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On a small Maine island, this book became an unlikely bestseller

People would call the store there and say, "Save me one, I’m away."

VINALHAVEN, Maine — In the 1970s, Joel Greenberg, a lifelong New Yorker, was a professional photographer who helped create educational materials about the city's parks. In documenting the parks, he tried to make them look like natural places without people.

Then, Greenberg traveled for the first time to Vinalhaven, an island in Penobscot Bay where everything was flipped: plenty of nature, not many people. On that first visit, he rented a place with 90 acres on one of the highest points on the island.

“It was a little rugged,” he remembers with a smile. “It didn’t even have an outhouse. It had a potty chair over a split rock under a pine tree. But it was magnificent.”

Feeling like “a stranger in paradise,” Greenberg fell in love with Vinalhaven and began shooting pictures, a pursuit he has followed every summer since then. From 1977 to 1987, he took about 400 photos with an unconventional piece of equipment—a camera manufactured in the 1920s. About 150 of those pictures, all black and white, have now been published in a handsome book called “Vinalhaven: Portrait of a Maine Island.”

All 500 copies sold in about two months, many of them at Fishermen’s Friend, a store on Vinalhaven that does a brisk business in chips, beer, and lottery tickets. No one ever mistook Fishermen’s Friend for a high-end art gallery where a $60 book of photography would be right at home.

Linda Hufsey, the co-owner of the store, said people “went crazy” over the book, which was displayed next to the cash register. 

“They would call us up and say, ‘Save me one. I’m away, I’m in Massachusetts, whatever, save me a book.’ And we would," Hufsey said.

The response has left Greenberg astonished—and deeply grateful.

“I have a number of publications. I have posters, I have postcards, I have a book. People admired my work,” he said. “But no one ever told me they became teary-eyed when they were looking at my work. I had three people tell me they became teary-eyed [looking at this book].”

No more copies of “Vinalhaven: Portrait of a Maine Island” are available. However, Greenberg hopes to do a second printing. Anyone who’d like to buy a copy if there is a second printing should go here and click on "Get the Book" at the top of the webpage.

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