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.

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