Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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A Sense of Light Amid Darkness

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

He knew the light wouldn’t last. Vineyard Haven harbor and the eastern horizon were glowing with the deep rose colors of approaching dawn, while night still clung to the land. There was no time to lose.

Still in pajamas, Paul Doherty didn’t stop for slippers as he dashed out of his house, camera in hand, to catch the fleeting, luminous moment between darkness and day.

“I got some turkey poop, too — squish, between the toes,” Mr. Doherty said, chuckling.

Titled Owen Park at Dawn, his photograph from that barefoot mission is among nearly 20 of Mr. Doherty’s works on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven through Nov. 29.

Its counterpart is Chatting at Sunset, in which another changing sky silhouettes a trio of friends on a hill — a rare human appearance in Mr. Doherty’s work, but somehow not surprising in this show.

These recent photographs at the playhouse, taken together, represent both a unifying of earlier themes he’s explored — beach stones, reflections in water and boat-hull scratches — and a widening in the artist’s view of the Island, where he originally came to die.

“I really thought the end was coming and I wanted to be near water,” said Mr. Doherty, who had been a working actor for more than 30 years when he was given a terminal diagnosis about a decade ago.

Instead of dying, Mr. Doherty found himself recovering — and began building a new career behind the camera instead of on-screen. Though illness had made it hard for him to endure the light of day — “I love it, but it’s also my enemy,” Mr. Doherty said — he began walking Island beaches and aiming his camera at what lay beneath his feet: ocean-tumbled stones, their many colors and textures cast together on the shore.

Sea stones became Mr. Doherty’s first muse and helped establish him as an Island photographer.

As he sharpened his eye for the Vineyard’s many subtleties, Mr. Doherty began finding the abstract in other everyday things. Reflections on water and the accumulated scratches on boat hulls both have fueled intriguing series of images.

“I try to paint with my camera,” Mr. Doherty said, confessing a thwarted wish to paint in earnest. Hand tremors after medical treatments have ruled that out, he said.

In some of his recent photographs, Mr. Doherty has taken a step back from the intimacy of close detail to show more of the Island, including several dramatic skies. His love of texture is evident in images of grassy dunes and an old boathouse, while reflecting water remains a key element in his closely-observed shots of boats and buoys, water lilies and a pond gleaming with autumn colors.

These pictures don’t all come as unexpectedly as the Owen Park sunrise. Mr. Doherty takes his camera out daily, usually at the golden hour around sunset, looking for images that catch his eye.

“My goal is to try to go out every evening,” he said.

“I need to do something artistic,” Mr. Doherty added. “Obviously, I’ve got this thing in me.”

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