Although the West Tisbury library was forced by the pandemic to close its doors to the public in March, the staff has continued to find ways to keep the community engaged and connected. One such initiative is the library’s new virtual gallery, an online space dedicated to exhibiting the work of Vineyarders on a rotating monthly basis.
The current show, which will be the spotlight exhibit through the end of the year, features the work of more than 30 Island photographers. This is the third time that the library has hosted the “Through a Lens” exhibit, although in previous years the work hung onsite.
“It’s a community-building exhibit,” says programming director Olivia Gately. “The idea is to give photographers of all ages and levels an opportunity to show their work.”
The participants include accomplished photographers like L.A. Brown, Paul Doherty, and Max Skjöldebrand, as well as many whose names may not be quite so familiar. The range of subjects is equally extensive — from Vineyard landscapes to Glenn Ickler’s close-up flower photos, to David Murphy’s boat studies, to Clair Ganz’s wave photos, to Melissa Knowles’s studies of a young boy, titled “Nature’s Child.”
A few examples that illustrate the wide swath of perspectives represented by the photographers’ individual views are Thomas Rothe’s dramatic architectural study “Evening in Budapest”; Joanne Rau’s abstract-influenced shot “Paint Can,” with fall leaves scattered over the photo’s subject; Larry Glick’s witty “Family Portrait: Cows at Keith Farm,” which shows off the personality of some of the Island’s bovine residents; Brenda Watson’s stunning close-up of flowers titled “Lilies of the Valley,” with a spring-perfect blue sky in the background; and John Piekos’ “Bluefish in the Waves” — an almost impossible shot of a fish caught mid-leap in the surf. Pierce Kirby’s “Untitled” captures the solitude of a Vineyard road in winter, while Rachel Schwartz displays the current Island Zeitgeist with her wonderful photo of a snow-covered hammock titled “Waiting for Summer.”
Some of the participants have submitted a handful of photos to the exhibit. Others, like Dena Porter, selected just one image to represent their work. She contributed a wonderful shot of reflections seen on an antique window at the M.V. Museum, with the warps and bubbles in the glass distorting the view.
Porter was instrumental in launching the library’s virtual gallery back in August, when she recruited a number of other photographers to display their photos of the Agricultural Fair on the website. Porter was one of the fair’s official photographers. “I didn’t want to see our collective photography work just die on the vine,” she says. “I wanted to do something that was going to lift spirits.” The online exhibit was accompanied by an onsite show of larger-than-life images of the fair, displayed on the grounds of the Field Gallery during what would have been fair week.
Porter has shown her work — much of which is centered around reflections in glass and water — in New York; Asheville, N.C.; and at various venues around the Vineyard. Her photo of reflections in apartment windows as viewed from NYC’s High Line is part of the M.V. Hospital collection. Another of her images — this one taken in Chilmark — was displayed in Grand Central Station last year as part of a Fujifilm contest.
This year Porter wasn’t going to let the pandemic slow her down. “I decided that this year I was going to make the effort to keep myself occupied constructively,” she says. “I’ve never been busier. Photography has become more than just my work. It’s my therapy this year.”
Thanks to the efforts of the library and other local institutions to provide virtual exhibits, the artists are not the only ones to benefit from their creative output.
On the exhibit website, curator Lauraya White writes, “‘Through A Lens III’ gives us all the opportunity to experience a different perspective for a moment, and with it the gift of distraction it offers. In times of major conflict and upheaval, it seems all the more important that we lean on the steady pillars of creative arts, just as they did in the Renaissance, and the Age of Enlightenment, emerging from the bleakness of the Middle Ages.”
As with all of the West Tisbury library’s virtual gallery shows, the exhibit will be available for viewing indefinitely, along with previous shows. Visit wtlibraryvirtualgallery.org to check out all of the work, and find contact info for the photographers. (Many of the images are for sale through the artists.)