As a photojournalist Allen Green spent a lifetime traveling around the world, documenting moments in history. His work has appeared in numerous prestigious journals including Time-Life, the New York Times and a number of international news publications. Among the many stories that he covered in his five-decade-long career were the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, and the Watergate scandal. “Much of the time, I was in situations of considerable stress and conflict, both in the U.S. and internationally,” says Green.
Although he continues to follow the news with a retired journalist’s dedication, at 78, Green has turned his photographic focus in an entirely different direction. Examples of his recent nature photography can be seen through Jan. 9 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s lobby Art Space.
Green’s solo exhibit “The Natural World … A Closer Look,” marks the photographer’s first public showing of his fine art photography. The dozen or so images display a far quieter and more intimate approach to his craft than the photos that he has become so well known for (including some images from the Watergate investigation and trial that have recently resurfaced in numerous media outlets due to the current impeachment process).
The Playhouse exhibit includes a series of beautiful, artfully blurred images of single and groups of fish swimming. Green notes that his mission was not to just represent various fish species but to capture their motion and their nature. “I think of them not so much as pictures of fish, but the essence of fish,” he says. He managed the unique perspective by spending a great deal of time after hours at the Norwalk and Mystic Aquariums, where he set up a black backdrop behind himself to block out reflections and used a slow shutter speed to capture motion. Green followed his subjects around for hours, matching his and his camera’s movements to those of the fish.
Another series of close-up shots of oyster shells was created with the opposite effect in mind. Green notes that he has always loved oysters and found himself fascinated with the roughness and irregularities of the shells. For the oyster series, Green obsessed over the staging of his subjects. “The lighting alone took two days,” he says. “These were done on film. I had to wait until the film came back from the lab to make adjustments.” The resulting black-and-white images have a highly stylized quality, punctuated by a stark white background. Similarly, a handful of color images of simple organic items like ferns and milkweed pods benefit from this approach to intense scrutiny. “I love looking at closeups in nature,” says the photographer.
Green doesn’t necessarily see his latest venture into nature photography as all that different from his career as a photojournalist. “When it comes to the nature images, it’s not very different from anything else I’ve done,” says Green. “When I see something that fascinates me it makes me want to get inside and start exploring.”
Since relocating to the Vineyard with his wife Christie almost 30 years ago, Green has found new outlets for his compulsion to explore with the lens of a camera. He has worked on assignments for the Vineyard Gazette – covering, among other things, the building of the ferry the Island Home in Mississippi and Barack Obama enjoying some down time on the golf course during his presidency .
The foray into nature photography represents yet another chapter in Green’s lifelong passion for observation and documentation that began when he was a young boy eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest issue of Life magazine.
“The curiosity that motivated me (and still does) as a journalist is the essential part of the images I’m showing here,” writes the photographer in his artist statement. “It’s nice not to be on deadline and to have the time to explore some of the smallest (and quietest) subjects, many of them here on-Island.”
Although his life may have slowed down considerably from his days chasing stories all over the globe, Green believes that there is wonder to be found wherever you may be. “In any environment in which you find yourself there are innumerable things of interest,” he says. “What it all comes down to is curiosity. I think curiosity is what drives journalists in every situation, whether it’s human suffering or oddball characters. What I do always comes from a place of curiosity, whether it’s curiosity about how a tribe of Bedouins live in North Africa or things that I find on the beach. I’m just perpetually curious.”