Category Archives: People

Some Outer Banks Photographers

When I made Hatteras Island my home 44 years ago, there were hardly any working photographers around. The few established photographers were folks like Charles D’Amours who ran a little studio in Manteo. He and his wife also sold art supplies, and that’s where I started getting all my mat board. They were an elderly couple and several years later retired and left the scene.

The most well known photographer was Aycock Brown. He photographed extensively and I regarded him more of a publicist than an artist. He shot social events and could always be spotted at the marina when charter boats arrived. His straw hat was a signature trademark and his images have become an important historical record of times gone by. I can still see him peering down into the viewfinder of a Yashica twin lens reflex.

In Buxton, Ray Couch owned and operated The Red Drum. It was a full service gas station and tackle shop. Located near Cape Point, he specialized in recording fishermen’s catches. His photographs promoted the island’s great fishing and doubtless brought many anglers to Hatteras Island. My understanding is that much of his work was either lost or destroyed.

Then there was Jim Lee. Anyone taking pictures here at that time was sure to know him. He had the only camera store within 50 miles. Jim’s Camera House was where we all went to buy film, chemicals, cameras or to have film processed. I think Jim took pride in being a sage, elder statesman of local photographers. It was the gleam in his eye that said it all.

Henry Applewhite was another. He lived in Manteo and did mostly commercial photography using medium format. I remember watching him do some advertising food shots with studio lights at the Seafare Restaurant, where I worked briefly as a dishwasher.

A photographer that really caught my eye though was Foster Scott. He was about my age and was fully involved doing promotional work for the Dare County Tourist Bureau. His pictures were always in the Coastland Times and they stood out both from a technical and artistic perspective. He was a master at photographing people, scenery and landscapes.

All these photographers were shooting almost exclusively in black and white. I aspired to shoot and print in color, and good fortune connected me with Ray Matthews. He also worked at the Seafare Restaurant as a waiter. We hit it off becoming close friends, and we both desired to make photography our life’s work. It was fortuitous that our birthdays landed on the same day.

Ray and I frequently celebrated our birthdays together. On that day in 1979, I made his portrait with a 4×5 view camera alongside a water cistern at Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station.

In 1980, Ray Matthews, Foster Scott and I embarked on a 3-day camping trip to Beacon Island in Pamlico Sound. From our base camp there, we made excursions in a 14 foot skiff to other islands, including Portsmouth Village. I used the self-timer on my Nikon F2 to make this shot of the 3 of us resting on the front porch of the Henry Pigott house. Foster is on the left with me in the middle, and Ray crashed out on the right. We were famished.

This shot of Ray was taken on that same trip. Sometimes we worked in the same competitive market, but over the years, Ray has been a big influence on my own photography.

Another photographer soon began to make his mark on the Outer Banks. Drew Wilson worked as a staff photographer for the Virginia Pilot. I admired his coverage of the region, and I still regard him as one of the best. In 1986, I made this photo of him while he was shooting an assignment about bird banding. Totally immersed in his subject, he worked hands-on handling this young pelican while John Weske crimped a band over the leg of the bird. Drew has since moved on to the New Bern area for his journalistic work.

Now in the digital age, photography has spread to the masses. Today everyone can be a photographer, however making it a livelihood is another thing.

 

Down Under Down

Over the years I’ve seen restaurants here come and go. Some fail faster than others, and it’s not an easy business to achieve success. It’s about quality, quantity and customer satisfaction, among other things.

One of the most successful restaurants in our town was started at a location where several other restaurants had come and gone. The Rodanthe pier complex had reincarnations of restaurants in the same building with names like Cross Currents, Under Currents, JL Seagull and Down Under. There were others prior whose names have escaped me.

Undoubtedly the most successful was the Down Under, founded by Skip and Sheila Skiperdene. The name was coined by Australian ex-pat surfer Skip, who married Sheila a North Carolinian, and they began the Aussie-themed restaurant. It took a year or so to catch on, but with planning and hospitality it became hugely popular. Most summer evenings had dozens of patrons lined up outside the front door waiting to be seated. This went on for about ten years, when personal circumstances ended the epic run of Down Under circa 1999.

This 1989 aerial photograph shows the pier complex, including the restaurant building under the arrow. The proximity to the ocean made a dramatic venue for diners, but also contributed to it’s demise.

An aspiring restauranteur then bought the trademarked name and stepped in to continue to operate the business. Something however was missing and the restaurant was not quite the same. A few years later, things really went south when Hurricane Isabel pummeled the property.

After continuous battering from high seas, storm surge from Hurricane Isabel finally took it out in 2003. This photograph taken by my wife, was probably the last shot ever taken from the upper deck of the restaurant. It was a harrowing experience.

An aerial image shows the newly built Gallery restaurant circa late 1980’s. It featured local art, and a home-grown herb garden. The Gallery made national news when a man died from eating bad tuna there, ending that venture.

The Gallery was sold to a new owner and renamed Waves Edge. They employed local chefs preparing great meals. This 1991 photo was taken during their hey-day. It was popular with locals and visitors alike. That lasted until personal issues forced another sale, this time it was changed to Blue Water Grill, featuring an upstairs wine bar.

The new Down Under owner wanting to sustain the business, bought the building in Waves that had previous lives as The GalleryWaves Edge, and Blue Water Grill.

The new Down Under struggled for several years and eventually landed in foreclosure. It sat vacant and unmaintained a few years until it was bought by an adjacent property owner then demolished on June 27, 2017.

Going, going… pretty much gone!

Down Under is history. And it all began with Skip.

Mac Midgett

Hatteras Island has produced a unique breed of people. The isolation, especially before a bridge was built, required residents to be particularly resilient. To say they are interesting folks is an understatement. Among the most colorful characters I ever met was Mac Midgett. He was a big man with a heart of gold.

His stature could intimidate people, but once you got to know him those feelings faded. Born and bred in the village of Rodanthe, he was a part of the place. Everyone knew or knew of him.

With his wife Marilyn, he built a business that was essential for providing goods and services to locals and visitors alike. He was a caring person and that became more evident when he ran for county commissioner and won a seat on the board. He got things done because he put his heart into it.

I took this picture in 1978 when Mac had been fishing his nets with Dalton O’Neal. They were just arriving at the Creek in Rodanthe to unload their catch.

In 1984 I caught him taking a break in his dory after beach fishing.

                                The Old Christmas celebration in January of 2000 found Mac leading Ole Buck around the dance floor. It was unusual in that Ole Buck’s normal caretaker John Edgar, was indisposed that night.

It was a sad day in 2006 when Mac passed away. He was iconic. I thought he’d be here forever. In a way, he’s still around, because he was so much larger than life.

 

 

Self-Portraits

These days selfies seem to be a big deal. They’re devoted primarily to social media sites. I suppose it’s a form of self portraiture, but despite the urging of friends and colleagues, other than this blog, I have never subscribed to social media. I have however, made self portraits ever since I’ve been using a camera.

I suspect the self portrait goes back as far as early man painting on cave walls. It’s certainly something the classic art masters did occasionally. What drives the urge is anyone’s guess, but self portraits have much to say about the person making them. It may be egotistical or just playful. My involvement has been sporadic yet impulsive.

Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery in Nags Head has hosted an artist self-portrait exhibition for 22 years. This year’s show runs from April 1 through May 11, and it’s always entertaining and fun. One of my previous entries was shot in 1974 while I took my 1964 Volkswagen searching for waves on Ocracoke Island. Once I reduced air pressure in the tires, my Microbus easily went anywhere on the beach. With a tripod-mounted Yashica, I tripped the shutter using the self timer and Pan-X film.

For this year’s entry I chose a self-inflicted photo from 2013 when I was attending a seminar in Washington, DC. After a day of hearing some presentations by some of the world’s finest photographers, I found myself socializing with a few others at the beautiful home of Tim Kelly the National Geographic Society president. After a while, I excused myself to the restroom on the main floor.

Going inside I was immediately captivated by the effect of mirrors on all four walls of the tiny room. I have not really been one of those photographers taking their camera everywhere, but this was an exception. I put on my best passport face and shot with a Panasonic GF1.

The Writing on the Wall

Growing up as a Navy dependent, I was almost always near the ocean. Yet I never met a commercial fisherman until I moved to Hatteras Island. My first encounter was in 1974 when a new found friend, Bruce Midgett, took me along to fish his gill nets off Bay Landing, south of Salvo.

I brought my Yashica camera along and took a few shots. I’ve always been excited looking at this picture of Bruce holding a speckled trout. It revealed another world to me and I’ve embraced the small commercial fisherman ever since.

Early one morning in 1978, 65 year-old Burgess Hooper took me fishing on the Pamlico Sound. I was impressed at his knowledge and vitality out on the water.

                                My favorite shot came later that morning while Burgess hauled in his favorite cotton net, made for catching bluefish. He always took Princess with him. She was just as anxious to see what was caught. Burgess passed away about ten years later, and a week after that Princess died.

In 1977, my good friend Roger Wooleyhan was also fishing the Pamlico Sound and he always took his faithful black lab, Moose.

Calm water usually means not much of a catch, but the glassy conditions always make for a pleasant boat ride.

                              A 1985 assignment for an Outer Banks Magazine story, hooked me up with crabber Scott Bridges pulling his pots near Hatteras Inlet.

The labor of a commercial fisherman never ends. Maintenance of gear is a constant. I happened to visit Bruce Midgett at home in 1982 as he was mending a pound net.

In the Fall of 1982 I was driving by Bay Landing and stopped to watch Raymond Midgett and his son Robin, also known as Tater, hauling in after drifting a gill net.

The Spring of 1980, I tried a stint at commercial fishing and did okay. As I was fishing a net, Burgess Hooper dropped by to say hello. A week later my motor broke down and he had to tow me in. The commercial fishermen looked out for one another and generously gave fish to their friends and neighbors.

Today with commercial fishing, the writing is on the wall. Times have changed. They are being more regulated and eventually their livelihoods will be jeopardized, if not gone. I’ve been a witness to something that will not happen again as it did decades ago.