“They’re cheerful,” says Elizabeth Dolan Durkee of her latest series of photos — close-up shots of architectural details from Oak Bluffs Campground cottages, enhanced with heightened colors. “We need something cheerful these days.”
The dynamic photos, now on display at the Oak Bluffs library, spotlight various nooks and crannies of the famed gingerbread cottages in super-saturated colors. These macro views of carved curlicues and cornices, curvilinear arches and steeply angled roofs on balconies and porches represent all of the delicious details that are hallmarks of the distinctive Carpenter Gothic style to be found in the Campground, and elsewhere around Oak Bluffs.
The macro views feature saturated colors achieved through editing. Instead of the iconic homes’ characteristic pastels, Durkee has bumped up the colors to a rainbow of vibrant hues, from a deep, dark eggplant against a mossy green to an improbable combination of vibrant shades — lime green, tomato red, colonial blue, and a purplish brown — surrounding a door arch.
This kaleidoscopic perspective helps bring the cottages’ unique features to life and adds a bright note to the intricate shapes and patterns. “There are so many details,” says Durkee of her chosen subject. “They’re just so fascinating and cheerful.”
“I like the idea that for those unfamiliar with Oak Bluffs, the images appear to be abstract,” writes Durkee in her artist’s statement. “While for the rest of us, they are a colorful reminder of the town’s quirky charm.”
It was a need for an uplifting break from the isolation, tedium, and uncertainty of the pandemic that inspired the series. “During the pandemic. I found myself upset and stressed out,” says Durkee, who notes that she had concerns about her mother, who was in an independent living facility, her sisters — both medical professionals — and herself, an asthma sufferer. “I was frightened and restless,” she says.
“I started taking close-up shots on my iPhone. It’s just fun to just get these close-ups of architecture. They’re bright and cheerful, and editing them was soothing to me. It was my therapy. The wandering, picture-taking, and editing helped occupy my time and ease my anxiety.”
Durkee lives in the Highlands area of Oak Bluffs, just a stone’s throw away from the Campground, an area she has explored over and over again since moving to the Vineyard in 1991. “I love the history of the place,” she says. “The Campground is where Oak Bluffs began. I find it just beautiful that it was founded on a spiritual basis.” She takes a morning walk most days, inspired by the place.
“I generally walk the Oak Bluffs shoreline at dawn,” Durkee writes. “But in those [pandemic] days I found myself outdoors again in the afternoon, wandering around the old neighborhood. Eventually I was drawn to the decorative details on the historic homes and Campground cottages.”
Durkee, whose history with Oak Bluffs dates back to her grandparent’s days on the Island, has written book reviews and two series on climate change on the Island for the Vineyard Gazette. “I’m proud to live in and work for the beautiful, happy, quirky town of Oak Bluffs,” she writes.
A few years back Durkee bought herself a camera. At the time she was working for the town of Oak Bluffs as conservation agent (a position she held for 26 years before moving on recently to a job working on climate change planning for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission). “I just started waking up and taking early morning walks,” she recalls. “The walks were more about exercise and meditation. It’s so peaceful and quiet in the morning.” Eventually Durkee decided to bring her phone along, and have the walks serve double duty. She had found that the camera she purchased was not really a good portable option, and that the iPhone camera was perfect for close-up shots.
After posting a few images on social media, the amateur photographer was encouraged by the response, and started framing some of her photos. She was scheduled for an exhibit at the Oak Bluffs library in 2020, but those plans were pushed back due to the pandemic.
The delay may have proven to be a fortuitous one, since her new series — a response to those early challenging times — provides a refreshing new perspective on the town, and a very much needed bright outlook on life.
“Now that we are coming out of our pandemic shells,” Durkee writes, “I hope these photographs bring you some cheer.”