Renowned photographer Alan Brigish of West Tisbury and beloved storyteller Susan Klein of Oak Bluffs have teamed up for a mixed-media event, on tap this Saturday, October 26, at 3:30 at the M.V. Film Center.
To discuss what precisely this dynamic duo has wrought this time around, the MV Times met up with Brigish at his home studio. We sat in his conservatory, windows open on all three sides, as the slanting rays of autumn dappled the woods, and gusts of wind drowned out all birdsong.
Brigish has recently returned from a Buddhist retreat in California. “For the first three days I hated it,” he said about the regimen of day-long meditation. “On the third day, all I could think about was escaping into town and devouring a cheeseburger. And then it hit me. I was completely caught up in it.” The glow continued, and he plans to attend a new retreat in Barre.
Brigish, now 72, developed an interest in meditation and Buddhist philosophy in 2006 when he found himself on a photographic sojourn, first to India which was swelteringly hot and physically injurious, followed by a touch-down in Bhutan. “When I woke up in the morning, the air was cool [about 50 degrees cooler], it was fragrant, quiet, I heard cow bells in the distance, I looked out the window and saw Swiss-style chalets,” Mr. Brigish said of Bhutan. “I thought I must have died. This was Heaven. And then I learned about this country’s concept of Gross National Happiness. There was a whole lot of Buddhism going on.”
Brigish, born, raised, and married to Joyce in South Africa, has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. since 1964. The Brigishes started coming to the Vineyard in 1979 when their son, Sy, attended Camp Jabberwocky. Alan and Joyce fell in love with the Island. They have two other kids, Hal and Jackie, and three grandchildren. They moved here year-round from Connecticut in 2005.
The Bhutan trip inspired a new photographic hegira, this one with a book in mind. With a UNESCO guide and translator, Brigish followed in the footsteps of the Buddha from Laos to Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. His impressions and inquiries on the nature of happiness and suffering, and on the paradox of happiness achieved even in the midst of what to the western eye would appear to be appalling poverty, are captured in the 2008 photographic masterpiece, Breathing In The Buddha.
One day, as he displayed his books at the Artisans Fair in West Tisbury, a woman told Mr. Brigish crisply, “You should do a book about the Vineyard.” The woman was Ann Nelson, founder of the iconic Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven. And right on the synchronistic dot, a short time later he bumped into Susan Klein, storyteller and Oak Bluffs native. They got to talking, and Brigish mentioned Ann Nelson’s call for a new kind of photographic survey of the Island, with text that digs deeper into times past and present. Klein said in her inimitably cut-to-the-chase way, “I’ve been telling those stories for years.”
The collaboration is the incandescent 2010 release Now And Zen, still available at Island bookstores, and very likely resting on your own bookshelves.
Klein and Brigish went on to produce the luscious Bountiful, text and photos an homage to local farms, sponsored by the Agricultural Society. You’ve seen its striking reds-golds-and-green cover of vegetables-being-gorgeous.
The latest venture utilizes Klein’s eye rather than her written or spoken word. “Just as she’s a great editor of writing, she has the same brilliance with visual imagery,” Brigish said.
Together, Klein and Brigish poured over countless photos of flowers. “I have over 110,000 photographs in my computer,” he said cheerfully; this artist will never be caught short of material. At last they assembled a ten-minute meditation on color, form, and the eternal now.
In Breathing In The Buddha, Brigish muses, “we find safety and comfort in trying to make permanent that which is impermanent. We are addicted.” Along the lines on this reflection, this new DVD is entitled Impermanence, a vital construct of the Buddha’s teachings.
West Tisbury musician Ed Merck, also a writer (Sailing The Mystery) and a Buddhist,, provided an exquisite recorder soundtrack to the images. Mr. Merck said, “my challenge was how to portray that musically. I found, of all my recorders, the bass caught the mood irresistibly.”
Brigish explained that the seamless shifting of photographs involved two seconds of stasis with nine seconds transition. The effect is mesmerizing, one set of flowers morphing into another before the brain has time to register a pattern or the eye has time to blink.
The event on Sunday will unpack itself in five parts: cocktails in the lobby and an exhibition of Alan Brigish photographs. Also in the lobby, an overhead screen will play the Brigish/Klein DVD Vineyard Zen, once silent, now accompanied by Falmouth pianist Gary Girouard.
Once guests are seated in the theater, Susan Klein will provide a five-minute narrative about taking time and stopping time to kick off the debut of the ten-minute Impermanence on the silver screen, with Merck’s spellbinding music emanating from Dolby speakers. The final treat will be a pre-screening of a documentary, Monk With A Camera about New York photographer Nicky Vreeland, who turned his back on the glittery haute monde to become an ordained monk in South Asia, only to be tapped by the Dalai Lama to once again strap on his camera and photograph surrounding monasteries.
The official release will take place in New York in November so, as often happens on the Vineyard, we’ll be given a first look at something artsy, crafty, boho, or anyhoo. We’d be fools to miss this.
For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.