Alan Brigish’s “Martha’s Vineyard – Now and Zen”


“Martha’s Vineyard — Now & Zen,” Susan Klein, Alan Brigish. brigishEYE Productions, June 2010, 136 pp., $29.95.

It’s all about the Vineyard — the faces, places, events, and natural splendor that reminds us that our everyday routines are being observed in unique and fragile surroundings.

In “Martha’s Vineyard — Now & Zen,” a softbound collection of 28 essays and 250 photographs, the verities of the Island are expressed by two distinctly different personalities, each celebrating the spirit, sights, traditions, and idiosyncratic rhythms of the Island: Island native Susan Klein, (2007 recipient of the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard Creative Living Award) an award-winning story teller, teacher, and spoken-word concert performer — quick witted, subtle, and wry; and relatively recent West Tisbury resident Alan Brigish, documentary still-photographer, online book publisher (brigishEye), businessman, and world traveler — determined and dynamic.

The past is conjured in nostalgic details and first person recollections, while the present, captured in glowing color, teeters on the brink of change. It is the push-pull choreography among consistency and those things that are enduring about Island life, and the continuing changes.

“Where there was once an easy balance of personal freedom and tourist trade,” Ms. Klein writes, “there has occurred a diminishment of the former in service to the latter, resulting in a disturbing imbalance — the Island as a commodity.”

With humor and affecting truths, Ms. Klein shares childhood memories of the fishing derby in Oak Bluffs: “Anyone at the weigh-in station (a bare storefront with a cement floor with a drain, a water source, and a hose, the scales, and the competition boards) foolish enough to ask what kind of tackle or bait was used was told a fish story. If marinated pork rinds had been used, surely the fisherman would say, ‘Eel.’ No matter if the catch site was off Dogfish Bar, Middle Ground, East Beach, Devil’s Bridge, or the Wharf, all answers to, ‘Where’d you catch that fish?’ were, ‘Long Beach.'”

And Mr. Brigish’s digital photographs bring the event into the present: Salty Agard hoisting a bloodied stripped bass, of the serious and proud lineup of junior derby leaders, and of Derby Filet Master Eli Bonnell at work.

The separate sections are listed in the table of contents: Elements, Communities, Traditions, and Issues.

Elements, for example, contains sweeping images of winter scenes, farms, harbors and sunsets, along with the close-up details of spider webs, the rusted surface of a truck, flowers, and a stone-covered beach.

Traditions summons the pageantry of The Feast of the Holy Ghost, the paper lanterns of Grand Illumination night, Camp Jabberwocky’s summer play production, and Wampanoag festivals in words and images.

The amped-up drama of Mr. Brigish’s digital photographs includes both the literal and abstract. Sea grass, surf, leaves, tree limbs, blueberries, rigging, oyster and quahog shells, and the moon over Deep Bottom Pond are expressed in strong designs, while pastoral vistas, stonewalls, honesty boxes illustrate what we know and tell familiar stories.

On the facing page of Mr. Brigish’s wonderfully mystical photo of people in silhouette exercising under a moody early morning sky at the Inkwell, we read Ms. Klein’s carefully crafted thoughts: “Our humanity is still evolving. But blessed are we — all of us — that in this little town where narrow-mindedness exists in standard proportion, such a haven could, did, and continues to exist.”

The book is a worthy keepsake. It tells a true story and reminds us to actively care about what we hold special: “The truth is we’ve lost much — and we grieve the losses. But that clock indeed cannot be unwound. Our current ever-changing community is teeming with extremely creative and concerned people. No matter when any of us have arrived, no matter how long any of our ancestors have trod the Island sands, no matter where we were born — if we call this place home — or summer home — our creativity must serve our concerns for preserving and conserving what remains of this stunning Island and perpetuating the traditions we hold dear.”

Authors’ Talks, Friday, July 2, 7:30 pm, Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven; Sunday, July 4, after parade, Edgartown Books; Tuesday, July 6, 7 pm, Vineyard Haven Library. Alan Brigish and Susan Klein, “Martha’s Vineyard — Now & Zen.”