Ralph Gibson (photo by Lou Reed); Tria Giovan
Hugh Lamle's shower in Westhampton Beach. Courtesy of Hugh Lamle.
David Bromberg, left, will play the Stephen Talkhouse this weekend. COURTESY BANDSHELL ARTIST MANAGEMENT
Even though architecture and landscape photographer Davis Gaffga’s most recent project was 25 years in the making, he was still nervous to get it off the ground last year.
Mr. Gaffga didn’t know how people would react to his idea.
Going against his background, he wanted to photograph people. More specifically, Southampton Village mom-and-pop business owners in front of their stores—an homage to the pictures taken in the 1840s, back in the days of old when photography was new and popular.
But before snapping even one photo, Mr. Gaffga found an unexpected fan of his idea: Tom Edmonds, executive director of the Southampton Historical Museum. Mr. Edmonds was so taken with the idea that he agreed to debut the photographer’s final product—34 pictures of local shopkeepers—which will open on Thursday, January 26, at the Rogers Mansion.
Mr. Gaffga’s show will open alongside the exhibit “Our Southampton: Photographs by Nina Kennedy,” which features approximately 60 pictures of local residents from Ms. Kennedy’s book series, “Our Southampton,” which she cowrote with Jacqueline Scerbinski. Ms. Kennedy’s photographs about Southampton will be displayed upstairs at the museum.
The same night and time as Mr. Gaffga’s opening reception, the Southampton Chamber of Commerce will host its monthly mixer, according to Mr. Edmonds.
“So the same people in the photographs will be here,” Mr. Edmonds pointed out during a telephone interview last week. “And then the photographs go in our archive. We’re bringing our photography collection up to date. In our collection of photographs—we have about 5,000—we have a lot of businesses who took employees outside in order to photograph who was working there at the time. The photograph album was like the Facebook of the late 19th century.”
The museum didn’t assign Mr. Gaffga any rules when it came to his project, so the photographer made a few of his own. First, he limited himself to the confines of Southampton Village. Second, the shopkeepers included had to have been in business for more than 25 years. And third, no corporate stores.
“Surprisingly, there were quite a few,” Mr. Gaffga recalled last week during an interview at his Shinnecock Hills home. “More than I thought.”
The photographer started with Barrister’s Restaurant and worked his way down Main Street, taking interior and exterior shots of Silver’s, Corwin’s Jewelers, Fudge Company, Mark Humphrey Gallery and Catena’s Market, to name a few.
“The Fudge Company, working with the two owners was like the car guys [from Car Talk] on NPR, the two brothers,” Mr. Gaffga said. “They had that going between the two of them. Oh lord, they were great. That was fun. And I was given fudge afterwards!”
He also hit Jobs Lane, Hill Street and Windmill Lane, stopping in Sunrise to Sunset Surf & Sport, Gubbins, and Shippy’s Pumpernickels Restaurant. Additionally, he toured Hampton Road, photographing businesses such as La Parmigiana, Corwith Pharmacy and Southampton Stationary.
The photos feature anywhere from one person, as in the photo he took of Kathleen King for Tate’s Bake Shop, to the 10 employees who were photographed for Lynch’s Garden Center.
Still, as the photographer feared, some businesses had mixed reactions.
“It was anywhere from ‘No, I don’t want my picture taken,’” he lowered his voice an octave in imitation, “to others that were absolutely excited. Most were. They thought it was a great idea. What did they have to lose? It wasn’t costing them a penny.”
Over the years, some of the same local businesses that Mr. Gaffga photographed have also had requests from Nina Kennedy for photo-ops for her Southampton book series, “Our Southampton,” which released its third volume this past summer. Ms. Kennedy took photographs of the local residents who shared family recipes and told their stories, which were then written up by Ms. Scerbinski.
“We love food and cooking,” Ms. Kennedy said at her Southampton home during an interview last week. “And we were very much interested in talking to the real people of Southampton.”
The books are 90 percent stories and 10 percent recipes, Ms. Kennedy said. And the photos are small and printed in black and white.
For the exhibit, Ms. Kennedy selected about 60 of her favorites to be in full color, she said. Several of them will be accompanied by snippets from the book, she said.
One such photo is of Richard “Tate” King, owner of North Sea Farms. In the photo Ms. Kennedy took, he is standing in front of a sign reading, “A small farm with a little bit of everything.”
Mr. King’s story, which is included in volume two of the “Our Southampton” series, opens with a quote: “When I met my future wife, Millicent, I felt like I had been struck by lightning. I always say the two most important days in my life were in 1951 ... when I met her, and the day Bobby Thompson hit the home run.”
The exhibit will also feature photos of familiar local faces, such as Harry K. Williams, John Westerhoff, Jr., Sarah Thomas and Mary “Queenie” Gilmartin.
“Queenie was 99 when we interviewed her, going on 100,” she said. “She was fantastic. I remember she said ...” Ms. Kennedy paused, flipping through the volume two, “‘We have a lot of lawyers in the family. My husband was a lawyer. My two sons and two of my sons-in-law are lawyers. It’s okay, but I could use a plumber or a carpenter or an electrician.”
Ms. Kennedy smiled, silently reminiscing. “This was like the real Southampton. It was a real adventure,” she concluded.
Mr. Gaffga, on the other hand, said he isn’t sure where his inspiration came from.
“I don’t even know the reason I wanted to do it, other than just wanting to give back,” he said. “Maybe just to remind people that I’m still alive and around,” he laughed.
The Southampton Historical Society is more than happy to reap the benefits of Mr. Gaffga’s project, Mr. Edmonds said, adding that it couldn’t have been timed any better.
“This is just about the local shop owners who are here year-round, who are not part of the pop-up culture of businesses that come and go,” Mr. Edmonds said. “We want to capture them while they’re still here because it might be a rapidly declining tradition: having a local store and knowing them and knowing their family. It may be disappearing.”
“Shopkeepers of Southampton: Photographs by Davis Gaffga” and “Our Southampton: Photographs by Nina Kennedy,” will open during the Southampton Chamber of Commerce mixer on Thursday, January 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Rogers Mansion in Southampton. Admission is $15. Call the Chamber at 283-0402 to make reservations. The exhibits will remain on view through Saturday, April 28. Museum admission is $4 for adults, or free for members and children under 17. For more information, call the museum at 283-2494.
One fine body…