“Peter always had a lot of visions,” said William Romanelli, describing his older brother, the photographer.
Peter Romanelli, who died on March 8, 2022 at Cape Cod Hospital, “was always looking,” said his friend Alan Morehouse. “He wanted to find the ideal place, and he always came back to the Cape.”
Peter’s love of Outer Cape Cod can be felt in his luminous images of Wellfleet’s marshes, the early spring light in Truro’s woods and Eastham pondscapes, and the many vistas and scenes in Provincetown.
His work earned the respect of his fellow photographers. Charles Fields said he admired Romanelli’s knowledge in both conventional and digital photography. “He was a perfectionist,” Fields said. “Everything he did was impeccable.” His work and the way in which he pursued it, “were amazing,” said Nancy Bloom.
Fields, who was with Peter at the end in the hospital, said he died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia. Romanelli refused to be put on life support, Fields said. He died on his own terms.
That presence of mind and strength of will was in concert with the way he lived. He may have at times been called “a curmudgeon,” said Fields, but “he had high ethics and strong opinions.” He was, Fields continued, “a great brother Beachcomber; I respected him a lot.” His brother William called him “a strong personality, but a gentle soul.”
The son of Otto and Dorothy (Hicks) Romanelli, Peter was born on May 28, 1948, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up mainly in Queens and graduated from Paul D. Schreiber High School in 1966. He was accepted in the engineering program at the University of Virginia, but, according to William, he didn’t really know what he wanted, so he left the university and took odd jobs and occasional classes at Hofstra University.
During this time and after he returned to college, Peter became part of a circle of friends that included Morehouse, Mark Irving, and Harry Palmer, among others. When Morehouse invited him to visit Truro, he said, “Peter fell in love with the dunes.” That love would come to animate his studies and his life’s work.
Peter graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1976 with a B.A. in cinema. His senior thesis combined aesthetics and science in a short film depicting the geological processes at work on the coastline of Cape Cod. He called it “Shoreline,” and it was shown that summer at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham.
After graduation, Peter worked as a freelance photographer, cinematographer, and carpenter before landing a job in 1978 as associate producer for MRC Films in New York, where he did everything from directing to editing and even constructing sets.
He married Deborah Nuse, a high school friend, that same year. The marriage ended six years later.
While working for MRC, Peter entered the master’s program in geography at Columbia University, completing a thesis titled “Gradient Analysis of Secondary Succession in the Provincelands Area of the Cape Cod National Seashore.” As part of his research, he stayed in a dune shack, where he would return several times. He received his master’s degree in 1984.
Soon thereafter he left New York to become vice president of Minturn Realty in Minturn, Colo., a small town outside Vail. There, he did much more than buy and sell real estate.
“He helped spruce things up by rejuvenating buildings, installing period lighting downtown, managing restaurants as rental properties, and developing special events,” said William. Those included a kayak race, a river festival, and the Minturn Fall Jazz Festival.
He married Barbara Roberts in 1986; they were divorced in 1987.
When his father founded Romanelli Partners Inc. in Denver in 1995, Peter served as president of the company, which specialized in renovations of small apartment buildings. Over the next decade he continued that work and took classes in regional planning at the University of Colorado. At the same time, he taught courses in photography, ecology, film studies, and cultural geography at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He later taught digital photography at the Community College of Denver.
During the last two years of his parents’ lives, from 2006 to 2008, Peter dropped everything to take care of them. After they died, he moved to Truro. Here, he began a renovation of his house, which became, Morehouse said, “another Peter work of art.” According to William, Peter worked on the house for the rest of his life; he finished everything but the kitchen before he died.
Peter’s move to the Truro was a homecoming. “He was always happiest when he was living on the Cape,” William said. When he was formally welcomed into the Beachcombers in 2009, his membership extended a family tradition: his maternal grandfather, William Hicks, who painted in oils and did etchings and lithographs for the WPA during the Depression, had also been a Beachcomber.
He served on the Truro Conservation Commission and the town’s Water Resource Oversight Board. The ad hoc Ballston Beach Restoration Partnership welcomed Peter’s help, and he also served on the citizens advisory board of WOMR community radio.
In addition to his numerous photography exhibitions in Colorado and New Mexico in the 1990s, Peter exhibited his work at galleries here, most recently at the Burke Gallery in Provincetown and the Harmon Gallery in Wellfleet.
Peter loved photographing the Southwest, but his Outer Cape landscapes are especially striking. They capture the interaction among water, air, light, and color at moments of transition. An artist’s hand is visible in the color gradations and textures in his photographs.
Tony Pfeifer has called the photographs in Peter’s “My Cape Cod” series ethereal and sensuous. “The Cape was not a subject for him,” Pfeifer said. “It was visceral, genetic, generational — in his blood. Peter was of, by, and for ‘the Cape.’ I can’t help but think it misses him.”
Peter was predeceased by one brother, Nicholas Romanelli. He is survived by the other, William Romanelli of Portland, Ore., and by his sister Alice Romanelli-Hower and husband Raymond of Kingston, Tasmania, Australia and a niece, Kaitla, and nephew, Nicholas, of Melbourne, Australia.
A remembrance was held on April 17 in Truro. Peter requested that there be no funeral.