Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anatomy of the Picture

Campground Tabernacle, 2010

I’ve been visiting the “cottage city” at Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts for many years. It’s a vestige of the Chautauqua movement of the late 1800s, wherein city dwellers of the Industrial Age went out into the fresh air of the countryside for a couple of weeks each summer, pitched tents and held revivals. Over time the summer tents were replaced with hard-sided sheds that over time morphed into permanent seasonal and year-round homes. (More about the cottage city tomorrow.)

At the center of the campground is a large shed-style amphitheater that seats 1,000 people and is known as the Tabernacle. Church services are held there regularly throughout the summer. Lectures and light musical entertainment take the stage in the afternoons and evenings.

Tabernacle 1, 2007

Over the years I’ve wanted to take a meaningful photograph that said something about the history and roots of the Tabernacle. But it seems like all I ever took were informational pictures, just this side of mindless documentation. On our recent trip to the Vineyard I decided to try to do a little better.

Tabernacle 3, 2017

The Tabernacle’s a challenging place to photograph in the daytime. It’s open on the sides and the contrast between the sunny exterior and the shaded interior makes for tricking exposure. On this trip I also only had about 45 minutes to make whatever photographs I was going to make there.

I walked around the Tabernacle for a while to try to get my mind attuned to the history and pace of this place. When you step into the Tabernacle it’s possible to feel that you’ve stepped back into history. There are modern conveniences, such as electricity and indoor plumbing. But one’s first impression is that this is a place that hasn’t changed much in more than a hundred years.

From time to time I would sit down and try to figure out what the right visual metaphor would be for this place. It’s easy to want to capture the grandeur of such a large space. But that’s not usually my style, and I finally realized it was the seating itself that would be my story. People attending activities at the Tabernacle sit on either simple hard wooden benches or in plain wooden chairs.

The seats alone weren’t enough, of course. But when you combined a casually dissembled row of chairs with the light cast from one of the overhead leaded glass windows, you had something.


  1. Oooooh--wonderful photos here! Sheer magic!

  2. That is a nice shot, Chris. It actually conveys a sense of what it is to experience the space.

  3. Hi Chris - the Tabernacle is one of my favorite places. I never get tired of visiting it or photographing it. I've taken a few pictures like your first one of the chairs with rainbow shadows dancing across them. Peaceful and beautiful.

  4. Beautiful pictures- looks quite a place..!