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Christmas Time

Christmas on Hatteras is a stark contrast to Summer, when our resort area is so busy. Things quiet down substantially in the Fall. But the days leading up to Christmas are the most peaceful. Neighbors leave to visit families elsewhere, and traffic becomes nearly nonexistent.

At the Hatteras Village Christmas Parade, Santa Claus comes to town.

The community revels and comes together.

Even man’s best friends celebrate.

The critter from the Froggy Dog Restaurant was a crowd pleaser.

Kids especially love the parade.

All of the island’s volunteer fire departments show up to spread some holiday cheer.

There’s no shortage of candy for the kids.

Suddenly Santa’s gone, and we rewind into another new year!



A few months ago, the Ocracoke Preservation Society invited me to hang an exhibit in their museum on Ocracoke. It needed a Portsmouth Island theme, and would open to coincide with the bi-annual Portsmouth Village Homecoming.

Both Portsmouth and Ocracoke have long been among my favorite places. And I took the opportunity to mount a show of 14 images selected from photographs taken over the last 15 years. The exhibit called “Portsmouth Beckons”, opened with a reception on April 27th. The pictures represent my yearning to go back repeatedly, since my first visit in the Summer of 1980. Seven prints in the show were taken with film, and the other seven were taken with digital cameras.

One of the photographs in the exhibit was taken in 1998 at Doctor’s Creek. During that time, I was shooting with a Pentax medium format camera. Another picture was taken out on the expansive beach near the historic district. “Portsmouth Beckons” will be shown all Summer.

If you’re visiting Ocracoke this season, please stop in at the museum. You won’t be disappointed.

There are lots of exhibits explaining the history and culture of Ocracoke Island.

Portsmouth Village also has a rich and interesting history. As it stands today, it is an exhibit in itself.

The Henry Pigott house has been recently restored, including period furnishings inside.

The Methodist Church at the center of town is still used for a service at every homecoming celebration.

Inside the Portsmouth Lifesaving Station is a beautifully crafted replica of a surfboat.

The culmination of each homecoming is the covered dish dinner, enough for 400 people. The next homecoming is scheduled for April of 2014.

Next I’m mounting a group show at Glen Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery in Nags Head. It will feature 3 other photographers and opens with a reception on June 3rd.


The post storm recovery has been a unique experience. In many ways, it’s much more stressful than the storm itself. Hurricane Irene feels like it was just last week, pummeling the villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. The time of day and the day of the week are remote concepts. It is not business as usual. For me personally, I have experienced emotional highs and lows. One moment I see the devastation of my neighbors’ flooded homes, and then next, I’m witnessing people coming together with incredible support.

Right after the storm, I D Midgett was reunited with his grand-daughter, Bryanna. Both of their homes were inundated with sound tide, and are unlivable. Neighbors have opened up their homes to accommodate them, while they rebuild.

The Volunteer Fire Departments have been instrumental in maintaining everyone’s safety. Hours after the storm’s exit, they were out doing things like checking leaking gas tanks, and later, righting headstones in family cemeteries. Here, Tom Murphy and Jim Shimpach discuss recovery with a rescue squad worker.

Tombstones lay flat on the ground at the ravaged cemetery in the Salvo Day Use Area.

Then there are the volunteers from communities to our south. They came in droves offering a tremendous amount of manpower, stripping houses of water damaged materials, furniture, appliances and cleaning up tons of debris. Russell, Mole and Wolfie (above) drove up from Buxton to lend a hand. They were at my house tearing down plywood underpinning and wet insulation. Then they went on helping many others in need, for several days.

The Salvation Army was here almost immediately, bringing in food and supplies so desperately needed. Not only that but they always greeted us with smiles and uplifting spirits.

The North Carolina Baptist Men brought in portable laundromats and hot showers. And with the Salvation Army scaling back, the Baptist Men are preparing our hot meals every day. Yesterday two of them drove up to my neighbor’s house and offered to spray the underside of her floor to kill any mold that had started. Then they came over to treat the underside of my house, and after that to my other neighbor’s house.

All these selfless people are heros in my book. I could go on and on. From the Dare County Health Department giving out tetanus shots, to Tilghman Gray bringing up a load of fresh bluefish and putting on the best fish fry ever.

The vegetation that would normally be green this time of year, has turned a golden brown from harsh salt spray.

The rack line in the marsh behind my house is deep in washed-up debris.

The landfill at the day use area is enormous, and many of the rental homes have not even been dealt with yet.

A pile of lost hopes and dreams continues to grow.

And the battle for the S-Curve continues to be waged.

Building a line of large sand bags is a first line of defense.

Will man ever be able to tame Hatteras Island?

Weather permitting, the sand dike gets higher and higher.

One load gets dumped, and another empty truck runs to Avon for more sand. They must have trucked over 3,000 loads by now.

Meanwhile at Mirlo Beach, the future looks mighty grim.

Camera with a View

I am an admirer of some of the great masters of early photography. It was not only their vision that made the work great, but in many cases, the types of equipment used. They didn’t have the huge array of advanced cameras to choose from, like we do today. Things were a lot more primitive. 


One of my favorite early photographers is Edward Weston. He shot with an 8×10 view camera. Can you imagine a finished 8 inch by 10 inch negative? His black and white prints are exquisite, and have a tonal quality and sharpness that is hard to describe. In 1978, I had the pleasure of attending a photography workshop in Carmel, California, where I studied under his son, Cole.


Working in 35mm, I could see the superior quality of large format photography. I examined gallery prints made by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and his sons Brett and Cole, among others. When I got back home on the east coast, I wanted to apply some large format in my own work. View cameras are expensive. But when I saw an ad in American Photographer  for a kit to build my own 4×5 view camera, I jumped at the chance. For $85, it included the lens plate, ground glass, bellows, shifts and tilts, everything except a lens. My friend Allen Jones who was attending RIT at the time, scored my Ilex Acuton 215mm lens for $250 in Rochester.



The assembled 4×5 view camera kit, designed by architect, Les Fader


Using the finished camera became a learning experience, and I made some mistakes. There were issues with light leaks between the film holders and the camera, and sheet film developing techniques, but I eventually kinda got the hang of it. On the windy, often stormy conditions of the Outer Banks, the bulky view camera has it limitations. So I used it mainly for still life compositions around commercial fishing harbors. 




The “Edwin Jr.” derelict at Avon Harbor



Crab Skiff at Avon Harbor


net skiff

Net Skiff, Rodanthe Creek


shad boat

Shad Boat, Rodanthe Creek


Collins Gray

Longhauler, Collins Gray at Rodanthe Fish House



Knapp’s Narrows at Tilghman Island, Maryland



Chicamacomico Winter, 1980



A Dune near Buxton



A Tribute to Weston



Broken Glass, Rodanthe Creek


I made about 60 Tri-X negatives, then decided to put the camera away. It was a lot of effort to use. And as photographer Ernst Haas, once told my class, shooting with a view camera was “like carrying the cross”. In a way, that wasn’t far from the truth. Besides at the time, it didn’t quite fit my style of shooting. I never even printed most of the images.


Then a few months ago, I found some negatives stored, with silica gel, in an old ammo box. For the past month, I’ve been making prints. Some beautiful 16×20’s too. I can’t tell you what a refreshing change it is from the popular digital shooting arena. Printing in black and white again is like finding an old long lost friend. Don’t be surprised if you see some new work from this old camera.

Hurricane Bill


I can’t remember how many hurricanes have come and gone, since I’ve lived on the Outer Banks. It seems like dozens. Some of them have made direct impacts on us, while most others have had much less or no affect. One of the most reliable deterrents for these storms is a cold front moving across the country. No matter how powerful they are, tropical weather systems cannot penetrate these natural barriers. Such was the case in our most recent hurricane called Bill. The timing was right to allow the storm to stay hundreds of miles offshore. Relatively large swells were predicted well in advance, and that’s exactly what we got. On Hatteras there was no evacuation, so visitors got a good taste of high seas, Outer Banks style.


The place was crawling with sightseers and, of course surfers. Twenty years ago, I might have been included in the surfer category, but now more in my twilight, I’m resigned to being more of a sightseer when the swells are so big. Over the years, I’ve photographed just about every storm that’s hit the island, and I still love the thrill of it.

As usual, some overwash and highway closures are expected. But in this instance, it wasn’t quite as bad as it might have been. It was nonetheless, stimulating. North Rodanthe is usually at the center of activity. By Saturday morning the S-Curve road was wet, salty and sandy, but not enough to shut down the flow of traffic.


The northernmost house at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge border is called “Serendipity”. It was built about 20 years ago, when there was an existing seaward dune. But this location has one of the highest erosion rates on the island… 14 to 16 feet annually. It’s really hard to believe the house is still there, although it’s been condemned because of damage, numerous times.


In May of 2007, it was used in the movie set of the Richard Gere chick flick, Nights in Rodanthe. Tourists and movie aficionados alike have been stopping to photograph this landmark, and this event was no exception. I’ve never seen so many people storm watching from here before… ever.


Later in the day, I waited for more favorable afternoon light and went to the Hatteras Island Fishing Pier in Rodanthe. For a buck, it’s the second best deal on the island. The first being the free ferry ride to Ocracoke, compliments of the North Carolina taxpayers.

By the time I got to the pier, the predicted cold front was also arriving. Black clouds came swirling in from the west. Everyone else out on the end of the pier had gone back to shore. The surf continued battering the pier pilings as it rocked back and forth. How can this structure survive this kind of an environment? The answer is, it doesn’t. It constantly has to be repaired and rebuilt.


As the cold front passed, the warm muggy air was replaced by cool air and the wind picked up dramatically from the west. Rain squalls came in from the south, and before I realized it, I was standing on the end of the pier in a driving rain, continuing to take pictures, and even changing over to a small telephoto lens in the process. Dripping wet, I ran back to the protection of the pier house and watched the torrent continue.


In an hour it stopped, and I returned to the end of the pier with a couple of other sightseers.


Would you believe this is the same pier, exactly where Richard Gere and Diane Lane filmed one of their more romantic scenes for Nights in Rodanthe? If you do, you’d be right.