Person of the Week
Otis Captures Images to Share at JavaHut’s Unique Wall Gallery
At JavaHut on Church Street, Guilford photographer Peter Otis shares six incredible photographs from among hundreds of gorgeous images he’s captured while visiting a plethora of sites. The images are displayed in a unique gallery that’s lighting up the walls through May 11. Here, he enjoys some java in front of his photo Garden Pool. (Photo by Bobbe Otis )
Peter Otis created this collage to share an overview of his six images selected for the gallery wall display now on view at JavaHut. Image by Peter Otis/Photos by Peter Otis )
When you’ve visited dozens of national parks and many more state and local gems—and photographed them all—figuring out how to represent the lot in six pictures might sound like an impossible task. Somehow, Guilford photographer Peter Otis has managed to do just that, sharing six incredible photographs from among hundreds of gorgeous images he’s captured while visiting a plethora of sumptuous sites, including the shoreline’s very own Hammonassett Beach State Park.
The final six are now on display in a unique gallery that’s lighting up the walls at Guilford’s JavaHut.
The JavaHut’s revolving gallery is the brainchild of JavaHut frequenter Michael Haggans, who kicked off the viewing party a few months back with some of his photography, followed by those of another good friend and photographer, Robert Barnett of Branford. Now, it’s Peter’s turn. His works will be on view through May 11.
“It’s a pat on the back for the artist, and support for a small local business,” says Haggans. “I just happen to be one of Kym Campbell’s stalwart customers, and recognizing that she’s trying to run a coffee shop—and since I’m in there all the time—I said, ‘Kym, let me manage the walls.’ So this is a labor of love.”
Peter says he’s honored to have been invited to display his work at the café, which is housed in an iconic Quonset hut and serves up organic and fair trade coffee as well as crepes, breakfast, and lunch. JavaHut is located in the Guilford town center at 20 Church Street.
“That Quonset hut, the curves of it, with the way the lights are set up by Michael; it’s something,” says Peter, who also counts himself lucky to be invited to share his work at the café.
“Michael and Bob Barnett get together frequently at JavaHut just to catch up, because they’re both architects now living in the area, and they invited me because I go to Trinity Church [in Branford] with Bob. So he knew about all the photography I’ve done in the area, and they invited me as the third person. It was an honor to have them ask me if I’d like to be the next person to put some up there.”
Deciding which pieces to pick out for the show was a bit daunting, Peter shares.
“There are more than 400 national parks and historic sites, and Bobbe and I have been to 32 of the national parks and more monuments and historic sites. So that’s a lot of images,” says Peter, a New Hampshire native who moved to Guilford with his wife, Bobbe, and their high-school-aged kids in 1994.
“Ken Burns talks about national parks as America’s best idea, but the reality is, our states and counties—because we’ve had chance to visit a lot—all those parks are resources for all of us citizens, too. And so the question, for me, was how am I going to share this wealth, and distill it down to six pieces? So it was distill, distill, distill, and a lot of stuff left on the cutting room table.”
Peter also came up with a few more guidelines to further tame the mammoth task.
“To distill it further, we grandparents...have taken our kids and their kids to Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon [national parks] and places in Massachusetts. So I wanted to have a couple [images] of kiddos enjoying themselves in all of those spots,” says Peter.
The display also shares a state park shot taken at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. In many ways, listening to Peter describe capturing that image, titled Beach Log, also speaks volumes about his appreciation for the gift he’s found in his photography.
“I’m blind in one eye, and I’m color blind, and people usually don’t have any idea,” says Peter. “And I attribute a lot of this to the holy spirit, which kind of hits me when I see things. At one point we were up at Hammonasset this winter, which we do—we tend to go walking around Meigs Point—and I saw this old log that’s kind of between the bathhouses and [the] jetty. And I took a couple of pictures. And it didn’t come out right.”
But then, there was a moment.
“I saw that the light was right, and I got down on my belly looking toward the water, and I shot through that 24- or 25-foot log again, and it just came out right. All of the shadows on everybody’s footprints that were going through there...and it actually reminded me of one day, a number of years ago, at sunrise at Arches National Park, when I ran out and got a picture of Delicate Arch. Nobody else was out there...” he says, his voice trailing off, as the memory arrives with some of the powerful emotion Peter experienced in the moment.
That’s another reason Peter says he’s grateful for the opportunity this exhibit has given him to revisit his work, especially after coming through two very challenging years.
“In the last two years, I got hit with multiple myeloma—blood cancer—and went through infusions and a stem cell transplant. I’m on maintenance at this point and doing really well,” he says. “And so that, and then COVID came along. So it’s been a couple of years of really doing nothing. And so that was the thrill for me of going through these pictures. Of course, I look at them a lot on the computer, but selecting certain ones and then being able to frame them [and] put them up, I think I had actually forgotten just how wonderful it is to see my pictures in situ, and in a gallery.
“That’s one of those things, as I was going through it; I don’t think I ever thought about,” he adds. “I had given myself a deadline to come up with representative photos—national and local, and with some kids. But then, when they finally got printed and I passed them on to Michael [and] put them up, and saw them under those lights, in that curving roof space—wow. They just popped.”
Images in the gallery display at JavaHut include one of the Grand Canyon’s iconic clay-colored canyons in the foreground, framing still more canyons across a distance so vast they fade to violet. Another is imbued with dusky tones of the setting sun lighting water, sky, and the sails of boat on the horizon.
“That Grand Canyon picture was taken when my son and I had just hiked over a five-day period. That was a special one that I just loved,” he says. “And the little sailboat was in Key West.”
He also selected those shots to mix it up a bit (a collage of all six photos can be viewed by clicking the photo arrow at the top of this story).
“A lot of my pictures had a lot of blue in them, so I wanted to pick some different colors,” says Peter.
One eye-grabbing gallery photo that certainly celebrates the hue of blue is his image Garden Pool taken at Grey Towers National Historic Site, in Milford, Pennsylvania. Peter captures the entire span of the pool’s perfect, narrow, 74-foot strip of deep blue water cut into the ground and surrounded by stone. From his photographer’s perspective, the pool splits the image and leads the eye to a bright red door centering a fanciful little structure (known as the Children’s Playhouse) far at the other end.
Like so many of his photographs, this one has many interesting angles to its origin story. Peter, who came to Connecticut from Concord, New Hampshire to take a job at what was then called the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (now Yale School of the Environment), was especially interested in visiting Grey Towers.
“It’s the only national park that’s actually administered and run by the National Forest Service, and the reason that the Parks Service gave them the rights to it is because Gifford Pinchot, whose family created that estate, their money actually started the Yale Forestry School. And he was governor of Pennsylvania, as well,” says Peter.
Peter traveled to Pennsylvania to tour the property with a great-granddaughter of Pinchot’s as his guide.
“I was waiting for Gifford’s great granddaughter, who’s a graduate of our school, to give us a tour of some areas we hadn’t seen,” he recounts. “And I was just standing there by that pool, and all of the sudden I said, ‘Wow.’ So I got down and I shot that long pool. And it was only years later a distinguished graduate from our school told me, ‘Peter, you know when you look down railroad tracks, they get narrower as they move away from you? This [pool] is an illusion. It’s actually narrower. They designed it that way.’ And that was just another spontaneous shot.”
Garden Pool was shared as an image in the 150th alumni display of Peter’s alma mater, University of New Hampshire. He’s also shared countless images with Yale during his career.
At Yale, Peter served as director of career development, creating and founding the Career Office for Masters and Doctoral students to help them find jobs and internships, as well as developing funding for internships and fellowships. His photography has appeared in displays and publications of both Yale University and Yale School of the Environment and has also captured many events and moments shared by those at the school through the years.
“I have two mantras,” Peter says of his philosophy of photography. “One is ‘Places... Plants... People... Plus Other Gems...’ and the other one is, ‘Keeping events alive long after they have ended.’ I did a lot of shooting of events at Yale, and that mantra is something I just realized was important. Because the event comes and goes, but those pictures are always going to be there.”
Although Peter officially retired from Yale seven years ago, he stayed on for about another five years to assist Yale School of the Environment’s Alumni Office. One year ago, Peter was named an honorary alumnus.
“It was actually very cool to become an honorary alum, even though I hadn’t taken any courses there,” says Peter.
His current work as a photographer for hire, as well as a professional with an online gallery of artful photographs for sale, is on display at his website, peterotisphotos.com
Peter has also shared his photography talents locally. He’s taken on the role of official photographer for Trinity Church of Branford and given back to Guilford by lending his skills to document the Guilford 375th as well as photography provided for Guilford Land Conservation Trust.
“We live in the area, and we love nature and protecting the land, and providing service to different organizations,” says Peter.
With the emerging promise of a bit more opportunity to get back into traveling, Peter and Bobbe have many sights they are looking forward to visiting and, of course, photographing.
“We love to go to the Southwest. We’ve gone every year, for about 10 years, to see places and experience more native culture and landscape and everything else. So some of its going back again,” says Peter of resuming travel. “But it’s also going the coast of Maine [and] mid-coast... We’re just blessed in this country, with the places we can go.”
In fact, Peter hopes this story might encourage others to get out there and visit natural treasures including our national parks, and shares news of a real bargain available for families with 4th graders, courtesy of the National Park Service program Every Kid Outdoors.
“Families, if you’ve got a 4th grader, you can get into national parks for free. That’s neat,” says Peter.
Families can apply at everykidoutdoors.gov. The program allows U.S. 4th graders and family members free access to more than 2,000 federal lands and waters during their student’s 4th-grade year.
“That saves families a lot, regardless of whether they’re going to Old Ironsides up in Boston or anything anywhere else, for a whole year. It’s nice,” says Peter.
Peter is also happy to share more about his works on display at JavaHut, and has been inviting friends and community members to contact him if they want to try to meet up with him (following proper COVID-19 precautions) to hear more about the images.
“One of the things I’m doing is I’m inviting people to join me down there and let me show the show to them ... ‘Meet the Artist at JavaHut!’” he says. “So for anybody who might say, ‘Hey Peter, I’d like to see you down there...’ if I can swing it, and we can do it in a safe way, I’d love to.”
Learn more about the photography of Peter Otis at peterotisphotos.com or email email@example.com. To learn more about hours, menu items, and other events at JavaHut, visit www.javahutcafebistro.com, call 203-689-5060, or stop by JavaHut at 20 Church Street, Guilford