Archive for August, 2017

Better late than never

by Sue Dawson

SO MANY people have been coming into the gallery and mentioning how glad they are to see Alison on Instagram, that I thought I’d ask her a few questions about joining into the social media craze. Just to give you a little background, Alison has a Twitter account, tweets very occasionally, and never follows anyone else. To be honest, she doesn’t get the allure of Twitter – perhaps because she’s not a movie star, politician, musician, or under 35. She had a personal Facebook page, but again, didn’t really use it. People kept friending her, she kept saying yes, and when she got to thousands of “friends,” she realized it felt too weird to post personal things to people she didn’t even really know. Not her thing to snap a photo of the pretty swirl in her morning latte, or pass along the latest political rant (actually, that’s more me). We switched her over to a business page (which we both monitor) and that works much better. 

Bottom line, Alison isn’t much of a social media type. But Instagram kept coming up. Everyone was encouraging her to jump in – friends, family, colleagues, students, gallery customers. She did sign up for an account, but never posted anything on it. People even started following her, with zero posts. Nada. So in April, I updated my “Marketing and Social Media” training for our Mentorship students, and found examples of prominent photographers’ pages on various social media outlets. I wanted the group to look at what’s out there, and I talked about each platform. And amongst the professional photographers’ pages, in all its glory, I surprised them all with Alison’s proud Instagram page…

instagram alison
We all laughed. Then this past June, Alison jumped into action. Seems like a great place to start our interview…

SUE: What did you think when I showed that empty page?
ALISON: Haha (sighs and leans back a bit). I think I said “Here’s a great example of ‘Do as we say, not as we do.’ ” 

Did it light a fire under you at all?
It really wasn’t until we were promoting our first show of my new SHORELINE series, that I thought, ‘what could be so hard about Instagram… If they can all do it, I can do it.”

Did you just start posting, or did you have a plan?
My plan was to do regular posts on that one subject, the SHORELINE series. I started at the end of June, a week before the show opened, putting out one new image each day. I actually amazed myself that I could keep up the pace and be consistent about it. It was easy, and fun.

And what’s been the response so far?
I’m now over 500 followers, growing each day, and I love seeing “likes” on my posts. And what’s so fun in terms of being a teacher, is that I’m keeping up with what my students are doing. The people I’m following are primarily either photographers whose work I admire, other photography professionals, and our students. I’m really using it professionally, not personally. I don’t even follow my own kids (sorry, guys). 

Do you think this will get you to shoot more?
I think it’s going to be motivating for me. With SHORELINE, I tried to do all new images. But I’m not taking a worthy new image every day – certainly not in the busy season. So I’m now dipping into my archives, and most of those are a new look at my lesser-known images. In the long run I think it will motivate me to get out with my camera, because eventually the archives will run dry. Over the course of the next month, I’m looking to dig back into my b&w Vineyard Gazette archives, to promote a show at Featherstone this September. One of our Advanced Mentorship students has just started on Instagram, and is promoting her future show by posting an image every day. She’s already sold two prints, just from promoting the show ahead of time.

Why is Instagram resonating more than the other social media?
It’s purely image-driven, and is super easy to use. I don’t need to be sitting at my computer – I can do it all from my iPhone. It’s clean, simple, and even I can understand it. No operator errors. I don’t have to be asking you every day to dig me out of a social media mess 😉

I’ve noticed that you’re regularly cropping horizontal images to square. Why is that?
I think the horizontal display makes the image too small, and the square is more interesting, classier, more concise. I find that 90% of my images survive the square crop. With verticals, I’m leaving them as a vertical, to keep the larger display. 

Interestingly, you’ve posted one personal image.
Not really. I’ve been posting in anticipation of events, and one of them was the Ag Fair. So I was able to sneak in a picture of Sarah (our daughter) and her blue-ribbon-winning pie, from well over ten years ago. I was being a proud mom when I took that photo, but it nudges over the line to a professional shot in this case. 


Are you gonna post through the winter? 
I hope so. That’s my plan. I hope we have an interesting winter, so I’ve got something to photograph. 

Any parting wisdom about jumping into Instagram?
Just do it.

SUE again: And thank you to everyone who pushed her to do just that! Here’s the link if you want to follow Alison’s Instagram.

SHORELINE: Around the Island of Martha’s Vineyard



by Alison Shaw (and if you must know, Sue Dawson)

HAVING MARTHA’S VINEYARD as my primary subject matter for more than 40 years certainly comes with many rewards, but also with its share of challenges. In the years that I’ve spent photographing these 100 square miles, I’ve constantly had to push myself to see the island anew. And sometimes I struggle to maintain my inspiration, creativity, momentum, and stamina, to keep shooting the same place for so long. If I lived in “America” I could simply go to the next town in search of new subject matter. Actually, I do go off-island to re-energize and shoot in other locations, and it does help. But I still have my one heart- and soul-touching muse – my island home.

So when I need to re-group, I remember one of my favorite quotes, from Marcel Proust: “The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” It’s not about finding a new environment, as fun and adventurous as that can be. It’s about finding something within myself.  


Sometimes this means exploring a particular facet of the island more deeply. The search keeps me engaged and motivated. I love pursuing a project, which forces parameters, gives me structure, and organizes my thoughts. Recent projects have included photographing inside the wooden boat building shop at Gannon and Benjamin, in the studios of island artists, or documenting the island’s lighthouses.

In retrospect, seeing the island in new ways is not limited to the subjects I choose to shoot, but how I choose to shoot it. Over the years, my style has evolved dramatically. Going from black & white to color around 1990 was like trading in a box of charcoals for a set of oil paints – it felt like having an entirely new island to photograph. Fifteen years ago, I developed a new technique, where I move my camera as I shoot, creating more painterly images. In my most recent stylistic evolution, I moved from a super-saturated color palette to soft pastels and neutrals. 

My most recent project has been photographing the shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard. This may seem like an obvious subject to choose, since I’m naturally drawn to the shore, and rarely photograph the inland vistas of the Island. But as much as I’m drawn to the Vineyard’s coastline, I get into the rut of returning to the same spots, looking for variations in weather rather than location. In 2014, I was obsessed with the new Fishing Pier in Oak Bluffs, and every time there was thick fog, stormy seas, or blizzard conditions, that’s where I’d go. In 2015, I was obsessed with the stone jetty between Inkwell and Pay Beach. I’d look out my window, see the condition was flat calm, and head for that one spot.


Returning to these same locations over and over, as much as I enjoyed it both personally and artistically, clearly had its limitations. And then it occurred to me: The last time I’d photographed at Makonikey, on the North Shore of the island, was in my “high-impact-color-sunrise-sunset” phase in the early 90’s, using my clunky Pentax medium-format film camera. The same was true of Big Pier on West Chop, which I’d last shot for the Vineyard Gazette in the late 80’s, with my 35mm Nikon and black & white Tri-X film. Ditto Lambert’s Cove, Stonewall Beach, Katama Bay, Tashmoo Beach, and so on. Not to mention the many locations on the Vineyard shoreline that I’d never even laid eyes on before.

At first this idea just sat and percolated – I hate to admit it, but I let it stew for at least a year. There was definitely a good amount of inertia at work here… the urge to turn my alarm clock off, to spend far too much time planted in front of my computer, and to sit at home with a cat on my lap. The “just do it” mantra I had always tried to instill in my kids simply wasn’t working for me. Ok, we did move – that was a big deal, after being in the same house for 29 years. I spent lots of time picking paint colors with Sue (she calls us “color nerds”), going to the thrift shop every day looking for just the right end tables, and coming up with a garden plan.


Eventually, once we got settled in the new place, my inspiration kicked in – and when it did, I became a woman on a mission. The fire was lit. I decided to photograph the entire shoreline of the Vineyard – one rocky shore, one beach, one sunrise, and one sunset at a time. 

My first steps were all about planning. I picked up a couple of excellent Island maps at the Land Bank office in Edgartown, and began figuring out access via conservation areas. Then I went on google maps in satellite view, and began examining the perimeter of the island, step-by-step, picking out large rocks and lone docks. I studied the tide charts – some scenes would be better shot at high tide, while others would be better at low (not to mention the fact that high tide could often present a challenge for navigating my way around rocky points on the North Shore). Sunrise and sunset times, in addition to the phases of the moon, all figured into the equation. 


As to weather conditions, once upon a time I might have been looking for what I considered to be “perfect” conditions for photography. But these days, I’m much more willing to go with the flow, a philosophy I developed during the course of teaching countless week-long workshops on the island. I used to agonize over picking the most promising mornings to meet up early. But these days I schedule a sunrise shoot for every morning of a workshop, and let my students know that unless it’s pouring rain, I will be there at the assigned location, in the pitch dark, waiting for them. The weather is fickle in New England, and that’s a good thing. I’ve grown to love never quite knowing when it’s going to be a good morning for photography. Another of my favorite quotes is from Woody Allen and is tacked to the wall over my desk: “90 percent of success is showing up.” 


Over the past six months of shooting for this project, I’ve often arrived home long after dark, with my sneakers full of sand and my tripod in need of a hose-down. When I set my alarm early, I actually go out and shoot – or even better, I rely on my internal alarm clock, which has served me well when I’m truly engaged in the prospect of my early morning photo expeditions. I’ve discovered both rocks and docks that I never knew existed. And I’ve been out there for magical moments of light and weather I would have otherwise missed. 

We are introducing over 30 new images from Shoreline: Around the Island of Martha’s Vineyard (©2017 Alison Shaw) at Alison Shaw Gallery this summer, with a whole new group I just hung on the walls for our Arts District Stroll tomorrow, 4-7pm. Inspired by my working map, Sue created a snazzy one in Photoshop, so you can see where each photo was taken (there’s a big version at the gallery).


It’s become increasingly clear to me that there is so much more to this subject than I originally anticipated. There’s plenty of walking, kayaking and shooting still to come, so be sure to look for more images in the years ahead.