Born on the island, artist and photographer Michael Gaillard is a child of Nantucket. It was at Nantucket High School eighteen years ago that the first im- print of a possible career path was made. “The first photography class I had was with Ritch Leone, who taught me the basics, and the next was with Beth Morris, who helped me start to find my eye,” Gaillard remembers. “Those classes readied me for what was to come.”
Gaillard went on to study photog- raphy at Stanford before receiving an MFA at Columbia, and today his photography is featured in hundreds of private collections throughout the world. Now this native son has returned to Nan- tucket to open a gallery where it all started.
“My first transcendent experience behind a camera was in standing beneath a dark cloth and looking at an image projected onto the ground glass; it made me feel as though there was nothing in the world but for that image,” Gaillard says. “Everything else disappeared. I still feel the same way to this day, thousands of im- ages later. For a moment in time, it’s just me and that image, and maybe a little wind.”
Using a large-format camera, the same type of camera used by legendary photographers Ansel Adams and Walker Evans, Gaillard renders a single image on an 8×10 sheet of film. “That’s how I achieve the level of precision and clarity that my pieces have,” the photographer explains. “That large-format negative enables me to enlarge my images to great scale. I want the work to provide an atmosphere, a feeling.” His are works you fall into, capturing more than an image, somehow encapsulating the very air, wisps of memory, a timeless evocation of place. “Certain places have indelible signatures,” Gaillard says, “and Nantucket happens to be one of them.”
Gaillard’s Nantucket roots run deep. His paternal grandmother, Gwen Gaillard, was an island legend. She was the proprietor of the Opera House, the best restaurant in town filled with a collection of characters—none larger than her. Commiserating with a group of sailors one night and despairing over the fact that there was no race for all these wooden-sailboat lovers, Gwen and her friends hatched a plan for the Opera House Cup, one of America’s classic wooden-sail- boat races. This August marks the 41st race of the Opera House.
On Gaillard’s maternal side,his grandmother Elizabeth Oldham, known as Libby, is a legend in her own right. Longtime doyenne of the Nantucket Historical Association, she continues to work in research at the NHA Library. Libby beams when talking about her grandson. Pride is palpable. “He’s the light of my life,” she says. Gaillard credits her with in- stilling the discipline necessary to fulfill a life vision: “She feels it is my obligation to do with my in- nate ability everything that I can possibly do.” Libby adds, “I let him know that I had big expectations for him.” In living up to those expectations, and in fulfill- ing dreams they both carried, a thread of love binds them.
This summer, Michael, his wife Brett, an architect, and their one- year-old son, Samuel, will be on island for the season to fulfill his dream of opening the Michael Gaillard Studio on South Beach Street.
“I’ve spent a few years now as a soul divided—with one foot in New York and one in Nantucket. But now I bring my New York self back to Nantucket, and together as one, I am opening a gallery,” he says. This native son has come home.