The Field Gallery in West Tisbury opened for the season Sunday with an absorbing show of new work by artists in Alison Shaw and Sue Dawson’s advanced photography mentorship program.
Closely observed still-lifes, dazzling beach sunrises and explorations of texture in both natural and man-made landscapes are among the images created by the 10 photographers in the show as they studied with Ms. Shaw and Ms. Dawson over the past several months.
“We encourage people to not do the obvious take, but to dig deeper,” Ms. Dawson said, as she, Ms. Shaw and nine of the show’s artists mingled in the sunshine outside the gallery Sunday morning.
The result is a group exhibition of remarkable variety. Lovers of beach scenes will find plenty to admire in the work of Dave Lear of Harwich, Rob Skinnon of Cheshire, Conn. and Emory Petrack of Somerville and Provincetown, each of whom brings his individual perspective to the ever-changing spectacle of sea, shore and sky.
Mr. Lear specializes in sunrises. “It’s an easy time to schedule,” joked the Harwich resident, who said he began his practice by shooting the first sunrise of each year and expanded from there.
Mr. Petrack also shoots the liminal, color-streaked moments between day and night, while Mr. Skinnon — who also acts as a teaching aide for the mentorship, assisting his peers in building websites and designing workflows — looks beyond the show-stopping basics of Island beaches to include the subtle dynamics of changing weather.
“My whole purpose … is to pay homage to how beautiful it is here,” said Mr. Skinnon, a frequent Vineyard visitor with Island ties. “For me, a lot of the time I am here is so therapeutic.”
While much of the past year’s mentorship has been conducted online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, participants traveled from across the country to be at the gallery on opening day. Sarah Bowman of Los Angeles had been photographing women before the pandemic. The lockdown forced her to rethink the way she works, she said.
“With Covid, all I could do was walk out my back door,” Ms. Bowman said. “Before times, you’d try to walk as fast as you could and get exercise … I didn’t have to commute, so I just wandered.”
Leaving her camera at home, Ms. Bowman explored neighborhood streets and courtyards with her iPhone, bringing back a series of urban portraits that verge on abstraction. Hanging in an Instagram-like grid on the gallery wall, Ms. Bowman’s 20 square aluminum prints need a closer look to reveal themselves, one by one, as an empty bicycle rack, a fire-escape ladder or zig-zag shadows on a flight of concrete steps.
Group show is varied in its subject matter, from beach scenes to still-lifes to more abstract work.
— Mark Alan Lovewell
She calls the grouping Morning Juxtapositions, and the gallery is selling a poster of all 20 with the title and an epigram from Lao Tsu: ”If you don’t change direction, you might end up where you’re heading.”
“That’s sort of the Covid learning,” Ms. Bowman said.
Chilmarker Hilary Noyes-Keene’s textural close-ups of plastered, patched and painted walls and seasonal Tisbury/Larchmont, N.Y. resident Patti Roberts’ trees and swimmers also enter the realm of the abstract without losing their connection to the physical world.
Inspired by the poet Mary Oliver’s admonition “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” Andrea Dawson of northern Ohio, aimed her lens at winter trees and twigs, dried grasses and leaves and beads of water on the undersides of leaves, inviting the viewer to examine the beauty in things that are usually overlooked.
Elizabeth Rylander of Arlington, Va. also explored the natural world around her home, capturing in detail the delicate beauty of wildflowers, songbirds and leaves.
Carol Lehman, a seasonal West Tisbury resident from Larkspur, Calif., wrote in her artist’s statement that she seeks harmony amid life’s chaos by creating “quiet pictures — uncomplicated in shape and form, and sparing with light.”
Ms. Lehman’s pigment prints of fruit and vegetables are also compelling and vibrant, glowing in their dark settings with the intensity of Old Master portraits.
Beth Horstman, of Maryland’s eastern shore, also chose a dark background for her photographs of colorful fishing lures. The project began when she rediscovered one of her grandfather’s old lures, Ms. Horstman said, and grew as she ransacked the family tackle box.
Ms. Shaw and Ms. Dawson, who own and run the Alison Shaw Gallery on Dukes County avenue, have for years offered practical photography mentorships on the Island and through online learning. The advanced mentorships build on the basic program to lead emerging fine art photographers toward their own careers.
“It’s a full-on professional mentorship,” said Ms. Dawson, an experienced designer and editorial director who team-teaches the program with Ms. Shaw, her wife. “I bring in a whole other perspective,” Ms. Dawson said.
While Ms. Shaw shares the skills that have made her the Island’s best-known photographer, Ms. Dawson coaches the emerging artists on how to manage their careers and develop work that stands out.
“Our core philosophy is to help people identify their unique creative voices,” she said. “It’s a critical process for a fine art photographer.”
The group show is on display through May 27 at the Field Gallery, which is open daily.