593 Commercial Street

Just as it might be said that Mary Heaton Vorse crafted the literary lens in Time and the Town through which we commonly see the Provincetown of the 20th century, it might also be argued that Joel Meyerowitz (b 1938) crafted the visual equivalent in 1978 with his Cape Light portfolio. A Meyerowitz photo, like a paragraph of Vorse, serves as a kind of platinum bar in its representation of this place, against which other efforts are almost inevitably — if unconsciously — judged. He owned this property for 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, and used it as his summer home and studio. According to Christopher Busa, this was the boathouse in which Eugene O’Neill first stayed during the “Great Provincetown Summer” of 1916, when his friend John Reed invited him to move down from Truro after the success of Bound East for Cardiff. Reed and his lover, Louise Bryant, were living across the street that summer, at 592 Commercial Street. Before the season ended, Bryant and O’Neill were lovers, too.

Meyerowitz came to the Cape in 1976 steeped in experience as a New York City street photographer whose idol was Henri Cartier-Bresson and whose contemporaries included Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge. He worked in 35 millimeter black-and-white film, capturing events in space at 1/1000th of a second. “After years of doing that and getting faster at that kind of location,” he told Bruce K. MacDonald in 1977, “I began to feel like a visual athlete — making sensational catches, but having less to learn from.”

On the Cape, by contrast, he worked with an 8-by-10-inch Deardorff camera and he worked in color. Slowly. He opened himself to the possibility of stumbling “upon a photograph that’s instructive — a doorway — something more than just beautiful, or well-made, or a combination of those elements that are photographically interesting — something that you can’t quite handle that possesses you, something simple and visible but filled with mystery and promise — the mystery of ‘How did I know to make that?’ — and the promise of a new understanding of photography and something about yourself.”

There’s a definite sense of place in many of his pictures, like the porch at 665 Commercial Street or the Cumberland Farms Dis-Gas station on Shank Painter Road [?]. But these are only nominal. “This gas station isn’t my subject,” he told MacDonald. “It’s an excuse for a place to make a photograph. It’s a place to stop and to be dazzled by.”

Meyerowitz has been closely associated with Provincetown Arts since its inaugural issue in 1985 as a 24-page tabloid with his cover photograph of Vivian Bower’s studio. His series of artists’ portraits included himself, on the 1990 issue. “I come here to lose my sense of things being solid,” he told Agathe Amzallag in an interview for that cover story.

The bay and the sky and the sandbars seem immeasurable, without permanence or solidity. I feel I am watching time melt. I’m just passing through. I feel incredibly small. … [T]iny little figures walking on a sandbar are, to me, a recognition of the real scale of things, human scale, the vastness of the world, in which any individual is insignificant in comparison. What I love about this place is how transported and in harmony I become. It’s as if my heartbeat is slowing down, and my connection to things is deeper because of it.

Meyerowitz sold 593 Commercial in 2011 to John M. Isaacson and Consuelo A. Isaacson. She is the president of the board of Friends of Caritas Cubana, a humanitarian and social service advocacy group that helps the work Caritas Cubana, a nongovernmental charitable agency in Cuba that is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. He is the founding president of Isaacson, Miller, a headhunting firm that prides itself in its “statistically significant record of placing women and people of color in executive positions.”


One thought on “593 Commercial Street

  1. Does she own a property on 557 Commercial St, I’ve been trying to get in touch with her ph #508 659 5564?


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