The spirit finds a home in “Fighting for My Life”

"""Michael Blanchard, Michael Bl

A newly published book of photos features stunning shots from all around the Vineyard, focusing on quiet places, spectacular skies, sunrises, sunsets, moonlit nights and nature in all her glory. But Michael Blanchard’s book Fighting for My Life isn’t all about pretty pictures. It’s a testimony to the life he has discovered since getting sober five years ago.

“The Vineyard is my spiritual home,” Mr. Blanchard said in a recent phone interview. He works as the chief operating officer for a health care company in Maine but spends every weekend at the Edgartown home that he shares with his wife, Linda. “I live on the rocky coast of Maine, but I don’t want to sit there in the evening and edit Maine photos. I can spend four or five hours messing with these [Vineyard] photos to make it feel like I felt when I visited there.”

Mr. Blanchard begins the memoir intro to the book with a chapter titled, The End. It details the a downward spiral that terminated in his third DUI arrest in three months. “I had reached that point alcoholics call the bottom,” Mr. Blanchard writes. “That cold and lonely realization that life itself is impossible to contemplate in the absence of alcohol, but knowing the drug has destroyed the very essence of your soul.”

With the help of a sympathetic doctor, Mr. Blanchard was able to overcome thoughts of suicide and commit himself to a three-month in-patient rehabilitation program. Upon returning to Maine and his job as chief operating officer of a health care business, Mr. Blanchard attended AA meetings and managed to stay sober. However, he realized that there was something lacking in his life, until he began spending time on the Vineyard, and then turning his newfound passion for a place into an outlet for creative expression.

In the book, Mr. Blanchard writes, “I discovered an emotional tie to a geographic location I couldn’t explain. My walks on the beaches and cliffs stirred emotions often leading to tears of joy — and I didn’t need alcohol to connect to this mysterious energy. Amazing — truly a miracle.”

Mr. Blanchard further realized that by capturing the vistas that inspired him with his camera, and editing the pictures until they represented the mood that the scenes inspired in him, he could hold onto that magical quality while giving his life a new focus.

“I’d never picked up a camera before,” Mr. Blanchard told The Times. “I started watching videos about photography while I was working out on the elliptical every night. I learned how to edit. It completely absorbed me. I didn’t have to think about staying sober. It kind of liberated my brain. What I found is if you’re really passionate about something, the recovery takes care of itself.”

While using his newfound passion as therapy, Mr. Blanchard began posting his beautiful images on Facebook. Soon, he had thousands of followers. The Facebook postings eventually led to a website, where people could purchase the images, a calendar of Vineyard photos, and inclusion among the collection at the Island Art Gallery in Vineyard Haven.

With the book Fighting for My Life, Mr. Blanchard has taken his mission one step further. He has written a brief introduction about his journey from active alcoholic to a sober life, and explains how he uses photography as a tool in his recovery process.

The book is divided into 16 chapters, each featuring a lesson. Subject headings include Accepting Change, Being Grateful, Letting Go, and Finding Community. Each section includes a paragraph by the author with his thoughts on the topic. Many incorporate motivational quotes. The inspirational messages express what Mr. Blanchard has learned along the road to recovery, and they offer hope to others fighting the disease of addiction.

However, even those who are not plagued with substance abuse issues can appreciate the optimism and advice on living life to its fullest. Taken simply as a book of photography, the book will appeal to all who love the Vineyard.

The images are stunning and evocative. From a sunrise at Felix Neck, to a full moon over South Beach, to a close up of swans flying, every picture captures the mystical quality of the Island. Details like the weathered boards of the walkway to Long Point Beach and speckled rocks in Aquinnah are as important to Mr. Blanchard as the dramatic skies and striking color contrasts that he often captures. Textures like the craggy surface of the Gay Head Cliffs and rippled sand on an uninhabited beach attest to the heightened awareness of an observer who has fully given himself over to his surroundings.

Mr. Blanchard explains his process in the book. “I frequently use High Dynamic Range methods in merging multiple exposures to bring out the detail,” he writes. “I don’t alter images by cutting and pasting backgrounds or other techniques that alter the basic construct of the photo. I edit the photos to complete the process of expressing what that moment meant to me.”

A grateful Mr. Blanchard hopes to one day be able to give something back to the community. He is currently completing a masters degree in psychology and a program at UMass Boston to become licensed as an addiction counselor. His ambition is to one day work with young addicts.

The author/photographer has become involved with the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services New Paths outpatient recovery program. He is donating $5 from the sale of each book to the program. “I realized that the Vineyard was struggling with addiction services,” he says. “The program funding for New Paths is ending in a year.”

“Part of my mission is to inspire others,” Mr. Blanchard says. “It’s the processes, not the outcome. I have no idea where this is going to go. Every night if I go home and do this instead of drinking, it’s a successful night.”

Mr. Blanchard will launch his new book at an art show and signing on Saturday, Oct. 13, from 4-6 pm at the office of Homes on Martha’s Vineyard, Post Office Square, Edgartown. A donation of $5 for every book will go to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which is a co-sponsor of the event. For more information, contact Jan Pogue at Vineyard Stories, 508-221-2338 or