuse to be around fish as much as possible.”

L.A. Brown does wedding and portrait photography as well as fine art. She’s photographed Vineyard scenes since she was 12 years old. “As a painting major, I learned how to take the four corners and make sure everything was balanced. That’s composition, and that’s how to create a beautiful photograph,” she says.

Her subjects are varied. Ms. Brown offers images from places outside of the Vineyard, but all have an atmospheric, often moody, quality. “I see things, sometimes everyday things, in a certain light, some quirky, some whimsical. I’m really grateful that my clients are super sophisticated. They buy all subject matter. They just like the vision that I have,” she says.

Photographs offer visitors just one form of art at the Artisans Festivals, a mainstay on the Vineyard art scene.

Nancy Noble Gardner, Janet Woodcock, Debra Gaines, Benjamin McCormick, L.A. Brown, photography. Vineyard Artisans Festivals, Sundays through September 30; Thursdays, July 5-August 30, 10 am to 2 pm, Grange Hall, West Tisbury.