Pushing his own envelope

Harvey Beth brings his photography to the stacks.


Photographer Harvey J. Beth might be considered a late bloomer. It was only after retiring from a lifetime career in finance (including 25 years working for the government) that he decided to pursue two of his passions: travel and photography. Since then, Beth has visited — and shot images — in 14 different countries. A sampling of his work is currently on display at the Vineyard Haven library as part of its Art in the Stacks initiative.

Many of the images were taken during African safaris. These include stunning close-up shots of giraffes, zebras, a leopard, and a cheetah. There are also a few images of flowers from a Hawaiian trip, and a couple of Vineyard photos.

“I’ve always had a wanderlust in my blood,” says Beth. “When I was working, I couldn’t afford the time or the money. When I came out here I decided I wanted to re-engineer my life a little bit and pursue my passion.”

In 2003, Beth and his wife Ellie both retired from their jobs and moved from the Boston area full-time to their vacation home in Oak Bluffs. Ellie previously served as the town manager for Plymouth.

Not one to sit still, Beth almost immediately started volunteering for local organizations and getting serious about photography. He says that he has been dabbling for 70 years, ever since he was given a Brownie camera as a kid, but only recently was he able to switch from hobbyist to semiprofessional.

One of the first things that Beth did after moving to the Vineyard was to take a workshop with renowned photographer Alison Shaw. “Alison was very encouraging,” he says. “She is an amazing lady. Not only a great photographer but a great instructor and mentor.” Shaw encouraged her student to continue his studies at Maine Media College in Rockport, where Beth spent a summer learning from globally recognized photographers.

With newly acquired skills under his belt, Beth and his wife commenced traveling. After completing a cross-country drive, they embarked for Africa. It was to be the first of four trips to the continent, where Beth developed an interest in the Masai people. He befriended a number of Masai tribesmen, and did a talk on his experiences at the Vineyard Haven library in October. “I use a lot of my photography for social justice purposes,” he says.

Beth has also made many trips to Haiti with the PeaceQuilts Project group, an economic development program for women in Haiti. He contributed a number of photos to the group’s book, “Patience to Raise the Sun.”

A number of trips that the Beths have made over the years have been with the Federated Church choir. Ellie sings with the choir, and Beth serves as the group’s photographer during visits to various European countries.

Their travels have taken the Beths to four different continents, including trips to Africa, China, Nepal, points in both Western and Eastern Europe, and Russia. Their next major trip will be a celebration of the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary in the Greek Isles. Beth notes that his wife is the organizer of the family: “We work on it together. She does a great job planning. She winds me up with a key in my back.”

Since embarking on his latest career, Beth has shown his work at the former Dragonfly Gallery, the Featherstone Center for the Arts, and the annual M.V. Garden Club “Blooming Art” show. Last year he was juried in as a member of the Cape Cod Art Center. During his first show with that group, one of Beth’s photos was selected for the poster image. He also provided the cover photo for the Oak Bluffs Annual Report, which won an award last year.

Beth enjoys the entire process — including the digital editing. “I love being creative and playing around with techniques,” he says. “I continually like to push my own envelope.”

You might not think that all of this traveling leaves the Vineyard transplant much time for anything else, but both Beth and his wife have taken on a lot of volunteer work. He serves as co-chair for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, and, by his own rough estimates, he has served as treasurer for about 14 different nonprofits. “I love being on the Vineyard and I love being involved,” he says.

A former marathoner, the 80-year-old also keeps in shape with regular workouts at the YMCA.

While he intends to continually expand his horizons, both figuratively and literally, Beth has also found inspiration much closer to home. “Not too long ago I went on a photo shoot around the Cape with four other professional photographers,” he recalls. “I was impressed with all of the beautiful scenery right around our own backyard. There’s so much to be seen just around here. You don’t have to travel very far to do some incredible scenic photography.”