Documenting the crisis

Photographer Dan Waters chronicles the before and after of the coronavirus on the Island.


You may know Dan Waters by sight — for the last two years, he’s been everywhere on the Island, photographing a “time capsule” of our times for the MV Museum archives with his medium format Mamiya film camera.

Waters’ project, funded in part by a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council, became all that more vital with the onset of the coronavirus crisis in Massachusetts. “It was kind of perfect, in a bizarre way,” he said, “because we had this baseline of what normal looked like, and now we’ve got this situation where I can go back and photograph the same places I was photographing when life was good and normal, and show how they’ve changed.”

For Waters, the crisis has been an opportunity to show not only change, but the physical embodiment of the renowned Island spirit. “This crisis is a litmus test,” said Waters. “It makes the invisible, visible. We talk about the Island spirit and our sense of community, but that’s invisible until a moment like this comes along.”

An example he cites is Joe Capobianco, who runs the food giveaway Food Baskets M.V. out of Good Shepherd Parish. Waters’ photographed him in action during a food giveaway two weeks prior, where lines are multitudes longer thanks to the economic instability brought by the coronavirus.

“People like Joe rise to the occasion and become visible, where normally they’re just unassuming people in the fabric of the Island community,” he said. “My project gives them the chance to shine, to be seen.”

Waters plans to give his negatives to the M.V. Museum, to either keep in storage for historians to access in the future, or possibly for an exhibit once the crisis is over.

“Right now, I’ve got about 20 binders of negatives,” he said. “My thought before was that they would go into cold storage until some researcher wanted to know what our time was like.”

For now, though, Waters’ plan is to keep shooting whenever the opportunity presents itself. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to be living through a crisis such as this, but the act of documenting it is keeping me alive and sane.”