Category Archives: People

Asa

I was originally attracted to Hatteras Island because of the pristine, uncrowded beaches. It was the perfect place for a young surfer. The locals had been here for generations and much of that in relative isolation. They were a unique self-supporting people. It took me a little time to assimilate into the community and I soon realized it was so much more than just about the beaches.

The people became a big factor in my love and appreciation for the island. Over the years, many of those folks have passed on and my feelings have evolved with those losses.

I first met Asa Gray in the early 70’s, out in the waves surfing. Everyone called him Buddy. At the time he must have been 14 or 15 years old. Long haired, lanky yet stout, his surfing was noted for its power and daring to take off on waves that didn’t seem makable.

Earlier this month, Buddy passed away at the age of 60. The realization of not seeing him again is unsettling. Even though I hadn’t seen him surf in years, only until recently I could drive down to the harbor in Rodanthe and see what fish he caught. He had commercial fishing in his psyche and an old-school Hatterasman attitude to go with it.

This scene of the Rodanthe Creek was taken during the passing of Hurricane Charley in 1986. It reminds me of the morning I went to the harbor to see if any fishermen went out to their nets. Northwest winds were gale force as I watched an incoming boat skipping over the tops of the foamy waves and getting blown sideways at the same time. It looked as if the vessel would flip over as gusts got up under the pounding hull. He had pulled all his nets in the boat and was loaded to the gunnels. I never saw such a harrowing approach from that channel. As the boat reached the shelter of the harbor and settled down, it was Buddy Gray, soaked and glad to be back ashore. I’ve never seen any thing like it since.

Buddy was pulling a rockfish onto the beach in Rodanthe when I took this shot in 2004.

Rest in peace my old friend. Things will just not be the same as they once were.

Graveyard Run

Much to the jubilation of local skateboarders, the Graveyard Run Skate Park officially opened on May 5th at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building. Two years in the making, the skate park was built with community funding and well received.

The interesting name recalls our rich island heritage of shipwrecks and rescues. Next to the park is the headstone of William D. Pugh born 200 years ago in 1818. Across the street is the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, this year celebrating the centennial of the famous Mirlo Rescue. The name also refers to the offshore waters as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

The inaugural was attended by enthusiastic skaters of varied ages and abilities. My participation was limited to showing support and snapping a few photos. The skate park is open for the public to enjoy with other planned improvements like a sheltered picnic area added in the near future.

So when planning the next vacation to Hatteras Island, you might pack a skateboard or two.

Nostalgia

The older one gets, the more nostalgic they become. I look back with a more appreciable perspective. My photographs shot years ago have a deeper meaning than when I first took them. Maybe that’s because the moments are gone and can never happen again. They become a window into the past.

Lately I’ve studied old photographs more than I’ve shot new ones. Some are technically flawed, but that doesn’t diminish the value much. I was young and learning the ropes of photography. Images and equipment improved over time, and subjects evolved.

When I moved here 45 years ago, I was the only photographer in town. That had results that I didn’t anticipate. Consequently, I shot nearly two hundred weddings, portrait sessions and other events. Yearning to be out in nature, it was work that I was never truly comfortable with.

In 1975 I was asked to take a picture of local women who worked at the restaurant at the Rodanthe Pier. It was the beginning of the tourist season and they were outfitted in their very best homemade dresses. As I recall, they are from left to right: Laura Scarborough, Thelma Midgett, Mellie Edwards, Wilma O’Neal and Elizabeth Gray. They all wanted to have me make prints for them.

Midgett Day was a local event begun in 1972 to celebrate the heroism and lifesaving of the Midgett family, so renown in the annals of Coast Guard history. It was culminated with a memorial wreath thrown into the sea from Rodanthe Pier. The man in the blue jacket is Don Edwards, and the woman in white Maggie Smith, both members of the Midgett family. This was taken July 1978, and I think it was the final celebration of Midgett Day.

Don Edwards incidentally, was the one arranging most of my wedding and social jobs. The striking aspect of this photograph is the lack of oceanfront development south of the pier.

The vehicle that brought me here was a 1964 VW Microbus. I paid $900 for it in 1968, and it took me on a number of trips, including several to the Outer Banks. I outfitted it to modestly accommodate one or two people on overnight sojourns. It was in constant need of maintenance and tune-ups. Whenever it broke down, I knew how to fix it, including rebuilding the engine 3 times. It originally had a 1500 cc engine and ended up with a peppier 1600 “pancake engine”. With the tires deflated to 15 pounds, I could go anywhere on the beach. I drove it 15 years until the corrosive salt air took its toll. Mac Midgett hauled it away to his junk yard and I replaced it with a Datsun pick-up truck that also rusted away to the same junk yard.

 

The Big Freeze

The 2018 new year came in with a cyclone. It had been nice and peaceful with the holiday season coming to a close, and everyone began bracing for a well-forecast storm.

On the evening of the 2nd it started with about 2 inches of rain, then turned to snow by 4 in the morning. By that time the barometer had plunged to 976 millibars. I don’t think I had seen that since hurricane Emily grazed by in 1993. Gusts were measured in the mid-70’s from the northwest. My house shook. We were in the middle of one of our rare blizzards. Temperatures dropped into the low 20’s then high teens at night.

The warm up before the storm came at Eric and Val Stump’s New Years Eve party. A few snowflakes dropped as did the temperature.

Eric did a great job roasting some crab slough oysters.

Then on the morning of the 3rd, I saw my truck sprayed with icy snow.

The yard became a frozen winter wonderland.

My business banner had been blown away and it’s mast bent.

After snowing 3 inches, it was 25° and blowing a gale.

Oyster gloves were frozen to the clothes line.

My bathroom window had some interesting ice patterns on it.

Bundled up for the coldest conditions, I explored the Salvo Day Use Area.

The Rodanthe Pier pilings were plastered on the northwest sides.

Meanwhile the oyster shoot for Old Christmas had begun. It was low 20’s with a stiff northerly wind.

Everyone was gathering on the lee side of the Community Building, unless they were shooting.

A festive reunion for family and friends, Joey Jr. (left) celebrates with Tom Wiley and Joey O’Neal Sr.

I couldn’t resist shooting my long-time friends Brent Midgett, Willy Smith, and Larry Midgett.

To the victor of the oyster shoot go the spoils. Better eat ’em quick before they freeze.

Emily prepares to shoot as her dad Tom Wiley looks on. As is a proud family tradition here, she serves in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Larry Midgett was helping his daughter Tanya, get ready for her turn to shoot. Tanya is also following in the U.S. Coast Guard tradition, and currently stationed at Hatteras Inlet.

There was always someone waiting to shoot.

Even the young ones got in on the act. Camouflage was everywhere.

The next day frigid temperatures continued. It was 17° at night, and the sound froze out even further, as far as I could see.

From a second story deck, I couldn’t see any open water, only a duck blind on the horizon.

Behind my house the sound was solid. I heard some kids in Salvo rode their bikes on it.

Jon Brown and I marveled at the spectacle. It happens, but not often.

 

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.