Friday, January 21, 2011

Sometimes You Show Up Just in Time

Menemsha School, 2005

Those of us who like to take pictures know that light and timing can make or break a picture. I’ve written before about pictures I was too lazy to take and then couldn’t take because the lighting had changed or because there were changes in the scenery itself.

Well, here’s one I managed to get right.

For many years I’ve been driving past the old Menemsha School on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. It may not be a genuine one-room schoolhouse. But there’s no way it could have more than a few rooms altogether. It’s a small shingle-style building just down from—for those who you who like places with colorful names—Beetlebung Corner. There’s a little café a little ways up the hill from Menemsha School. Woods surround the other three sides. If you could stand on the roof—and you know someone has to have done that over the years—I suspect you could look southward over the trees to the Atlantic Ocean.

I’d wanted to photograph the school for years. There’s something about its simplicity that always spoke to me. But like a lot of things I’d wanted to do, I never managed to get around to it.

One sunny September day in 2005 I finally did it. I took the picture shown above. The sky was a brilliant blue. I decided, though, that the blue was distracting and converted the photo to black-and-white. I think it shows better this way.

I wish I could have captured the sounds of that moment. You could hear a teacher inside talking about reading. Children at recess played in the dusty yard next to the school. I can still hear the squeak of the old swing set.

The wisdom of my timing became clear the next time I visited the Vineyard a year later. During my absence, a brand new elementary school had been completed across the street and the former Menemsha School had been turned into the headquarters of the Menemsha Police Department. The police haven’t changed the shape of the building. But it now sprouts so many antennas and signs that the effect I was looking for in this picture could never be achieved again (or at least without substantial PhotoShop chicanery.


  1. Wonderful timing and a great shot. This reminds me that there is an old school house in Elk Creek I've been meaning to get back to. maybe once the spring thaw arrives. I'm not gonna fool around on Mt. Rogers with snow and ice on the roads.

    Incidentally, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve selected you for a Stylish Blogger Award. As soon as I discovered that someone had named me for one you were one of the first bloggers I thought of. I always leave here thinking after reading one of your posts.

    Details and an award button, should you choose to add one, can be found on my blog
    or on Ed Boring's Shots That Snap

  2. I love that photo! Black and white makes it very dramatic.