Photographer Michael Blanchard has a new project. Over the past four years, he has managed to build up a huge following on Facebook, establish a website offering his striking Vineyard photos, put out a book and two calendars, and manned a booth at the Chilmark Flea Market. Now he is finally ready for a brick-and-mortar outlet for his work. He and gallery owner Julian Wise will be splitting the space on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs that has housed Mr. Wise’s Island Images gallery for many years.
Mr. Wise will continue to sell Vineyard photographs by himself and his wife Stacy, as well as paintings commissioned exclusively for the gallery by national and international artists, vintage maps, and images of classic Vineyard signs. Although the space is split into two distinct galleries, the collaborators will be sharing duties and responsibilities for the space as a whole.
“I think Michael and I share a common motivation to create a space that goes beyond a typical gallery,” says Mr. Wise. “We want to do things that make a positive impact on the community. I’ve had this idea for a long time, but haven’t had the time to take the next step. Being on the same page, it’s really exciting to see it start to take shape.”
In selecting the name Crossroads Gallery for his new business, Mr. Blanchard found inspiration in the movie “Cast Away.” In the final scene, Tom Hanks stands at a four-way intersection on a dusty deserted roadway. He gets out of his truck and stands at the crossroads, considering his options when a woman drives up and offers assistance. As she drives away, he notices a symbol on the back of her truck which has meaning for him, and it appears that he will opt to follow the path directed to him by this sign.
“You get to a point where everything you know is gone,” says Mr. Blanchard. “Then you have to decide which direction to take. Based on the same sort of coincidence, my whole life turned in a different direction.”
What Mr. Blanchard is referring to is the devastation he faced after years of abusing alcohol. Although he had found career success — working as chief operating officer for a medical lab in New Hampshire — Mr. Blanchard’s life was falling apart. A third DUI arrest in as many months was the end of the line. Mr. Blanchard checked into a rehab facility for three months, and upon completion, managed to stay sober through the help of 12-step meetings. However, he found that there was something lacking in his life.
The coincidence that spurred Mr. Blanchard’s new career came when he attended an inspirational talk. “I heard a speech that had nothing to do with addiction or recovery,” he says. “The speaker was a man who had healed by taking up photography. Four years later, it’s been everything for me. My whole life turned in a different direction. I don’t know what I’d do without a camera.”
His newfound passion became a bit of an obsession, as Mr. Blanchard discovered that spending time focusing on the beauty of nature provided the meditative experience that was lacking in his recovery. He started posting his scenic shots on Facebook, and quickly gained a large following. This validation encouraged him to publish a book of his photos, paired with stories, anecdotes, and observations surrounding his recovery.
In the book, “Fighting for My Life,” he writes, “I discovered an emotional tie to a geographic location I couldn’t explain. My walks on the beaches and cliffs stirred emotions often leading to tears of joy — and I didn’t need alcohol to connect to this mysterious energy. Amazing — truly a miracle.”
Mr. Blanchard’s stunning photos attest to his spiritual connection to the Vineyard. He captures not just the beauty but the mystique of Martha’s Vineyard. Whether it’s Campground cottages in the snow, Edgartown decked out in Christmas lights, or brilliant sunrises and sunsets lighting up Island beaches, there’s always a sense of peace as well as a hint of a mystery to be explored.
The Crossroads Gallery sells Mr. Blanchard’s photos in a variety of forms — prints on aluminum or on canvas, framed prints, and greeting cards. Many of the images were taken with a wide-angle lens, giving a unique perspective to scenes such as a quiet stretch of beach, an Edgartown street scene, or Menemsha Harbor. The photographer has also created a series of large panoramic images, created by stitching together five photos.
Accompanying his work, Mr. Blanchard is featuring a rotating selection of paintings and photographs by other artists who have found healing through the creative process. “The whole premise is to find people around the country who took up painting or photography, and explain how it helped them in their own personal growth,” says the gallery owner. Currently, the group exhibit includes the work of 13 artists, along with short written explanations of how the work has aided in their individual recovery from mental or physical problems.
Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Wise plan to host a variety of events at the gallery, which can be easily converted into an informal performance space, with parquet floors, lighting, and a sound system.
In early May, the two collaborators brought in Anne Colangeli to facilitate a healing drum circle. The gallery plans to offer more drum circles, workshops, and other activities. “There will possibly be meditation and yoga,” says Mr. Blanchard. “If someone wants to come in in the evening, they can make a donation to Rising Tide, and we’ll let them use the space.”
Rising Tide Therapeutic Equestrian Center is the local organization that Mr. Blanchard is currently supporting through fundraising efforts and sales of his calendar. “There’s a body of knowledge that animals can offer a path of connection that can break through addiction, depression, etc.,” he says.
As far as aiding his own recovery, Mr. Blanchard has already gained a lot from personal interaction at the Chilmark Flea Market and with many of his 50,000 Facebook followers. “A lot of it for me is the connection with people. I have a lot of followers who come in through Facebook. It can be very emotional. I’ve developed such a huge community of friends, a lot of whom I’ve gotten to know better through personal messaging. We get to meet in person. We hug and cry when we meet for the first time.
“All of this has been therapeutic,” he adds. “If I hadn’t sold a single photo, it would still have been so cool doing this. I have met so many people. Instead of treading water and staying sober, it pushes me and stretches me. It’s become a passion. I think this whole thing has provided value and meaning to my life. Just letting go and following the opportunities that present themselves and seeing where it takes me. It’s kind of a fun ride.”
Mr. Blanchard will be at the Island Images/Crossroads Gallery space on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. The joint business, which is open seven days a week, is located at 57 Circuit Avenue, next to the Edgartown National Bank in the former Oyster Bar space.