Nantucket Portraits

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Justine Paradis

Rob Smith

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised on Nantucket... I studied Earth Science and Ecology at Vassar College, and I've spent some time travelling. Right now my main focus is in radio production.

What was your biggest takeaway from school? Was there some invaluable experience?

I loved meeting people from all over, and interacting with them... we tend to think of college campuses as sort of isolated communities, but I found it to be quite the opposite... that was enriching. And I loved learning about the Hudson Valley, its history... learning about the town of Poughkeepsie, and its place both in the natural and socio-economic world. It's halfway between New York City and the Catskills, and I find that the way that nature and the economy overlap there is fascinating.

Can you tell us about some of your travels?

I took a gap-year before going to college... I didn't feel I was quite ready after my senior year of high school. I traveled to Argentina for a couple months, as a part of an ecological research expedition on Condors, and a couple other things... we spent some time in an araucaria forest, which is sort of a living fossil forest on the border of Chile and Argentina. Then I went on a cycling tour of Western Europe, starting in France and ending in Denmark... it was great. There's something different about traveling by bike. It's a great experience, but it's also really boring in some ways. There are some really long periods of time when it's just you and the road. So you spend a lot of time thinking, or blissing out... in your regular life you don't have a lot of time to sit and contemplate things. And you have more time to see the way societies are organized at that pace.

I like traveling at times of transition. It helps you calibrate and prioritize your life... decisions that are otherwise hard to make become sort of subconsciously made.

Can you tell us about your career in radio?

I did some more traveling in college. I did a Sea Education Association Semester, sailing from California to Hawaii doing plastics research. I'm really passionate about oceans justice and oceanography... we were studying bacterial growth on plastics in the ocean. But I realized that I found the actual process of research to be really boring. It's very rote, and precise... and some people are really good at that, but I didn't feel like one of those people. So I got back to school and I wasn't sure how to proceed with my studies in science. Someone suggested that I go to the radio station at Vassar, so I did. I love 'This American Life,' and I was exploring their 'How to Make Radio' page, and I ended up finding this wonderful radio school in Wood's Hole, right across the pond from us, where I ended up spending some time. So now I freelance for WCAI, and some other projects on the side.

What I really love about radio are these deep dives into a specific topic or story, for a month, or two months, or a week... or however long the story takes. And then you totally move on. Over time people tend to develop a beat as a reporter, but right now I do a lot of different kinds of stories. I love how any one story is attached to every other part of the world. Nothing exists in isolation... as a reporter, I get to learn how a story relates to the world at large. It's always a very educational experience.

What, in your estimation, does Nantucket need to move forward as a community?

I think that we have an amazing community here. But we're facing very intense economic and environmental forces that are going to demand that Nantucket changes. And that will either happen in a way that's out of our control, in a way that Nantucket slowly becomes a movie set. Or it can happen in a way that Nantucket can remain a real place... a real, authentic community. We need to invest in ways to make sure people can succeed. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like, but we need to have an open conversation where people are really listening. And people need to understand that they have skin in the game. Everyone's actions contribute to what Nantucket looks like, whether or not they think that they do.

We're gonna see sea-level rise, and it would be great to see a conversation about what to do when down-town starts to get submerged. Those buildings are historic, and they're valuable now, but they won't be later. But people don't want to think about that, which is challenging.

Humans of Nantucket, modeled after the famous Humans of New York, intends to portray various members of the island community who share with us their lives, dreams and hopes.

Robert Smith is a local landscape and portrait photographer. He will soon begin building a website to feature his work, and will also shortly provide links to his Flickr and Instagram accounts. He can be reached at 508-221-6926