Called “the most often painted building in America” the weathered red shack sitting on Bradley Wharf in Rockport, Massachusetts is the subject of many a pilgrimage for artists of all sorts. For me, it’s been a unicorn that I’ve never quite been satisfied with photographing.
It’s out of the way. Ok, so it’s not the northern lighthouses of Maine type of far away, but it’s a haul for seemingly everyone who doesn’t live on that section of Cape Ann. I grew up in Salisbury, and often went down to Plum Island and looked across from the wildlife refuge. There it was, right across the way. As the bird flies or as the boat rides, it was a 10 minute trip. For those of us that use cars to drive, you’re forced into a busy Route 1A or a busier and much more dangerous dreaded Route 128. I took the highway, which has more potholes than ever and jingled all the way through the concrete minefield. Usually I stop off in Gloucester and take in the sights and architecture of the area, but today I was on a mission to make it to Rockport, the next town past, and see my subject before I lost daylight.
As I said, the red weathered shanty was my unicorn. I’ve been down 128 too many times to count. Often I found an alternate spot for sunrise shots on Cape Ann, and left the building for last. Every time I’ve been to Rockport, I get the worst, most dreary days and it has led me to come back over and over to attempt another try at it.
The building is called “Motif #1” and was penned such by Lester Hornby, a painter who named the building for being the most popular subject by the numerous artists colonized in Rockport. Surprisingly, most of the photographs of this subject, and paintings for that matter, are all the same. The same three or four angles. Certainly, there are other shots, but none so interesting as the original few areas of view. You have to remember, you’re snaking around on piers, taking shots from behind buildings hanging over the water, and everyone’s got the same idea. It’s a classic. It’s something on many people’s photography bucket lists. The area down by the Harbor is filled to the brim with shack after shanty of artist displays, craftsman items, jewelers, local goods and tourist trap items.
I got out there and got those same angles, but walked around for two hours exploring walkways that weren’t expressly forbidden. The dreariness of the day discouraged me but I managed to edit up a few to save the trip. The Motif #1 hasn’t been good to me, this trip had muted colors, no snowfall that’s expected in New England Christmas shots, and no fisherman or boater activity to make the images living.
The next time I venture down to Rockport, I’ll make sure it’s at sunrise to add depth and color to my shots regardless of the cloud cover.
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