Martha’s Vineyard photographer captures blooms up close

Abstract floral patterns emerge in Elise LeBovit's photographs. — Photo by Elise LeBovit

Elise LeBovit’s Duck Inn off State Road in Aquinnah commands a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean.

But last Saturday, the photographer’s large, light-filled flower images, mounted and propped in front of the barn and along the stone wall adjacent to the inn, vied with that view. Ms. LeBovit had arranged an outdoor display of most of the 60 images that will appear in Macro Flowers, the exhibit she plans at the inn on Saturday, and Sunday, Sept. 8 and 9.

Many of her photos, awash in reds, greens, yellows, pinks, and an occasional blue, are not recognizable as flowers. Using a point-and-shoot digital camera with a zoom lens, she captures nature’s colors and forms in extreme close-ups and reveals details and designs that most people might never notice. A tulip turns into a multi-pointed black star with a rough-hewn red triangle at its center in a blood-red background. The vertical green blade of a leaf angles into two shades of green. The spiky pink leaves of a water lily open up for the viewer.

“I like to get close so I can get to know each plant as a work of art,” Ms. LeBovit says. “Interacting on the plant’s terms, where we are dancing together in the light of the moment, is where I live.” None of her photos have been altered in any way, and she is not concerned with making the flower type identifiable.

The hardest part for her is picking one picture from the series of shots she’s taken. She thinks other people are often better at picking what photos she should show, because they’re just seeing them as images. “I’m still in the moment and the magic of that moment,” she says.

She has a form of dyslexia, called cross-dominant, that she believes makes her perceive things differently. “That’s what I have to offer,” she says about her artistic perspective.

Growing up in Washington D.C., Ms. LeBovit made all her own clothes, worked as a fabric designer, and eventually sold Japanese kimonos at the Agricultural Fair. She envisions the patterns her photos reveal printed on fabrics.

She studied photography, along with filmmaking, dance, and music for two years at the San Francisco Art Institute. It was the mid-60s, though, and the environment became a little too Haight-Ashbury for her, so she relocated to New York. “I never quite got the concept of working for a degree,” she says, and she made other educational stops along the way to finishing a college degree. While living in New York, she worked at the New York Public Library organizing dance events in the parks and puppet shows.

A Nantucket vacation ended her infatuation with New York, and she moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains, familiar territory from her Washington childhood. Then she landed at Federal City College, majoring in psychology, with a minor in education. Certification as a Montessori teacher led to running a Virginia school, and then she managed a drive-in movie theatre. After running a children’s camp in Flight Hill, Va., the multi-talented artist played saxophone in a band. That gig took her to Martha’s Vineyard to record in the barn at Allen Farm. Once she arrived on the Island, Ms. LeBovit found her home. In 1980, she bought the property that became the Duck Inn, put down roots, and for many years ran Camp Fun for Aquinnah children. That experience returned her to her love of photography.

“Running the camp, I started taking pictures of the kids,” she says. She also began teaching photography to the kids. The experience produced her first photo show at the Duck Inn 10 years ago. Always a lover of flowers, she started taking macro flower pictures in 2004, before the technique became popular. “Now everyone’s doing it,” she says.

“I’m not really trying to show what the flower is,” she says. “I’m looking for the magic in the design. My goal is to see it in a different way.” The “crayony” look of pixels in digital photos appeals to her. Ms. LeBovit finds it easier to organize her digital work in her computer than it was with film negatives. She throws out most of what she takes before they leave the camera.

“It has to really wow me,” she says. “Then it has a life of its own. You’ve got to capture the moment.” She finds that if she gets a good shot and then tries to take more to perfect it, the strategy doesn’t work. “Once I get mental, it’s all over,” she says. Ms. LeBovit shoots flowers that come not just from Martha’s Vineyard, but also Florida and Hawaii, where she likes to go for several weeks during the winter.

“I never do things the easy way,” the photographer says. “I’m right eye-to-eye with the flowers. I just want to climb right inside them.”

Elise LeBovit, “Macro Flowers,” Saturday, Sept. 8 and Sunday, Sept. 9,12 noon to 8 pm, the Duck Inn, 10 Duck Pond Lane off State Rd., Aquinnah. For information, call 508-645-9018.