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Under the Surface

For photographer Michele Dragonetti, what is normally hidden tells the most interesting story. Her “Boat Hulls” series was inspired by a trip to Montauk where she found wooden boats hauled out of the water, evidence of their seabound life revealed under the water line.
“In the Boat Hulls series I was attracted to what is under the surface of the water, the part which is now vulnerable and exposed, the part that nobody usually sees,” says Dragonetti, “I think of each picture as a portrait, an expression of what the boat’s journey has been and the impacts and the hits it has taken. It’s like the inner part of yourself that you may not be comfortable sharing.” Her images are both beautiful and a bit haunting and present a different point of view of the East End’s maritime history. She comments, “The gloss and sheen are less interesting to me. It’s the texture and character and imperfections that reveal the beauty.”
Dragonetti grew up in Suffolk and moved to Amagansett 15 years ago. For the past decade she has been creating fine art photography whether it is urban street scenes, architecture or her boat hulls series. “I always liked having a camera and taking photos, documenting my life with friends and family. Then I started to approach it with a more artistic view. With a demanding job and working crazy hours, photography was in the background until I got to a point in my life where I was intent on making time for things I enjoyed, making photography a priority.”
Her work has been exhibited nationally at numerous shows and art fairs including the Roman Fine Art Gallery in East Hampton. Dragonetti is also a winner of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award. Named after the famed British photographer born in 1815 in Calcutta, the awards celebrate women photographers, with recognition of work in various categories. Dragonetti constantly finds inspiration in other artists, from Diane Arbus to Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi who created an installment in the roof-garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A passionate museum goer and cultural observer, she chooses travel destinations for not only places to photograph but to absorb the local architecture, culinary, and art scene. Portugal was an early favorite and recently Cuba, Malta, Argentina and Denmark have lured her to their unique cultures and landscapes. An English major, her blog on her website is a rich literary resource to share her philosophy, travels and adventures. She will even turn to Shakespeare when she does not have a title for one of her boat hulls, normally named after the boat itself. “Moonshine Revelers,” and “Shades of Night,” become evocative titles.
Recently, Dragonetti was invited to be the focus of “A Night Out With,” where local artists are featured in a session at The Golden Eagle in East Hampton then a dinner at Nick & Toni’s. More comfortable behind the camera, Dragonetti still enjoyed the experience, encouraging photographers in the audience. She says, “People are intimidated and think they need a degree in photography or a certain expensive camera. I wanted to highlight you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a camera to make a professional photo – I don’t want that ever to be an obstacle. The camera on the phone has a democratizing effect.”
Another democratizing effect for artists is Instagram where Dragonetti connects with fans from all over the world. “I will get a comment from someone in Russia or in Germany or in Thailand and I think how else would someone in these far-away places be aware of my work other than searching a hashtag,” she shares.
Whether it is in Montauk or Mongolia, her images have the power to tell a story where the lines are literally written on each hull.