Kim McCarthy’s photos reveal the beauty of Island nature


Kim McCarthy took a whole year to stop and smell the roses. Her subject matter: landscapes across the Island. “Doing the photography made me see bits of nature I never would have seen before. I wanted to photograph the Island because I find through photography, it makes me notice things,” she explains.

And that’s what McCarthy’s crystalline 11- by 14-inch images do for us as well — slow our pace down as we walk around the room at the West Tisbury library from one captivating view to another. Most of them are sweeping landscapes, but a few are times when McCarthy just looked down, such as the intimate photo, “West Tisbury, Morning Frost 2-19-18.” She says, “This is a really good example of taking a chance to just observe what is under your feet. I took my beagle for an early morning sunrise walk in the yard in West Tisbury, and there were these leaves with frost.” But moments like these can be fleeting, and in five minutes the sun rose, the frost melted, and they were just a pile of leaves on the ground.

Just as McCarthy took time to look closely, we should too when viewing her exhibition. In the broader landscapes, we begin to notice increasing nuances the more we let our eyes linger. In “Aquinnah Sunset 5.17.17,” for instance, the photograph unrolls before us. The photo was shot from way down low; the small rocks at our feet recede back through a “shorescape” to boulders, and finally all the way back to the Aquinnah Cliffs on the right. The scene is both majestic and magical. McCarthy says that she took the picture just after sunset, which gives us both the reflected light on the water and the pitch-black silhouettes of the boulders along the horizon.

McCarthy is particularly taken with the light on the Vineyard. This is readily apparent in her moody work “Old Mill Pond 4.16.17.” Her almost monochrome palette and near mirror image of the trees in the water create a tangible stillness. We stand at the foot of this poetic scene waiting for something to disturb the silence. When she posted the piece, McCarthy wrote, “The two beautiful white swans were there gliding on this placid pond just minutes before I took this picture. I waited and waited, but they did not reappear.”

The long shadows crossing the lush thick grass and meandering receding canal in “Menemsha 6.27.17” capture the light toward but not quite at the end of the day. McCarthy says, “One of the things you notice if you get yourself out into nature on a regular basis is how the light changes constantly here.” For her, a place looks one way at a specific time and can look totally different at another.

McCarthy excels at pulling us into her scenes. Just as the canal draws our eye back in “Menemsha 6.27.17,” so too does the pathway starting right at our feet straight back through the low dunes to the dark aqua water and huge expanse of blue sky with a hovering layer of white and almost steel-gray, blue-tinged clouds that fill the entire upper half of “State Beach 4.8.17.”

McCarthy places us on the walking path toward Philbin Beach looking out over the fence in “Gay Head Cliffs 9.10.17.” And we seem to follow in the retreating footprints of the long-gone, lone beach walker in “South Beach Morning 2.10.18.” These, like many of her other photographs, are not of pristine wilderness, but rather deliberately include subtle indications of man’s intersection with nature. “I really wanted to look at nature and see how we’re impacting it in a very gentle way,” she says. “Just to look at what’s in front of me and how man appreciates nature. It wasn’t to prove anything but just to see.

“The way I work is on a personal level. I’m not a person who would lead a charge. But I can take a look for myself and see, What are we doing on the Island as people?” 

Her series is about “whatever I can do as a person to help people understand nature better. Once we understand nature better and not see it as this term, but as a living entity, and that we’re part of it, then we would treat it like family.”

This idea of looking at how we look at what’s around us touches on her many years of experience related to photojournalism, first in school, and in her time at NBC News, where she spent the majority of her career, and became a news writer and film producer. She says, “It was a very visual type of job.”

McCarthy first started looking out of a viewfinder when she was a teenager, and after leaving NBC, started a portrait photography business here and in California, where she and her husband were living as well. They started vacationing on the Vineyard about 25 years ago. McCarthy undertook the landscape project during the one and a half years they lived here full-time from October 2016 to June 2018. Although they recently moved back to California for the majority of the year, the Island continues to call her on a regular basis, and they visit a number of times each year.

“I found having this project made me do it, and in doing it, I fell more in love with the Island.” About the exhibition she says, “There is a piece of me up there. It’s what I did for a year. But it also gives insight into the Island, and what all of us can notice about nature and the world around us if we just stop for a moment and look around.”

McCarthy’s photography will be on display in the West Tisbury library’s community room throughout the month of September. One hundred percent of any sales go to the library. You can see the entire project at her photography blog,