The July exhibition at the West Tisbury library, “New Works: The Photography of Reggie Forster, Dena Porter, and Rob Skinnon,” is an homage to beauty, that of the Island and elsewhere. It grew out of Dena Porter originally being invited to do it as a solo show, but as she says, “With COVID, the last few years have been so isolating. If I was going to do an exhibit, then I felt it should build community and bring people together.” All three photographers in the exhibit share a common thread in that they studied with renowned photographer Alison Shaw, who lives here on the Vineyard.
Porter’s work captures the magic of light on glass to create images both beautiful and mysterious, as deeper looking reveals increasing complexity. Porter began shooting the windows of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in 2019, and particularly the ones that contain the original 1895 glass, which is irregular and, thus, creates all sorts of wonderful, distorted reflections. By simply changing the angle at which she shoots, Porter produces completely different compositions. In black-and-white “MV Museum I,” and color “MV Museum II,” you can get caught up in the Art Deco–like “curls” created by the wood trimwork that hangs in front overhead. While Porter “sees” a woman’s portrait in the reflections of “MV Museum II,” we can actually see her self-portrait in the window of “MV Museum VI.” Porter says, “That’s what’s fun about the reflection work. There’s an endless set of surprises that reveal themselves.”
In “MV Museum VII,” we see a billowing double reflection of an American flag. Longer looking reveals that Porter shot into one pane of the window of the museum’s Community Gallery, through which we see a photomosaic by Island artist Calder Martin. She says, “This is a politically sensitive photo for me. So many people have begun to reinterpret the meaning of the flag and what it represents. I have great respect, with all the flaws for what it stands for.”
In Porter’s New York pieces, such as “Bergdorf Goodman II,” we see the uber-chic mannequin in the window of the high-end department store “dressed” in reflections that come from the buildings on Fifth Avenue and the trees of Central Park across the way.
There is a bit of magic in every one of Rob Skinnon’s photographs, which center on the Vineyard, where he has come for many summers. Each is a split-second moment of sheer beauty of light, color, and quietude. They have a stillness to them even though you know, for instance, the Steamship Authority ferry is making noise as it parts the waters while sailing into Vineyard Haven Harbor, or the soft lapping of the waves in his beach shots of Lucy Vincent or Aquinnah.
“In general, I look at my work as a result of exploring places and roads less traveled,” Skinnon says. “I like getting in my car and not knowing where I’m going and having my camera with me. My photography is an homage to wherever I go.” The gorgeous, almost ethereal quality of Skinnon’s work honors each location, supporting his feeling that “I appreciate what I capture.”
Skinnon’s photographs engulf us in their peace and tranquility, even such a seemingly active one as “Jaws Bridge” — a brilliant, long horizontal scene in which we see bathers of every age, shape, and size, frozen in different stages of jumping off into the unseen water below. With their backs to us, we focus on people’s forms and the relationships among them. We can discern the mini “stories” that march across, like the keys on a xylophone. In the next instant, we might hear the splashes or shrieks of fright and laughter, but for now, all is quiet as the summer sun radiates light on the iconic scene.
Until recently, Reggie Forster has lived in a city, and his work here primarily reflects the urban landscape. Forster says, “I love the spontaneity of street photography, and the way shadows can momentarily transform streets and people.” The light in “Chinatown Sun” bursts through the clouds, putting the long avenue lunging toward us in dramatic luminescence and shade. Forster uses the same play of dark and light in “Manhattan Signatures, NYC” in which the predominant dark graffiti sets off the huge, brilliant white words scrawled over the dedication plaque on the bottom of Manhattan Bridge.
Even in Forster’s populated scenes, color predominates. Shot from the level of the bicycle wheel, the clothes of the two men walking past the station in “Brooklyn Subway, NYC,” pick up the pigments in the splendid cityscape mosaic behind them. In the two moody night scenes from Japan, isolated figures play a minor role while the street lamps illuminate the reds, blues, greens, and a host of other hues in the deserted streets. Color prevails even in Forster’s sunny summer photograph of the back of an anonymous woman as she captures on canvas a Menemsha shack in “Minor Alterations, MV, MA.” His title makes us search for the changes, which we can discern when our eye is drawn to the brilliant green foliage that she moved from the window to cover up the unsightly metal power meter.
While different, all three artists share a love for beauty, and their works encourage us to slow down to see how single moments can net so much more than we might take in at first glance.
“New Works: The Photography of Reggie Forster, Dena Porter, and Rob Skinnon,” is at the West Tisbury library from July 1 through 30. Opening reception Saturday, July 16, 3 to 4:30 pm.