Art in the Stacks: ‘Martha’s Vineyard Jazz in Black & White’ by Michael Johnson


The Friends of the Vineyard Haven Library are pleased to present “Martha’s Vineyard Jazz in Black & White,” an exhibit of photographs by Michael Johnson. According to a press release, the exhibit will be on display on the lower level of the library during regular library hours throughout the month of August. 

“Martha’s Vineyard Jazz in Black & White” is an ongoing photographic project created by Martha’s Vineyard artist Michael Johnson. Since beginning this project in 2011, Johnson has created images of many luminaries of the jazz world when they performed on Martha’s Vineyard. According to the artist, “Martha’s Vineyard is a locale with a rich history of local and visiting musical talent. I am drawing on that ready fount of talent while attempting to channel the artistry and feel of the old school black-and-white jazz imagery of the 1940s through the ’60s.”

Michael Johnson was born in Harlem, New York City, and heard his calling to the fine arts at an early age. As a youth he spent many hours in the public libraries and museums studying the works of the great masters of art, motivated by his love of their work. Among his favorites were the painters of the Renaissance, while he also spent abundant amounts of time studying the Flemish masters and Art Nouveau. But his odyssey as a visual artist didn’t begin until his late twenties, when he decided on a whim to enroll in a community college video production class. It was while attending this class that his earlier studies came to the fore, and he realized that he had some natural talent for composition and camera work. He prevailed on his father to lend him $350 to buy his first camera. Shortly afterward, he moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where he taught himself the art of photography. He has traveled in and photographed many American states, the Caribbean, Europe, Cuba, and Thailand. Johnson has been a full-time artist since 2001.

He now lives five months of the year on Martha’s Vineyard, and runs his own gallery in Vineyard Haven. He endeavors to keep the traditional techniques of handcrafted black-and-white photography alive with his work. He says of his creative process, “All of my work is informed by my deep belief in God. I try to tell the truth with my images, but it must be told from the viewpoint of dignity and beauty. Whether it is nature, architecture, or people, God creates the forms and the moments, and I draw on my talent and spirit to capture them. My job is infinitely simple, but infinitely rewarding.”

The Vineyard Haven Public Library’s “Art in the Stacks” space features rotating monthly exhibits, and is managed by the Friends of the Library. The library also has a permanent collection of artworks that are displayed throughout the year, including 12 paintings by Vineyard artist Captain John Ivory. Artists interested in showing their work may contact the library at 508-696-4210.