Cape Cod is as much state of mind as geographical designation. The place doesn’t even need its full name to be recognized. It’s simply “the Cape,” like something a superhero wears, only it doesn’t flutter.
When Joel Meyrowitz, a longtime Provincetown resident, published “Cape Light” it became one of the best-selling books in photographic history. That was a tribute to Meyerowitz’s artistry. It was no less a tribute to the mystique of the Cape. The book came out more then 40 years ago. Yet the clarity and radiance of the images have the freshness of tomorrow. The photographs are ravishing yet matter of fact.
The title of Brian Kaplan’s “I’m Not on Your Vacation: Greetings From Cape Cod” (Kehrer) tells you at least two things about the book and the photographs in it. They’re about the Cape but subversively so. You could call it “Cape Heavy,” except that these images of off-season, out-of-the-way, under-the-radar people and places are suffused with the sort of unique luminosity that gave Meyerowitz his title.
A title like “Foreclosure, Eastham” is jarring. Yet the quality of light seen off in the distance banishes all thought of failure and finance. This is a picture of real estate and unreal estate both.
For Kaplan, the balance between ravishing and matter of fact is an imbalance, one that very much comes down on the side of matter of fact. This Cape is a magnet not just for vacationers but also the people who work for the various businesses that cater to those vacationers: motels and clam shacks and miniature golf courses.
It’s a place as given to snow (in the off season) as sand (year round). The colors in the sky of “Maguire Landing, Wellfleet” are so transfixing it’s easy to overlook the wintriness of the landscape. Wintriness is not something commonly associated with the Cape.
Neither is weirdness. But if you’re going to think of the Cape as magical -- that’s where the mystique comes in -- then you have to admit weirdness into the picture. Weirdness is magic turned inside out and with the label showing. It’s hard to get weirder than the sight of a couple of dozen TVs piled up in a parking lot in “Sandcastle Resort & Club, Provincetown.” The fact that Kaplan shoots the sets with a chastely classical approach worthy of Walker Evans just adds to the effect.
Thoreau famously wrote of the Cape that “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.” Kaplan recognizes the truth of that statement, especially if by “America” you mean the everyday and the ungainliness required to avoid the everyday. His camera takes Thoreau’s statement a step further and asks a question: But why would you?
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.