Bob Avakian

Cape Cod Art  /  ART Annual 2020 /

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it”

Terry Pratchett
“Up and Over the Hill” • Photography

While some fear the dark, others take inspiration and comfort from the quiet, inky nights. Martha’s Vineyard based photographer Bob Avakian is one such person. A general contractor, Avakian never considered photography as something to explore, “Getting close to 60, wondering about the future, right around the time the economy tanked in 2008, we went from a lot of work to no work,” he explains. “At that time, we had plenty of time on our hands and I decided to take an architectural photography class at Maine Media workshops. I was so inspired by that workshop; I had always liked photography but I had never pursued it. I call myself a drive-by photographer, you know, taking photos of kids, grandkids.” Avakian then had to leave the Vineyard to take care of his aunt and uncle, and took the time away to explore photography a little more. After finding the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, he signed up for a class offered. “I signed up for the class, a total rookie, and I walk in and they’re talking about bodies of work and resumes, and I’m like ‘I have my resume as a contractor.’ I was so green, but in the course of traveling, I would get the first boat off the Vineyard and the last one back, which gave me time to spend trying to photograph. I think the first real shot I got was at night, getting off the ferry, and I called it ‘Moonlight Cruise,’ and I think that inspired me to start looking into night photography,” he says of his leap into photography. “None of this was planned by any means, people ask how I started and there’s no way I could’ve planned this. It just happened.”

“Guard Shack” • Photography

For Avakian, it’s about more than just getting the shot. “For me, I enjoy being out at night. I have a day job and when I would leave at night in the winter, it would be so dark. I remember one time, having an office on Main Street, Edgartown, I left, got in the car and started to pull out, and I hit the breaks and realized there’s not another car parked on this street. So, I got out of the car, walked in front of it and took out my iPhone and snapped a picture that I call ‘Snowy Night on Main,’” he says. The island at night offers a vastly different perspective than it does during the day, especially busy summer days. “Everyone wants you to write about your work, but I just call it the Exploration of a Solitude at Night, offset from the busy summer tourist island and finding those moments at night when you have the whole place to yourself. It’s really special. My last body of work, ‘Menemsha Nights,’ was just that. During the day, you can’t even find a parking spot at Menemsha, and they created off-sight parking for sunset viewing. But, I went there at night and I felt like I walked into my own personal playground, there was no one there.”

“Harbor View” • Photography

But it’s not just the dark that inspires Avakian, it’s the island itself. “I grew up in Rhode Island, left for architectural school in Boston and spent one year in NYC. I took a trip to the Vineyard for a summer and wound up getting married that summer. I came out with my girlfriend and we loved it so much we decided to stay and get married and that was kind of it. I had planned to go to Arizona State, but we just didn’t leave. We’ve been here ever since 1973,” he says. “It’s just a beautiful place, and honestly I love the winters, the off season. I think you get comfortable on the Vineyard, you don’t need the hustle and bustle, it just grows on you. There’s nowhere else I’d rather go. I always think if I would go somewhere else, but I just can’t think of a better place to live.”

Shooting at night offers its own challenges, but for those willing to venture out and take a chance, the results can be breathtaking. Avakian explains, “You never know where the light is coming from, you can have residual sunlight, moonlight, artificial lights. It’s different all the time; it’s a mystery each time. I just love going out at night. I have a little fascination with the darkness.” And now, thanks to Avakian, everyone can experience the unmatched beauty of the Vineyard on a dark, quiet night, far removed from the sunburnt summer days. – Elizabeth Shaw

Avakian is represented by the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. See more at bobavakianphotography.com

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.