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Welcome to Behind the Image, a monthly feature in which I will share how and why I photographed particular images.
STORM OVER GAY HEAD, 2012
Gay Head is a small town located at the western-most point of Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Also known more recently as Aquinnah - the name ascribed to the area by the original inhabitants, the Wampanoag Native Americans - the official full-time population here in 2010 was a mere 311 people, with a full one-third of those residents belonging to the Wampanoag tribe.
The prime draw for visitors to Gay Head is its rocky, pristine beaches, and the spectacular clay cliffs. It can be a bit of a haul to get out to Aquinnah – about 45 minutes by car from Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven, and up to 2 hours by bicycle – but the trip is worth it for anyone who is looking to get away from humanity and commune with nature. It’s hard not to switch over one’s mindset to pure awe when you first set eyes on the open fields that lead down to the beach and the dramatic clay cliffs that are topped with a scraggly hair of dune grass. After ditching the car in a lot near the Gay Head Lighthouse and ambling along a dirt path flanked by blueberries and the low, green bushes filled with rosa rugosa flowers, you finally get down on to the sand, and your eyes get to feast on the sight of these multi-hued cliffs in burnt orange, yellow, and snow white. The fact that part of the beach at Gay Head is still dedicated to nudists and those who seek out clothing-optional locales makes perfect sense when you make your way along the timeless coastline. There are no snack bars, beer vendors, or big groups of people blasting music – just the beach in its original, natural state, and a smattering of mellow people who prefer to do their swimming and sunbathing without the cacophony of modern life intruding.
For people who are inspired by nature, Gay Head can keep us busy for hours. The small, round, sun-baked rocks that line the shore are often gathered up and made into sculptures and pathways. The cliffs themselves offer so many different colors, and they change tones depending on the light and time of day. I was lucky enough to be on the beach one day when a storm blew in, and my husband and I decided to tough it out and let it pass over us. Though there were moments when we thought we had made the mistake of situating ourselves in the middle of a swift miniature tornado, the storm moved quickly, and brought in some of the most dramatic, expressive clouds that I have ever witnessed. The photograph featured here – Storm Over Gay Head – was shot at the moment when the storm clouds drifted over the cliffs and on to where we sat on the beach. It looked like heavy pockets of blue sand about to cascade down on us, but with the wind and rain pushing it along, it rolled right over us without much more than a brief sprinkle.
The rest of the shots in the “Dreaming of Summer” gallery were taken before or after the storm, in the late afternoon.