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May 1, 2013
Column: The art of the ferry in motion
My wife and I went to dinner the other night at the Dockside in Sag Harbor. It was late but the place was bustling. We sat in a corner of the interior dining room. Usually Barbara sits facing the room so she has something to look at besides me but this time she took the chair facing the wall. That left me with the view of the room for a change.
What drew my eye, whenever my partner of 33 years and I weren’t speaking, wasn’t the crowd around us but a continuous video that was projected on the blank wall over my wife’s shoulder. Holy smokes: it was the South Ferry going back and forth between Shelter Island and North Haven, seen from different angles, wide shots and closeups, from both inside and outside the boats, in a montage of very long sequences recorded by leaving the camera running for several minutes at a time. The soundtrack was all natural: no music, no voices, just the engines, the water, the clunk of a landing and the whirring of chains at the slip.
Somebody with a keen eye had seen the art in South Ferry and captured it, like a butterfly in a net, with a long, slow-paced video that played through dinner on the wall. I was transfixed but nobody else in the room seemed to pay much attention to it.
A camera positioned on the beach just west of the Shelter Island slips recorded the arrival and departure of two boats, running uninterrupted for three or four minutes. The next cut might have been a highly graphic, tight shot of the wheelhouse, taken from an interesting low angle. Another long shot might have looked out from the bow at the smooth waters slipping below. Each shot lingered on the screen a long time.
The video was shot on a calm, clear, bright winter day. There was snow on the ground. Even though it’s getting to be summer, I delighted at the February light and the slow, steady pace of the uncrowded boats. The videography and editing had carefully excluded crew, captains or passengers from most shots. You didn’t see people except now and then, in dark silhouette against the sky, climbing to the pilothouse, unrecognizable.
It was all about the boats: their smooth, relentless motion approaching the slips or putting out into the channel; the strange geometry of a cluster of pilings with a hull gliding along behind them; the foam of the backwash as the boat came in for a landing; the peculiar angles of the pilothouse against the sky.
That was my life up there, all about crossing back and forth to my job on Shelter Island from my home a mile from the ferry.
On board or waiting for the ferry, I always see great shots: arty graphic close ups of boat parts or pilings, moody scenics of the water, the land and sky. But as editor, you can only run so many mood photos from South Ferry in the Shelter Island Reporter before people decide it’s the only part of the Island you know: a curious little world at the bare periphery. So after all these years, I generally keep my camera packed up and restrain myself when I see a good shot.
But here they all were, all the great shots — in motion, en montage, on the back wall of the Dockside’s inner dining room. I guess it was there to help break up a certain monotony in that big windowless square: a former dining hall-meeting room, I think, for the American Legion.
I generally preferred to eat in the always buzzing bar but we were pumped up and happy after I had given a reading at Canio’s Bookstore. We’d had a few friends back to the house for drinks on the patio and now we were sprung, free to go over the evening and enjoy our own company.
But I had a little trouble staying focused while those South Ferry boats glided one by one back and forth across the channel.