OBX photographer Ray Matthews ‘loved where he lived’

By on September 14, 2023

Horses in Grass by Ray Matthews on display at Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery.
Boats-Englehard, NC by Ray Matthews on display at Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery.
Ray Matthews photos at Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery. (Photo credit Mary Ellen Riddle/OBV)
Ray Matthews Self Portrait at Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery. (Credit Sharon Whitehurst)
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Nags Head gallery showing a retrospective of his work

Life flows from the photographs in the West Wing of Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery in Nags Head. A giant pelican soars, sunlight beams through crashing waves, and one can almost taste salt in the air. The gallery is currently showing a retrospective of the late Ray Matthews’ photography that features Outer Banks nature, iconic architecture and an evocative black and white self portrait of the man many came to honor. His aerials of Oregon and Hatteras Inlets are breathtaking and illustrate the heights Matthews would go to chronicle beauty and change in his beloved home.

The exhibit, featuring nearly 100 works, opened on the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 12. Visitors filled the Nags Head gallery and overflowed into the parking lot waiting to catch a glimpse of the artist’s images. One can’t help but feel his love for the beloved environment he called home while viewing his work. “That was his life,” says Ray’s wife Pam about her husband’s connection to nature.

Nightly, the couple watched the sunset from their Nags Head porch that had a view of the sound. When Matthews had their house built, he made sure that it was filled with large windows. A view of the outside was more important to him than having a wall space to hang his photographs. No award ribbons are displayed though there are a pile of them somewhere, says Pam Matthews.

Pam Matthews handpicked the photographs to be included in the retrospective. “These are the last of the photographs bearing Ray’s original signature,” she said.

The exhibit was coordinated by the Don Bryan Cultural Series, whose mission is to strive to inspire, educate, and challenge through presentations of the visual, literary and performing arts. Didi Tupper, of Nags Head, who was on the board for 12 years and volunteered to help install the show, holds a special place in her heart for Matthews and his work. The former owner of Greenleaf Art Gallery in Duck, Tupper showed Matthew’s work for 20 years before the gallery closed. His was the only photography they regularly offered.

“Ray was a man with a keen eye, a steady hand and an enduring love for the outdoors,” Tupper said in a tribute at the reception. “For over fifty years, he documented with his camera in hand this magical place that we call home. His chosen profession was very solitary, but for some reason, he knew and befriended people in all walks of life up and down these islands.”

Lynne Hutchins, also a board member who helped install the show is wowed by Matthews’ aerial photographs that show fragile Oregon and Hatteras inlets. “He’s a craftsman in every way,” she said. “You can tell he loved what he did, and he loved where he lived,” she said.

While Matthews graduated from and majored in English and Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it was in his second year that he became interested in photography. “I think he just picked up a camera and started going,” recalled Pam Matthews. “He had a friend that took pictures, and he got into learning how to use the darkroom and doing all that.”

Ray had a large body of fine art gallery photographs, and he also did a lot of commercial photography for rental, real estate and boatbuilding companies. He started out showing his work at Edward Green’s Christmas Shop in Manteo and, in time, opened two galleries. When they closed, his work was showcased in multiple Outer Banks galleries.

Over his career, Matthews shot with Minolta and Cannon cameras. His equipment was always packed in his car, said Pam Matthews. “So everywhere we went, we had cameras with us.” The couple met in 1971 and married three years later. Pam helped develop film in the early days and did some frame building, but most of the photographic process was done by the artist himself.

This included printing, developing, matting and framing. “He was very particular,” said Pam Matthews. Does she have a favorite photograph? “I can’t say that I did because every time that I thought I did, he’d come out with one that I just loved even more,” she said. She does point out an image he took of one of the old Nags Head beach cottages of which she is fond. It shares space in the main room of the home that is filled with walnut furniture Matthews built.

For Pat Eure, owner of Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery, it was Matthews’ ability to capture color and detail that caught her eye. “And one thing I remember about Ray is I’ve never seen him distraught,” said Eure. “He was always extremely patient, and I guess that is one thing it takes to make a good photographer,” she said.

A native of Pasquotank County, North Carolina, Matthews lived in Nags Head for 50 years before he passed in 2022. His own words from an artist statement best describe his work.

“I hope my photographs will give you a sense of feeling I have for nature and my home, and some resonance with your own experience. We all know what drama and beauty look like in nature, and in the works of man as well. The challenge for me is to isolate a moment in time or distill a segment of some larger scene and present it for you [and me] to enjoy and appreciate as unique and worthy of attention. Beauty and wonders are truly all around us!”

The retrospective will be on display through October 7. Gallery hours are Tues. through Thursday 10 am to 4 pm and Friday 11 am to 4 pm. Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery, 210 East Driftwood Street, Nags Head.

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