If anyone has a close, personal connection with up-Island areas of Martha’s Vineyard, it would be Albert O. Fischer. A 12th-generation Islander, he was raised in Chilmark and has lived his entire life on the Island, aside from the time he spent serving in the Army during the Vietnam War. Fischer has turned that intimacy with the fields, farms, and seashores of the up-Island towns to good advantage, creating an impressive body of work in the form of photos of his childhood surroundings. A selection of Fischer’s photos will be on display at the West Tisbury library throughout March.
“I’m capturing what I remember it being like growing up,” says the photographer. “Life was just so different. I’ve always been very close to nature, and I like to just get out there.”
Fischer grew up on the Keith Farm in Chilmark, often working alongside his father. “When I look at the beautiful view of Middle Road, I see memories of my whole childhood,” Fischer says. “I helped my father work in the fields and build stone walls. It was a wonderful life growing up on that farm. I have great memories.”
The selection hanging at the library includes both black-and-white and color images. Unlike the majority of typical Island photos, there’s a very real and personal quality to much of Fischer’s work. One very vivid photo of a stone wall and gate at Fulling Mill was shot at the time of year when the summer’s lush greens are in colorful competition with the russets and golds of fall. The viewer is drawn into the scene, with a wooded path shown bending further into the woods, providing an invitation to enter the scene and explore this fairytale-like world.
Another black-and-white image of a group of sheep looking directly at the camera has a similar quality of immediacy. The title of this photo, “The Gang,” appropriately attributes humanlike personality and animation to this ragtag cluster of sheep.
Fischer proves himself adept at nature photography, as can be seen in a striking color shot of a snowy owl standing out in stark relief against the intentionally blurred background of a barn. The beautiful, moody black-and-white photo “One Looks at One” features a desolate field at dusk with a lone deer silhouetted against the far-off horizon. She has clearly noticed the photographer and has turned her head toward this intruder in the otherwise still, quiet scene.
“I think a lot of my photos capture things that are very peaceful to me,” says Fischer when asked what he looks for in a subject. Fischer spent a year in the infantry in Vietnam, and was wounded three times. After the war, he came home and worked on commercial fishing boats for four years.
“It was extremely hard for me to readjust back into civilian life,” says Fischer. “I wanted to come home and jump right back into my life again, but it wasn’t the same anymore. I couldn’t wait to again experience that feeling of riding a wave. When I did, it felt good, but the spontaneous feeling of screaming ‘Yahoo!’ just wasn’t there anymore.”
Fischer found that photography helped to calm him and reconnect with his home. He had purchased a camera in Japan on his way back from Vietnam, and started shooting familiar territory. “When you look through the lens, you’re just focused on the subject at hand,” he says. “It’s sort of a form of meditation.
“When you’re in a war and you come back, you have a real appreciation of the finer things in life.”
Fischer had developed an interest in photography early on. As a young boy growing up on the Island, he spent some time with famed photographer and seasonal Island resident Alfred Eisenstaedt. “There was a structure out on the Sound called the Texas Tower,” recalls Fischer. “Once a year the sun would set exactly behind it and he [Eisenstaedt] would shoot it. I was showing interest, so he lowered the camera to my height and told me to focus on it. He was very encouraging. When I got back from Vietnam, he saw me again; he took pictures of me and my wife.”
After 36 years spent managing an estate in Aquinnah, Fischer recently retired from that position. Although he still works part-time caretaking other properties, he hopes to make use of his extra time to focus a bit more on his photography. Previously the photographer showed his work at the Chilmark Bank and Featherstone. Last month he was the featured artist at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s lobby art space.
However, Fischer has never been that interested in selling his photos. “It’s something that people always told me I should do,” he says. “I didn’t really want to get into that, but after doing my first show I was glad to get the feedback and listen to what people had to say. I’m hoping that I inspire other people who are going through especially hard times in their lives. I found photography to be an outlet, a form of meditation in a way.”