Topic: Block Island

Block Island, RI: Photo Essay

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"Sunset." turns the snow a warm rose in the evening radiance.

"Sunset." turns the snow a warm rose in the evening radiance.

"Winter Wonderland." This photograph, taken on a 0-degree morning shortly before the sun cleared the horizon, captures an ice-coated landscape. Malcolm says his hands were so cold he could hardly operate the camera, but this was the shot he had to get.

"Winter Wonderland." This photograph, taken on a 0-degree morning shortly before the sun cleared the horizon, captures an ice-coated landscape. Malcolm says his hands were so cold he could hardly operate the camera, but this was the shot he had to get.

"Fountain Square." This picture is special because Malcolm was able to catch the stillness of the town center before the road crew laid down sand or the morning sun and traffic melted the snow.

"Fountain Square." This picture is special because Malcolm was able to catch the stillness of the town center before the road crew laid down sand or the morning sun and traffic melted the snow.

"Cooneymus Aglow." The light seems to emanate from the bluffs here on the southwest side of the island.

"Cooneymus Aglow." The light seems to emanate from the bluffs here on the southwest side of the island.

"Homeward Bound." On this day, Malcolm kept a close eye on the changing sky over the wharf. By afternoon, a couple of hours and 100 pictures later, he saw the shadows within the clouds deepen. He knew then that the wait had been worth it: He had captured a dramatic moment over Block Island.

"Homeward Bound." On this day, Malcolm kept a close eye on the changing sky over the wharf. By afternoon, a couple of hours and 100 pictures later, he saw the shadows within the clouds deepen. He knew then that the wait had been worth it: He had captured a dramatic moment over Block Island.

"Delivering the Goods: The Anna C." The ferry is the islanders' "lifeline to the mainland," says Malcolm. In the winter, storms often disrupt ferry service, reinforcing the island's remoteness.

"Delivering the Goods: The Anna C." The ferry is the islanders' "lifeline to the mainland," says Malcolm. In the winter, storms often disrupt ferry service, reinforcing the island's remoteness.

"Rainbow and Wave, Old Harbor." In his first photograph from this spot, Malcolm caught a wave hitting the jetty, but as he stood there with his eye to the viewfinder, the backwash collided with an incoming wave, producing an explosion of water. Instinctively, he hit the shutter-release button. "This is the sort of scene you don't anticipate," he notes. "It happened only once."

"Rainbow and Wave, Old Harbor." In his first photograph from this spot, Malcolm caught a wave hitting the jetty, but as he stood there with his eye to the viewfinder, the backwash collided with an incoming wave, producing an explosion of water. Instinctively, he hit the shutter-release button. "This is the sort of scene you don't anticipate," he notes. "It happened only once."

"Dusk at North Light." Malcolm Greenaway says that the 10-minute walk from the end of Corn Neck Road out to this restored light feels more like 30 trudging through the sand. He has taken numerous pictures here, but this time everything came together just as he'd always imagined: beautiful clouds hovering over the lighthouse, framing it, with the golden light of late afternoon glancing off the dunes.

"Dusk at North Light." Malcolm Greenaway says that the 10-minute walk from the end of Corn Neck Road out to this restored light feels more like 30 trudging through the sand. He has taken numerous pictures here, but this time everything came together just as he'd always imagined: beautiful clouds hovering over the lighthouse, framing it, with the golden light of late afternoon glancing off the dunes.

All photos/art by Malcolm Greenaway

Malcolm Greenaway’s photographs of Block Island capture rare scenes that only a few people will ever witness in person. He shoots with the eye of a photographer and the soul of a philosopher, in places and under conditions that even islanders miss. I know Block Island well, though not quite as intimately as Malcolm, who has lived and worked here for three decades. My family’s full-time years on the island overlapped with 15 of his. During that time, there was never a wedding for which my mother didn’t buy one of his prints as a gift. As it turns out, both Malcolm and I visited the island for the first time in the summer of 1970. He and his wife, Nancy, were honeymooning, and I was starting my first job, waitressing in one of the seaside Victorian hotels. Like a wily fisherman, Block Island reeled us in: dramatic bluffs, pristine beaches, hundreds of freshwater ponds, sweet peas and wild roses hugging acres of stone walls, and ocean as far as the eye could see.

In the face of such beauty, it may seem simple to create stunning photographs — but Malcolm’s experience informs us otherwise. “It isn’t easy,” he explains. “There’s nothing easy about it. I have to be in a place with the right light, weather, and cloud formations.” He keeps a list and returns to the exact spot time and time again, trying to catch a landscape that he calls “a changing tapestry that can go from ordinary to dramatic in an instant.”

In 1974 the Greenaways moved to the island “for a year” so that he could finish his dissertation for a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell. Nancy started teaching at the local school, whose students, kindergarten through 12th grade, numbered around 100. The couple never returned to the mainland to live. Malcolm has spent more than 30 years walking nearly every inch of the 11 square miles of this pork-chop-shaped landmass off the coast of Rhode Island.

Today, he says, his photographs portray the island as it touches him: “In 90 percent of the pictures I take, I’m the only one there capturing a sight that no one else sees — like a sunset in winter, billowing sea smoke, or dunes dusted with snow — extraordinary conditions in the absence of people.”

To see more of Malcolm Greenaway’s work, pick up a copy of his new book, “Block Island: Rhode Island’s Jewel” (text by Martha Ball; Commonwealth Editions, $50), or visit the Malcolm Greenaway Gallery on Water Street in the village of Block Island (800-840-5331, 401-466-5331; malcolmgreenaway.com).

For more dining and shopping tips, read our Block Island Bonus.

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