Paul Doherty is a masterful “painter” of light with his camera, capturing glorious sunrises, transcendent sunsets, and the calm right after storms — making for a body of work with breadth and great beauty.
“There’s something so special about the light on the Island,” Doherty says. “It’s different from the mainland. There’s something about living here that creates an opportunity to see this incredible light. I think it has something to do with the water and the reflections off of that, and also the open vistas. I love going out every day, and every day is different. There’s always something to shoot.”
Color dominates his newest show, “Vineyard Light and Reflections” downstairs at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Some photographs seem otherworldly. In “After the Storm ‘B’,” the purplish band of Venus, which can appear at sunset, makes the two brightly colored sailboats “pop” as though illuminated from within. Their barely rippling reflections on the still water float quietly to the edge of the picture frame, extending into our viewing space, thereby transporting us into the scene.
Doherty captures the magical luminosity of sunsets in other works, including when the winter light reflects off the silent, Edward Hopper-esque building in “Sunset Reflection, Middle Pier” that imbues the home with a grand presence against the blue-purple-pink sky, which turns the handsome structure into a striking silhouette. For “Middle Pier,” Doherty puts us at the foot of the narrow pier from which he shot the photograph. He emphasizes the deeply receding wooden structure, thereby walking our vision down the wooden planks into the wide, open expansive sky of sweeping clouds brimming with the fabulous colors of the setting sun.
Doherty captures early daylight in “Yellow Dory,” which he took in Owen Park. Of this turned-over craft, resembling a beached aquatic mammal, he says, “It was one of those mornings that was really, really cold. There were icicles on everything. There’s something about the color of the morning light hitting that yellow and the blue in the background that I just love.”
There are only a few compositions with human inhabitants. Doherty’s figures tend to be anonymous, allowing the emphasis to lay on the forms they create. In “The Rower,” the man’s red-and-black winter outfit, as well as his upside-down reflection, punctuates the pastel-colored water that he rhythmically makes his way through. Doherty captures the exact moment his head is turned away from us, directing our gaze to the thin, vertical mooring stakes behind him. You see Doherty’s talent at capturing just the right moment again in “Chatting at Sunset,” where the women, leaning to and fro, are caught in an animated conversation on top of a mound at Philbin Beach. The great expanse of the cool-colored sky and the brilliant yellow of the setting sun make the figures dance with an energy all their own. Of this one, Doherty says, “It’s the body language of this one. I love taking silhouettes of people at sunset and never seeing their faces. One is bent over, another looking up and the middle one crouched. I was below to take their picture.”
Doherty goes out virtually daily to different locations around the Island at either the beginning or end of the daylight hours, although he always has his camera with him in case something grabs his attention. The pond at his own house also provides opportunities for reflection shots as in the early-summer “Three Waterlilies,” which gracefully march across the work, letting us linger on the beauty of nature’s formations. You see a similar rhythm in “Reflected Twigs,” which he took at the pond at the entrance to Moshup Beach.
Doherty, who has an acute eye for detail, also enjoys coming in close to transform his real-life objects into abstract shapes as in “Buoy & Rope.” The light aqua, curlicued rope echoes the solid, bright-red and purple-blue bulbous buoy, and their inverted reflections in the monotone water recast it as an elegant geometric composition.
In “Fall Reflection,” Doherty gets up extremely close to the pond’s edge and crops the picture in a way that makes it the most painterly abstract photograph in the show. Our eyes continually skim back and forth over the splendid, shimmering autumnal colors. Doherty says, “I wish I could paint; I can’t. I love to take these reflection shots that look like abstract art. I’m trying to paint with my camera.”
Interestingly, instead of focusing on the mechanics of his camera, Doherty says, “I rely on my eye to take a shot” and what an eye he has.
Paul Doherty’s “Vineyard Light and Reflections,” through Oct. 15 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse.