Mattapoisett photographer presents on Cuttyhunk project

Feb 9, 2020

DARTMOUTH — Mattapoisett photographer Phil Mello spent one day a month on Cuttyhunk in the off season, documenting the quirks, weather and people of the island. Now, the effort is fodder for a book, and on Feb. 7 was the subject of a talk at Dartmouth’s Southworth Library. 

Mello visited the island, which has 12 year-round inhabitants, from October 2018 through June 2019.

Each of his carefully composed photos came with a story ⁠— of a person, an experience, or just a description of life on the island.

Cuttyhunk is the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands at the mouth of Buzzards Bay. 

And unlike its larger neighbor, Martha’s Vineyard — which is visible from the island — there is only one ferry to Cuttyhunk. According to the website, the boat is currently out of service, but should be running again in March.

While he was there, Mello photographed everything from the island’s aging grass airstrip and its generator-based power plant to monuments of stacked lobster pots and select board meetings for the town of Gosnold, MA, which includes all of the Elizabeth Islands.

He was also present for the June 2019 graduation of the last student of Cuttyhunk’s one-room schoolhouse, which dates back to 1873.

13-year-old Gwen Lynch started ninth grade at a boarding school in New Hampshire, but the island’s teacher, Michelle Carvalho, is still using the building for a STEAM Academy learning program in partnership with mainland schools.

Mello — who grew up in Fairhaven — plans on splitting any proceeds from his talks and a potential book with the STEAM Academy.

When he’s not taking photographs, he works as plant manager at Bergies Seafood in New Bedford.

His portrait series, “Working Waterfront,” documenting those who work in New Bedford’s fishing industry was recently exhibited at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.

All those who came to the talk were impressed.

“I thought it was wonderful,” said Dartmouth artist Jane Bregoli, who said that she has been to Cuttyhunk once before on an artists field trip. 

“I went over there last June, and I’m accepted to go over again this June. So I’ve learned more about the island,” she said.

“Most of us that live in this area swam on Cuttyhunk,” said Dartmouth Cultural Center co-Treasurer Kathy Del Sordo. “I can remember doing clambakes over there with a group of high school kids. There are so many fond memories.”

“It went wonderfully,” Del Sordo added about the evening. “He’s got some beautiful pictures.”

Dartmouth resident Janine Simmons helped get Mello out to Dartmouth, according to her husband and town Select Board member John Haran.

After seeing the presentation at the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center, he said, both Simmons and Haran “knew it was a presentation others would want to see.”

As for seeing the talk for the second time, he didn’t mince words. “Wow,” he said simply.