Scratch the surface of picture-postcard Martha’s Vineyard, and you’ll discover a very different sort of Island, one where locals get real, and tourists let their hair down in packed bars, outdoor music events, and while just hanging out around the Island enjoying unguarded moments. That’s the Vineyard that photographer and musician Jeremy Driesen has captured in his new book, “Vineyard Noir: Scenes from an Island.”
“The tendency among photographers here is to do these amazing beauty shots, which I love,” says Driesen. “But after shooting at bars and events for years, I evolved this other view of the Island. You can spend a year here, and never be aware of this side of Vineyard life.”
Driesen is far more than an inveterate barfly. Since purchasing a home on the Island in 2002, he’s become a fixture in the local music scene — playing drums for a variety of local bands at venues all over the Island, including the Ritz, which he calls “my favorite bar on the planet. Period.” And his photography is appearing often in the pages of The Times.
Before he relocated and began focusing seriously on photography, Driesen forged two very successful careers. After serving as a journeyman drummer, backing up a long list of musicians including Chuck Berry, Billy Idol, Bo Diddley, Ronnie Spector, the Mamas and the Papas, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and many more, Driesen switched careers to serve as owner and CEO of Ray Bloch Productions, a firm which produces corporate events.
COVID sped up Driesen’s plans to move full-time with his wife Jen from New York City to Martha’s Vineyard. Although they had previously spent as much as a 14-month stretch on the Island, the couple hadn’t planned to resettle permanently quite so soon. Yet with his event business on hold, and his involvement with Vineyard projects expanding, Driesen decided that now was the time to put down roots here, and make the couple’s Oak Bluffs home a base of operations. Driesen has shown his photography variously at the Peter Simon Gallery, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, and most recently the Vineyard Arts Gallery, which closed its brick-and-mortar base of operations in October.
Last year, Driesen decided to compile some of his favorite shots representing years of staking out favorite Vineyard haunts with a camera always on hand. “I didn’t set out to do a book,” he says. “But when I got to the end of last summer, I realized that I had a lot of images that I really liked.”
The aptly named “Vineyard Noir” is divided into six sections. The first, of course, is devoted to the Ritz. “I know a lot of people for whom the Ritz is the epicenter of the Island,” says the photographer. “There’s this weird dichotomy between what most people think of when they picture the Vineyard and this other facet of life here.”
Other sections include those capturing scenes from Edgartown’s weekly Dock Dance, which Driesen describes in the book as “a raucous, hysterical, all-ages event where the kids bring it big.” He also covered the large-scale 2019 Beach Road Weekend, which featured name acts and local musicians in a blowout three-day event, and the Taste of the Vineyard, which according to Driesen in the book, “starts out as a genteel fundraiser and eventually devolves into a blam-o dance party.”
Throughout, the focus is on people enjoying pure, uninhibited fun. Musicians and partygoers populate the pages of the attractive coffee table book — performing, dancing, drinking, serving drinks, sometimes mugging for the camera (although generally caught in candid moments), and just generally celebrating life to its fullest.
All of the photos, except the Beach Road images, are in black and white. They demonstrate the skills of a professional photographer, along with the insight and unique viewpoint of someone who’s spent a lifetime playing music. Driesen uses a variety of techniques to capture these vivid moments of humanity. He tends to use fixed (as opposed to zoom) lenses to facilitate photographing in dimly lit spaces, and often shoots with a fast shutter speed to capture the movement of dancers and revelers. In certain cases, Driesen has used a wide-angle lens for effect, such as in a very intimate Taste of the Vineyard shot featuring two attractive young women, their elongated arms reaching toward the camera in a toast, providing a sort of 3D, you-are-there experience.
Some photos, including the cover shot, were taken from behind the drum kit during a performance by one of the many bands Driesen plays with. “I’ll actually have the camera on the floor next to me,” he explains. “I’ll have everything preset on the camera. At the end of a song I’ll look around, especially in front of the stage, to see if there’s anything going on that would be photoworthy. I typically have just a few seconds during the intro to the next song, or while the singer is talking to the crowd.”
One such moment of spontaneity captures Siren Mayhew and Sean McMahon’s baby Isla clutching her father’s guitar with a look of determination. While Isla may be the youngest subject in the book, the revelers include a range of ages, showing that music unites us all — independent of age, gender, socioeconomic background, or any other restriction.
Even those who have never experienced Vineyard nightlife, or any Vineyard life for that matter, can appreciate these unique photos capturing its subjects at their most carefree, youthful, exuberant best. However, the book’s real appeal will be to those who have spent time on the Island, and who will no doubt recognize some familiar faces in the pages of “Vineyard Noir,” or if not, they can certainly relate to the sense of freedom, inclusiveness, and individuality that the Island represents.
In the intro to the book, Driesen writes, “I seem to do my best work well after sunset. I love human engagement, I love movement, I love weird. From some mash-up of those elements come the photos that follow on these pages.”
“Vineyard Noir” can be purchased through Amazon and other outlets or, if you prefer, you can contact Driesen directly to pick up a book on-Island and avoid shipping costs, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The photographer’s work — and the book — will be available at the Featherstone annual Holiday Gift Show, which runs through Dec 16.