In Print - Photography under sail

By Steve Myrick - November 29, 2007

"On The Wind," photography by Norman Fortier, introduction and captions by Calvin Siegal and Llewellyn Howland III. David R. Godine, An Imago Mundi book. 2007. $40. 127 pages.

There is an old saying in the photography business.

"F8, and be there."

It means that the latest or most expensive camera is not usually the way to take a great photograph. Any middle of the road aperture setting, like F8, will usually do. The difficult part is to "be there," when the picture happens.

For the better part of six decades now, Norman Fortier has shown he knows how to "be there."

On The Wind
Click photo for larger version.

In "On The Wind," with introductions and captions by Calvin Siegal and Llewellyn Howland III, Mr. Fortier presents not so much a collection of memorable photographs, but documentation of his visual love affair with the waters of southern New England.

The book is divided loosely by the harbors where Mr. Fortier has lived and worked. There are sections on Mattapoisett and Marion, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, New Bedford, and Mr. Fortier's homeport of Padanaram.

There are also sections on the fabled New York Yacht Club cruises, and the legendary Concordia yawls.

Martha's Vineyard is well represented in the photographer's work, including the majestic photographs of the familiar schooner Shenandoah, described as "a Martha's Vineyard celebrity since the day she was commissioned."

A delightful photograph of the Edgartown Yacht Club regatta in 1970 shows a fleet of Wianno Seniors in the distance running before the wind with spinnakers full. One hapless crew is shown in the foreground, trailing the fleet by a hopeless measure, yet serving as a graceful anchor for the photograph. Closer inspection reveals a Concordia yawl tucked in the middle of the racing fleet, beating to windward.

Another favorite is a well-known photograph of Auk III racing off Padanaram. Two crewmembers stand upright on the windward rail, holding on for dear life as the sloop takes a heavy puff, knocking her so far over that both the mainsail and the straining spinnaker touch the waves. Every edge in the perfectly framed shot is softened by thick fog.

This is not strictly a collection of sailing photography. Included are historic photographs of undeveloped harbors, hurricanes, fishing fleets, ferries, and gatherings of the people who made these harbors such vibrant places.

In this vein is a delightful picture of children astride swimming horses in Hadley Harbor, making their way to shore where a sailboat lies hastily beached.

If you have spent any time at all messing around Vineyard waters in boats, you know Norman Fortier's work, even if you do not know his name. If you have thumbed through a sailing publication, or wandered through a salty bar, an artsy seaside town, or a maritime museum, chances are you have seen his photographs.

Open up this book, and you will find yourself thinking, "I've seen that photograph," or "I've been there," as you turn page after page.

"On The Wind" charts a course interesting enough to keep you ashore in good sailing weather.