Recovering My Nautical Roots

In our home town we say, “I have Long Beach sand in my shoes”—in other words, you can move many miles away from your nautical beginnings (as I did), but figuratively speaking that sand will remain in your shoes, and the salt water in your blood.

Those of you who know my work know that I photograph frequently in Rhode Island, where the lure of historic buildings and quaint towns joins the Ocean State’s beautiful, windy coast to ensure that photographic subjects are never lacking. But for a serious recovery of my nautical roots I recently chose Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, because a friend once gave me a collection of card-sized prints of paintings by Edward Hopper for my birthday, and I treasure these as inspirations for what can result when Art and The Nautical meet.

Rockport was my base, where I stayed at the wonderful Eagle House Motel – within easy walking distance to just about everything in this delightfully charming village.

Over the next few blog posts I’ll be presenting some of my photos of Rockport and Gloucester and telling you something about these history-drenched places. I’ll be including Portsmouth, New Hampshire because the proximity of the Granite State’s only coastal city made it irresistible. But let’s start, appropriately, with Rockport and with Motif No. 1.

In the late 17th century two things drew people to Rockport—fishing and timber. In the 18th century came the quarries—more about that in a future post. Like much of New England—again one thinks of Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island, with its beaches in Newport and what is now Middletown—Cape Ann, including Rockport, attracted many artists beginning in the 19th century. One of the favorite subjects of the artists who flocked to Rockport was a fishing shack located on Bradley’s Wharf in the Bearskin Neck section of the village. The fishing shack was built in the 1840s, and its red color, position on the wharf, and the way the light strikes it at certain times of day made it a “must” for the painters, and later, as well, for photographers. It was likely the artist Lester Hornby who first called it “Motif No. 1,” referring to its probable identity as “the most painted building in America.

So beloved is Motif No. 1 that when it was destroyed by the Blizzard of 1978, it was promptly—very promptly rebuilt. Rockport even celebrates an annual “Motif No. 1 Day,” which this year happened, coincidentally, to be yesterday, May 17.

I arrived in Rockport knowing only that I wanted to photograph nautical subjects. Boats, beaches, reflections in water, maybe a lighthouse or two. I knew nothing of Motif No. 1. But when I ventured onto Bradley’s Wharf  and saw this red nautically themed building during my initial exploration of Rockport, I knew I had to photograph it. Here are a few of my “finished” products.

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The light was perfect and the reflections and sky worked. If you want to see a version partially processed in B&W, check this out.

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My friends in the New England Photography Guild were discussing whether it’s possible to find a new way to photograph something that’s been done 12 million times. I don’t know, but here is my attempt:

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Thank you for looking! More on other parts of beautiful Rockport later.

The Power of Visuals

Anton on the Diamond Notch trail. Photo by Reiko

Anton on the Diamond Notch trail. Photo by Reiko

The reaction of my friend and author Fr. William Graham to this story encouraged me to share it in a blog post. It began yesterday morning when my son, Anton, phoned me and casually mentioned that there had been an accident involving the commuter bus he sometimes rides from Kingston, NY to New York City but not to worry, he was OK. Well, OK. It wasn’t easy to hear him – it sounded as if there was all this wind blowing around him – surely he could have made the call from inside his office building.

Only gradually did the enormity of the situation reveal itself. The accident had happened at Ramsey in Northern New Jersey, and the bus had left Kingston at 6 am; Anton and nearly fifty other people were still standing outside on Route 17 waiting either for medical/emergency services or a relief bus to take them the rest of the way to the city, choose whichever is appropriate. A tire from a car traveling north on 17 had loosened and gone sailing into the bus’s windscreen, hit the driver, then bounced farther back to hit more people.

Happens I work in Mahwah, just north of Ramsey, three days a week, and was in the office today. Most of the colleagues had heard about the accident or even passed it en route to work yesterday. When I mentioned that my son had been on the bus, one colleague fetched today’s Bergen Record from her car and showed me the photo on front page and the article with more photos elsewhere in the paper. “It’s a good think you didn’t see this before,” she said.  That’s for sure. There was an enormous gaping hole in the windscreen just about level with where the driver’s head would have been.  Had he not quickly ducked when he saw the tire coming, he’d have literally lost his head and fifty people on that bus could have been killed. Despite being injured, he had the presence of mind to maneuver the bus across two or three lanes of traffic and pull over on the side of the road. As it was, the person behind the driver got the worst of it; the medevac took him to the Trauma Center in Paterson, where he was in critical condition. Anton was sitting four rows away from him.

Rosendale Farm Market

Rosendale Farm Market

It was when I saw the photo of the passenger strapped on a stretcher and being moved into an emergency vehicle that I freaked out. Anton had said that someone four rows away from him had been hurt and was in very critical condition, and of course I felt bad, thinking about how some poor family member was going to get a phone call…. But what is it about a visual that really throws a situation in your face? Or is it just me, being a photographer and all? There’s something about a visual that particularizes a situation. It’s no longer a general “fifty passengers,” it’s this particular person very seriously injured. A man from Rosendale, the next stop after Kingston on this bus route. Beautiful Rosendale with its rolling hills and farmers market — I have a magnet about the Rosendale farmers market on my refrigerator, from the day a couple of years ago when I stopped, bought a few things, and (of course) took some photos.

Same thing when 9/11 happened. Again, I first heard about it from Anton. He was in the office his firm then occupied in a penthouse on Lower Broadway and he saw both planes go into the towers. For the rest of the day, everyone watched in horror as the events unfolded. But what really brought it home to me was seeing photos of people jumping out of the office windows and you could see the details of the men’s ties flying upward while their bodies were hurtling inexorably downward. And I thought about how they had put those ties on earlier that morning, never thinking that it would be the last time they’d ever have to choose a tie to go to work.

There’s just something about certain visuals that particularizes a general situation and affects you more deeply than all the lists or statistics in the world.

Have you ever had that experience?

Here’s a link to the article about the bus accident. Needless to say, my son managed to take a photo of the scene with his cellphone that incorporated the green “Lake St. Ramsey” road sign, thereby establishing a sense of place.  As I opened this post, so I close it with thanks to my author Fr. Graham, for his prayers.