By Jim Vaiknoras
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — One of the best parts of my job is taking photos in the elementary schools. The kids are so expressive. Even when involved in what might seem like a mundane task, they bring a joy and exuberance that is, unfortunately, lessened as they get older. When I visited Manchester Memorial Elementary School to cover a performance by Wampanoag Singers and Dancers, however, that notion flew out the window as dancer Danielle Hill and school Principal John Willis joined pinky fingers and performed the mosquito dance with the energy and joy of a first-grader.
It’s easy to forget that we didn’t always have cellphones, but without one, I don’t think I would have been able to coordinate this summer shoot with the crew of the schooner Thomas E. Lannan. The plan was for me to be positioned at the end of the breakwater at Eastern Point and photograph her as she sailed around the harbor at sunset. Driving to get there through Gloucester, though, I ran into some traffic and got there a few minutes too late. Or so I thought. I shot a few good photos, but was a little disappointed that I didn’t get exactly what I wanted. Then my cellphone rang. It was the captain of the Lannan asking if I wanted him to make another pass by me. I got better photos than I could have hoped for. As I was leaving, a couple who had seen me jogging down the breakwater to catch up with the boat said, “Lucky break, them turning around.” I pulled out my phone and told them it wasn’t lucky at all.
Sometimes things happen so very quickly, in the blink of an eye. On a warm August evening as I was getting ready to head home from work, I decided to take a ride by Good Harbor Beach to take advantage of the evening light. As I walked on the beach I noticed a group of people playing football farther down. Between that group and me there was another group playing Frisbee; I had already decided to photograph the football players. As I walked around the Frisbee players, I caught a sign of movement out of the corner of my eye. Without even thinking, I instinctively and swiftly turned, knelt on the sand, took exactly four frames of what I saw, wrote down the man’s name and continued on down the beach where I photographed the family playing football.
Sometimes it takes a big sacrifice to do our jobs: We need to head out into hurricanes and blizzards; we endure long hours, we work outside in the cold and in the heat. Other times we make small sacrifices, such as getting cold sea water in our shoes. Last June, I had the pleasure of covering the Seine races during Fiesta in Gloucester. The sky and setting gave an old world feel to the event. After watching a few of the launches, I realized that I needed to get on the west-facing side of the boats to take the photos I wanted. I got the names of the crew of one of the boats and waited. As they prepared to shove off, I stepped back into what I thought was 2 to 3 inches of water, but it turned out to be 15 inches of water. It was a small sacrifice indeed.
I love photographing theater. The lighting is generally good and the actors are naturally expressive. When I photographed the Annisquam Village Players production of “The Wizard of Oz,” my attention fell immediately upon Gina Milne, who played the Wicked Witch of the West. She was moving around backstage assisting all the kids with their costumes, hair and makeup, basically being a helpful mom. Then she stepped onstage, and she transformed into an evil witch. What I love about this photo is that it shows both sides: a wonderful telling glimpse of the line between the real and the imagined.
I don’t own a watch, never did. I usually rely on other ways to tell time: my phone, car clock or a bank. Some people keep time close; people like Howard Frisch keep time even closer. With over 800 clocks in his Gloucester office, time is everywhere you look. Photographing him posed an interesting challenge: how to capture the scale of the clocks and his love and appreciation of his timepieces. If time is money, he is indeed a wealthy man.
Jim Vaiknoras has been a photojournalist on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley for over 25 years. He is a regular contributor to the Gloucester Daily Times, Cape Ann Magazine, the Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Magazine. See more of his work at his website: vphotographics.com