Photographer Alison Shaw ’75

How She Got That Job

by Christina Barber-Just

Photographer Alison Shaw ’75’s work is “arty but accessible”Name
Alison Shaw ’75

Smith Major
Art history

Current Job
Fine-art photographer; gallery co-owner. Shaw specializes in “arty but accessible” seascapes that sell for about $300 to $5,000. With her partner, Sue Dawson ’84, she opened the
Alison Shaw Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard in 2005. The Boston Globe has called Shaw “one of the island’s signature photographers,” and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Stan Grossfeld has said that “she is to the Vineyard what Georgia O’Keeffe is to the American Southwest.”

What She Does
Shaw mounts about four shows a year at her own gallery; ten or so other galleries nationally and internationally also carry her work. She teaches weeklong photographic workshops to “serious amateurs” both on the Vineyard and at some of the top photography schools in the country. Publishers frequently approach her about book projects; her latest, with author Tom Dunlop, is Schooner: Building a Wooden Boat on Martha’s Vineyard (Vineyard Stories, 2010). She is a regular contributor to Yankee Magazine, Cape Cod Life, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and Vineyard Style, and her shots have appeared in dozens of other publications.

Career Path
Shaw, who has shutterbug genes thanks to her photographer mother, Gretchen Van Tassel, moved to Martha’s Vineyard immediately after graduating from Smith and took a job as a newspaper inserter at the Vineyard Gazette. She ended up staying at the paper for twenty-five years, gradually shifting from production work and graphic design to photography. She left the paper in 2000 and spent five years taking pictures and teaching photography before opening her eponymous gallery. The gallery was a “logical next step” in her career, Shaw says. “It feels great. I love being able to have control over what I show.”

Want Her Job?
There are very few people making a living at fine-art photography, Shaw says. To succeed, she says, “you have to work really hard and get your hands dirty,” all the while developing your eye, your style, your vision, which, unlike technique, can’t be taught. “The vision has got to come first,” Shaw says. “The technique really is not that complicated.”

Fall ’10 SAQ