Though Alison Shaw grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, she spent summers with family on Martha’s Vineyard — and after she graduated from college, the island became her permanent home. Following years spent working for the Vineyard Gazette, she launched Alison Shaw Photography in 2000. Since then, she has amassed an impressive slate of commercial and editorial clients and seen more than 8,000 of her original fine art prints placed in public and private collections. Her work has appeared in more than a dozen books, including Photographing Martha’s Vineyard, which she also wrote.
What’s your connection to New England?
My heart has always been squarely in New England. My first trip to Martha’s Vineyard was as an infant; my grandparents had retired to Edgartown in the late 1940s, when the island was a completely unknown bit of sand in the sea somewhere off of Cape Cod. After summering each year on the Vineyard growing up, I headed to the island after college graduation for “just one summer” with a handful of my Smith College classmates. Nearly 45 years later, I still call the island home, and it continues to provide me with my primary inspiration and subject matter. My other “special places” in New England include Cape Cod, which is my second most favorite place in the world to photograph; the coast of Maine, where I have family and have taught workshops at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport for over 20 years; and Western Massachusetts, where I spent four wonderful years studying studio art and art history at Smith College.
What equipment do you use?
I started my photographic life with a used Leica F3, but today I shoot with a Nikon D850 DSLR camera. I’ve been shooting all digital for a little over 10 years now. For quality’s sake I try to keep up with the latest cameras, but when it comes to lenses, some of my favorites are 30 years old. My lens selection ranges from 14mm to 105mm, and they’re all primes — there are no zooms in my camera bag. I use a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod that’s so old they don’t even make parts for it anymore, and most of the legs are frozen in place. I carry a small selection of filters, mainly neutral density filters that I use to slow down my shutter speed when photographing moving water.
What inspires you?
The coastlines of Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape have increasingly become my singular source of both subject matter and inspiration. I love being alone on the beach, at any time of day, in any season, and in any weather — my subject matter boils down to the sea, the shore, and the sky, with an occasional jetty, boat, or dock. This is when I’m in my zone. In my most recent “Shoreline” series, I have set out on a mission to explore every inch of the coastline here on the Vineyard. This came in part from the desire to seek out new subject matter in a place that is relatively small and that I already know intimately. It also was intended as a sort of a “kick in the seat of the pants” to get me out of my comfort zone as opposed to returning over and over again to my preferred locations.
To see more of Alison Shaw’s work, go to alisonshaw.com.
Dreamy Scenes from Martha’s Vineyard | Photographer Alison Shaw