Art

"Blue Boat With Anchor," by Louisa Gould.
"Blue Boat With Anchor," by Louisa Gould.

Camera's art from several perspectives

By Brooks Robards - July 27, 2006

Four top Island photographers have work on exhibit at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown through August 5. In Oak Bluffs, Both Featherstone Center for the Arts and Hastings in the Alley are featuring new photography exhibits this week.

The photographers at the Old Sculpin offer very different takes on the world. Nancy Noble Gardner uses her camera to examine flowers in close-up, revealing their often abstract, if still organic, forms. One image, titled "Jazz," uses what look like lilies with bent stamens to demonstrate how other-worldly flower parts can appear.

"Return of the Weakfish," by Ben McCormack.
"Return of the Weakfish," by Ben McCormack.

Gardner's photographs use color with great subtlety in "Blue Shell" and "Dancing Day Lilies," with its muted shades of lavender blue. Other images come from the Greek island of Santorini, where Gardner explores the intensities of that region's light and discovers new variations on its striking blue and white buildings.

Louisa Gould, who has long been associated with the Old Sculpin but has her own gallery in Vineyard Haven opposite the Black Dog Restaurant, has built a reputation for photographing sailboats. She has included a number of her large format sailing images, like "Juno Under Sail," where she brings out the sculptural quality of her subject in the focus on a hull's reflections in the water.

Also a world traveler, Gould is showing a number of her photographs from Patagonia and Antarctica, with their exotic landscapes and seascapes. This photographer works in a number of formats, including digital and slide prints as well as 35 mm. One of her most dramatic photographs, "Wooden Boat 3, (Juno 2003)," faces down a wooden mast, building the composition from its sails and rigging. "Juno and the Swan" captures a white-feathered bird afloat off the bow of the sailboat Juno in a remarkable if somewhat sentimental composition.

Nancy Nobel Gardner's "Shell Dream."
Nancy Nobel Gardner's "Shell Dream."

Also in the Old Sculpin show are examples of Alison Shaw's artist's studio series and her outsized landscape abstracts. Unfortunately, the small size of the gallery doesn't show these works off to their full advantage. An epic work like "Race Point III" needs plenty of room for the viewer to appreciate the artist's perspective on the blur of sand, water and sky with their vibrant colors that make up the composition.

These works loom dramatically at the viewer in the long, rectangular format Shaw has chosen. "Green Island 05" seems the strongest of the landscapes presented in a square format. Half the image in this work is taken up by the deeply blue water, while the almost misty outline of an island hovers over it.

Photographer Benjamin McCormack is a student of fish and other creatures of the deep. Like Shaw, he sees abstract patterns in the natural world, but he often examines them close up the way Nancy Gardner does with flowers. In "Squid Skin" McCormack turns his subject into a mini-universe of tiny pale blue and green shapes.

In another, remarkable image, "Night Feed," this photographer has captured an open-mouthed, blue-tinted fish in the act of closing in on a red-tinged squid against a black background. The crisp realism of images like it, "Grassy Key Bonefish" and "Working the Rip" bring alive the brutal world of carnivorous, underwater creatures.

Ron Hall's "Cape Light."
Ron Hall's "Cape Light."

Two more photography exhibits are also underway in Oak Bluffs. Featherstone Center for the Arts has Jerry Friedman's "Earth's Elders," a collection of portraits of people aged at least 110 years that also opened at the United Nations in June. They will be on view until August 6. At Hastings in the Alley, an exhibit of images by photographers Ron Hall and Kevin Robinson runs until August 4.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.