Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 26, 2011

What I’m Reading: Nantucket: A Photographic Essay by Charles Fields


Nantucket: A Photographic Essay by Charles Fields showcases gorgeous photographs of sea, land, houses, people, and animals, with lighting that seems to sweep you to this island off the Massachusetts coast. We see clapboard houses, including the oldest house on the island, ponds, cobblestone streets, an old brick warehouse and bank, artists at work, dogs playing in surf, and the Athenaeum where astronomer Maria Mitchell, first woman to discover a comet, served as the town’s first librarian. Photographs were taken in different seasons and times of day, and include aerial shots and panoramas. All reminded me of the importance of the art of waiting, for beaches and buildings are often seen without people around, and you know the photographer exercised patience, often in the cold, for both the right light and solitude, or the particular angle of a wave or wing.

Lovely as the photos are, I bought this book for the elegant captains, which were written by Elizabeth Bergman, a good friend of my daughter’s who will graduate from the University of Denver in a matter of days. I’m so proud (not that I have any claim, except for feeding her the occasional raspberry muffin in days gone by) that she got her name between covers before she even has her B.A. I was impressed by how much information on place and history she packed into a few lines.

She kindly answered some questions. I learned that she worked on the sort of no-sleep deadline more common in journalism than for a book, and was even more impressed that she came up “with a host of ways to compliment the aesthetics of the photos without sounding like a broken record, or, at least, I hope I did!” I can assure you she managed valiantly to avoid the gushy but trite words that came to my mind looking at these scenes.

“It was difficult to pick and choose what information would be most resonant and interesting for readers, but there is certainly something to be said for an economy of words….Luckily, I was able to write so quickly because of my extensive preexisting knowledge of Nantucket. I used to work for the Nantucket Historical Association and have read many book about the golden age of whaling on the island; I even wrote a research paper last year about the island’s architecture and building guidelines. I did, however, have to research the flora and fauna featured in the pictures quite a bit; although my experience landscaping on Nantucket helped me identify many lovely flowers. For the more abstract photographs, I relied more on my personal interpretation of the photograph as an artistic object, and approached it in a more poetic way.”

Asked about the pleasures, Liz replied, “This may sound kind of silly, but the most fun part– or, certainly the most exciting part — was holding the book in my hands once it was finally printed, and turning to the Library of Congress page to see my name in print in a book for the first time.” Um, why would that be silly? I was glad to hear: “I really love everything about the publishing process. …I have a not-so-secret ambition to publish at least one book (of my own!) in my life, and I think I will do it. No matter what, I always hope to hover close to the world of writing, be it news writing, editing, or just writing for myself.”

Thanks, Liz! We wish you luck for many books and a good post-graduation job!



  1. Nantucket: A Photographic Essay
    Hi, I’m a newcomer to your blog. What an interesting post. I hope to be able to find the book so I can experience the photographs *and* the captions.

  2. Re: Nantucket: A Photographic Essay
    Thank you for taking the time to comment and say hi! I hope you can find the book, too. It’s one I look forward to returning to, and will be loved by anyone who loves ocean views and to get a taste of the fascinating history of this island.

  3. What a lovely book! And congratulations to Liz for having a book publishing credit on such a high-quality product before graduation. I can see why the two of you connect.

  4. I love Nantucket and will be looking for this one!
    Kudos to Liz on getting into print :). Like that she approached some of the photos in a poetic way.

  5. It is a beautiful book. Liz has journalism bylines, but this is the first time her name is in print between covers, and I guess we’re old school enough to feel that’s its own thrill. It is most of all a thrill to know her!
    Hope your daughter’s job search is going well.

  6. This book makes it clear how much there is to love about Nantucket. I need to get back! And I learned from all the captains, but my heart beat at those poetic ones! Thanks for stopping by, Jama.

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