Do you know a Moran tugboat when you see one? A Mister T? A frigate? The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn? Can you spot a stone-carrying barge on a river? When you look out across New York Harbor, do you see nothing more than choppy grayness relieved only by seabirds and the odd, unidentifiable boat? If your nautical knowledge is patchy, you can plug that hole in a trice by navigating over to Vincent Rose’s Instagram page, Salt and Oil. But even if you’re an old salt, you’ll want to check out his feed without delay.
Rose, who is thirty years old, is a commercial tugboat captain and a professional photographer of boats, historic and contemporary. He takes commissioned portraits of vessels for shipping companies, boat builders, fishing charter companies, marinas, as well as owners of private yachts and sailboats. But there’s more to his work than glamour shots. Because his day job involves towing oil barges, he often finds himself rubbing sails, so to speak, with the kinds of ships most of us have only ever have seen in picture books. And, unlike laymen, he knows at once what he’s looking at and how best to capture it on film.
“A lot of the boats that interest me are hidden from the general public,” he says on a break between trips. “If you’re standing on the shore in, say, Brooklyn, you’re usually too far away to see much.” Rose started photographing boats after a career change from working on large ships to hauling inland oil barges. He grew up in the Long Island town of Blue Point, and after graduating New York Maritime College eight years ago, he spent a year at sea, in transit between the U.S. and Europe. With not much to look at but open water, he soon grew bored. The only bright spot was when the ship on which he worked pulled into harbor.
“I like the commotion of a harbor; plus staying in a channel is more challenging than being on the ocean because it requires way more hand-eye coordination,” he says. “And the photographic opportunities are better.”
For example, one day, not long ago, he was anchored down in front of the Statue of Liberty when the sun start to set. He happened to look out the window when he noticed a ship passing in front of him. Rose knew right away that it was The Eagle – the great, great U.S. Coast Guard Academy training ship–coming in. He grabbed his camera, walked out on to the bow, and took some fantastic shots in crepuscular light.
But the one he’ll never forget was The Peking, a four-masted merchant ship that he spotted near the Brooklyn Bridge, where it had been sitting “for a crazy long time.” During World War II, the U.S. seized the vessel from the Germans and used to ship cargo and lumber to and from South America. Rose recognized it because his great-grandfather was the captain of The Peking’s sister ship. The images he took that day are among his favorite because they’re filled with personal meaning. “For me,” he says, “that photograph represents the ongoing connection I have as a sailor with my family’s nautical past.”