As a teenager, I would often pass a short, purposeful old man walking down the hill each morning for his newspaper towards the small fishing village of Menemsha. Little did I know the first time I saw him, that his simple appearance and uncomplicated goal masked an accomplished lifetime of photography, for he was Alfred Eisenstadt (1898-1995), the German-born American photographer whose work as a staff photographer for Life Magazine graced 90 covers.
“The photographs I take on Martha’s Vineyard are taken because I feel something special. Nowhere in the world is there a place more beautiful than this.”
As much as I appreciated Martha’s Vineyard, Eisenstadt’s words, which were periodically quoted in the Martha’s Vineyard Times, helped me to realise the place was special, not just as an island off the coast of Cape Cod, but as a place to observe nature, the effects of the wind on shifting sands, the way light bathed the Gay Head cliffs, seagulls hovering over returning fishing boats, the rhythm of white clapboard houses on Edgartown’s streets.
Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag, who still maintain an active presence up island, the English started their first colony in 1642 at Great Harbor, now Edgartown. Just after the civil war, a wooded area adjacent to modern day Oak Bluffs developed as Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association, the country’s first religious summer camp in the United States, its Methodist community enjoying open air activities amidst charming wooden gingerbread cottages.
While its year-round population is a quiet and unassuming 20,000, its international profile results from the summer influx of notable visitors which throughout its history have included writers, journalists, actresses, and political figures, from Ulysses S. Grant, to Jackie Onassis, to Edward Kennedy and John F Kennedy Jr., to Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Barack Obama, who has visited the island almost every summer since being in the White House.
What’s the attraction? Perhaps in a place of such awestruck beauty, the famous are just like everyone else, content to bathe in its light, walk its nature paths, dig its clams, finish the New York Times crossword puzzle on the breezy deck, paddle the kayak on a still morning across Squibnocket Pond.
Mike Wallace, the longtime 60 Minutes correspondent and Vineyard resident, perhaps said it best:
“Even as I talk I can see it and smell it and feel it. It’s a special, insular, quiet, healing, glorious place. And year after year after year, you not only see your kids and grandchildren grow, but you see everybody else’s kids, the same people, grow. There’s a strange continuity to life on the Vineyard.”
About Aaron C. Greenman
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for over 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in the Far East, India, East Africa, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the United States. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available. Custom prints of his work are available for purchase on request.