Quincy Quarry 2009

In the early fall of 2008 I fell and ruptured my quad tendon two days before I was leaving to live in Italy for three months while on a sabbatical leave from my teaching position at Northeastern University. How I fell is far too bizarre a story to tell here and I won't subject you to details.

At any rate, I was promptly in surgery, then laid up at home, then in rehab and taking a cab to physical therapy, my leg in a brace, starting to get around on crutches, etc. etc. By January 2009 I had deferred the sabbatical and was back at teaching, initially on crutches.

Where was photo during that fall? Nonexistent, of course. To someone who is wedded to the medium this was like being starved or alone on a desert island without a camera. By late fall I was just being allowed to drive. I could loosen the hinge on the brace on my left leg, lift my leg up into the car and drive.

I chose Quincy, about 30 minutes from Cambridge where I live. I remember the first time I went. I got myself extricated from the car and hobbled on my crutches for about 20 feet, sliding along on about an inch of snow. Realizing this was insanity, I turned around, got back in the car and drove home. On the second trip I used a  camera on a tripod while stumbling along on crutches and managed to make some initial pictures. They weren't very good but it was a start. As my health improved I went back and back and the series developed into something as my leg allowed me to do more.

Quincy Quarry has a rich history. 

Arthur Griffin's picture of young men diving off the cliff into the water below ended up on the cover of Life Magazine:

Quote from Paula Tognarelli, Director of the Griffin Museum.

The Quarry also had the reputation for a place to dump stolen cars and dead bodies. The films Gone Baby Gone and The Departed come to mind. It was filled in with dirt from the Big Dig in the early 2000's. 

Since I was interested in the graffiti spray painted on the cliff walls, I took the project from an initial few prints made in black and white and transtioned slowly to color.

This is really a project about color, with the idea that photography works well as a comparative tool. Colors are more striking when contrasted with black and white.

This then allowed me to move in closer and to really look at the elegance and aesthetic of what these night time taggers did.

And what they did with color.

Do I know how clichéd a subject this is? Do I know that graffiti is a constant theme used by students in photo programs in big cities across the USA? Yes. Doesn't make it irrelevant, does it? And it didn't feel to me like I couldn't make a contribution as well.

I've now put the full series up on the site here.

I would  be interested in hearing what you rethink of these. You may also subscribe to this blog. 

Reminder: The Focus Awards are at the Griffin Museum this Saturday, starting at 11 am for brunch. See you there.

Topics: Color,Black and White,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 23, 2014

Where I live

This one will fall into the category of being quasi photographic in that it uses photography in no artistic way to show you why it is so cool where I live.

First of all: I love where I live. I have lived in Cambridge, MA since the mid 70's and have been in the small condo I am currently in since about 1990. Cambridge is right across the river from Boston. I live in the lower non-posh part of Cambridge known as Cambridgeport. I am close to the Boston University Bridge that spans the Charles River.

Last weekend was the first time I'd been home in about month. It was also the "Head of the Charles" boat races and it is always fun to go. Best way? Ride my bike and cruise up and down both sides of the river. My favorite view is from the middle of the BU bridge

which also has about the best view of my favorite city, Boston.

But also, as I was riding to the gym to work out, I came across this:

Yup, the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town and they use this RR spur in Cambridge for their amazingly long train while they are here. This is where they live while on the road. It is also how they transport the circus and the animals from city to city. Some circus train facts:

Ringling Bros. is divided into two simultaneously traveling unit trains: the Red Unit and the Blue Unit.Each circus train has a designated trainmaster who is responsible for the safe operation and timely movement of the unit train. Each railroad train crew is provided with a circus radio for operational and emergency communications. In addition, the circus trainmaster monitors the carrier railroad's radio frequency to be aware of other traffic on the railroad.Ringling Bros. provides an instructional booklet detailing train operations and emergency procedures to all employees.Maximum train speed is 60 miles per hour.The stock cars, for the elephants and other animals, ride directly behind the locomotive where the ride is the smoothest.Individual stock car water tanks and electrical generators provide continuous water and power supply while the stock cars are separated from the coaches for unloading.

Unit Trains

Average number of personnel who ride the train (performers, staff and maintenance crew): 326

33 conventional passenger cars for circus personnel and their families

4 custom-designed animal stock cars

2 container flats for concession storage

17 piggyback flats which carry equipment, props and vehicles

6 hours to unload the train and 12 hours to setup the show

Red Unit: 55 cars, 3,985 tons and 4,877 feet long

Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,378

Blue Unit: 56 cars, 4,055 tons and 4,959 feet

Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,265

This is from Train Web

(The above picture from the Web, no attribution)

Both of these very cool things were here simultaneously about 2 blocks from where I live. Like I said: I love where I live.

Do you love where you live? Do you photograph close to home? Do you carry a camera with you and take pictures of things as you walk your dog or head off someplace? Do you use a Smart Phone to capture things close to home? I always carry a camera with me, these days a Sony DSC RX 100 II, a wonderful little camera that is best at just that: grabbing a picture of something because it is unique and unusual, funny, ironic, sad, or just happening in front of me right now.

A friend of mine says that my photographic preoccupation is with imagery of the highest possible quality and he's right. I use a DSLR a little like I used the 8 x 10 view camera for 25 years. If hand holding, I work to keep the camera steady and use it in enough light to allow ideal shutter speed and aperture settings. When using a tripod (over 50% of the time) I make sure everything is set for maximum quality so as to allow large prints. I guess all those of working with the 8 x 10 had its effect. But I also like having a small camera with me, to pull out and take a picture of something as I see it.

Topics: where I live

Permalink | Posted October 22, 2014

New Show at 555

Forgive the self serving nature of this post but there is a killer show at 555 Gallery up right now. It opened last weekend and is called "Devil's Promenade" and features the work of Antone Dolezal and Lara Shipley with some really stunning photographs. The two collaborate on their photographs and this body of work is made in the Ozarks. Both poignant and powerful, this is work that needs to be seen.

There is another photographer's work in the show, namely me, and these quite odd pictures of medical and forensic specimens have never looked better.  If you only know my work in landscape, architecture, built spaces or aerials, you're in for quite a surprise.The work in this show is from two collections; one at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and the other from the Spallanzini Collection in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Four of the large photographs in the show present the Mutter Museum work in a new way, specifically in color. Having been made on 8 x 10 inch transparency film, the prints have a level of detail and fidelity that must be seen to appreciate.

The other work is, for the most part, smaller prints:

Finally, if you haven't been to the newest photo gallery in Boston yet.... go. Susan Nalband, 555 Gallery's owner, is showing wonderful works: diverse, eclectic, beautiful and at times, intense. This current show is a good example.

She has also made this space at 555 E Street in South Boston into a first rate place to look at art. Don't you hate it when good work is shown badly? Well, that doesn't happen at 555. Great light, a quiet and serene space in which to look at work and yes, it's true, a friendly and welcoming atmosphere when you come in. Imagine, a gallery that is pleased to see you! 

The show is up through November 8. 

When I asked Paula Tognarelli (the director and curator of the Griffin Museum) what she thought of the exhibition she said: "This is a powerhouse of a show."

Not to be missed.

Topics: Shows

Permalink | Posted October 19, 2014

From David Bryne

The following is from David Bryne (Blog), sent to me by Keith Johnson. Thank you!


by David Byrne
October 7, 2014

Some might have thought that the end of painting as an artform arrived with Malevich’s reductionist abstractions about 100 years ago. How could anyone do less than paint a square or circle? (He didn’t reckon with future artists who would merely describe a proposal for a painting in words.) Well, those abstractions didn’t kill it off, as even he went back to painting eventually. There is a wonderful show at the Tate Modern <http://tinyurl.com/qd9ohpo> here in London of his work—more on that in another post. But now I’m wondering if economics might kill painting off this time, along with a number of other kinds of work that we sometimes think of as part of our culture.
I live near the galleries in Chelsea, on the west side of Manhattan. When I moved there not too long ago, the galleries were already in place—having edged out a lot of auto body repair shops and the like. Now it is quickly being transformed into a zone of luxury condos. I live in a nice condo, truth be told, but it’s not as new or fancy as many of the others that are going up—but it’s pretty nice. I could, unfortunately, be considered part of that “condoization” trend.
I used to take my lunch breaks browsing the galleries—I could see a few shows relatively quickly, as the galleries are so concentrated—but now I realize I have abandoned this pleasant habit. I’ve checked out a few shows recently, most memorably one by a late Parisian street sweeper Marcel Storr <http://tinyurl.com/lo5a2o4> at Andrew Edlin Gallery <http://tinyurl.com/kkfs5dl> .
An untitled work known as one of “The Megalopolises,” by Marcel Storr. <http://tinyurl.com/kva6rk8>
I’d seen his fantastic art at the Hayward previously, a show organized by The Museum of Everything <http://tinyurl.com/mc4re74> . Here’s a review from The Guardian. <http://tinyurl.com/mc4re74>
Storr believed Paris was in danger of being destroyed by a nuclear attack, and his drawings were, in essence, plans for the eventual rebuilding of the city. Rebuilding, with some adjustments.
Anyway. What struck me recently is how I haven’t gone on my little perambulations in quite a while. It’s not for lack of time: I can peruse a group of galleries when I return from jogging even, viewing a few galleries as I cool down. It’s my lack of curiosity about what’s happening that has put the brakes on. I ask myself, “Why is this—what’s going on?” and I think the answer is economic—at least the roots of my current lack of interest are economic. (This lack of interest is relative: I did just check out the Kiefer show at the Royal Academy here in London.)
It is not news that the art world caters to the 1%. It’s obvious that the outrageous prices for contemporary art mean that—although anyone can look—only the very wealthy can afford it. That is not news. The ongoing gutting of the middle class has affected my view as well. It means that absolutely no one except the very rich are now being addressed in these shops: anyone else who once upon a time might have felt this work was within reach is quickly vanishing from the economic spectrum. That demographic of potential buyers and visitors simply doesn’t—or almost doesn’t—exist anymore. Visitors and spectators who aren’t super rich are merely window-shopping.
The window shopping aspect is actually a nice thing about galleries. They provide a place, a venue, for visual comments on our world—and anyone can visit them for free. They’re like free museums, and some of them put on museum-scale shows now too. If one accepts the idea that art can be illuminating and edifying—an old idea I don’t really believe anymore—then the galleries are providing a social and civic service. But if not, then it’s really Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
I can’t really complain that the galleries cater to the wealthy—why should they not? That’s always been how they survived. The rest of us are allowed a voyeuristic view of the merchandise and the attendant swirl of activity in the palace. The glittering art fairs and parties and benefits—I’ve been to a few—all of which might be harmless and pleasantly entertaining. No harm done, if the work still has some depth and soul.
That’s the part that worries me—the economics now affect how I see the art. I realize that I have begun to view the work itself as being either intentionally or unconsciously produced expressly to cater to the 1%. I go into a gallery now and—rightly or wrongly—immediately think, “inoffensive tchotchkes for billionaires and the museums they fund.” I can’t see the work or any ideas behind most of it anymore—if there even are any. The ideas might be there. The artists might be holding on to their integrity and be maintaining their distance from the dirty business of buying and selling, but I can no longer see it. The money and our distance from it is so much in the forefront now. I have to admit, abstract art suffers the most in this view, as it is so easy for it to be viewed as giant decorative objects—objects that carry high status and bear brand names as well. I know: some of these artists were making the work before all this happened; some struggled for years in relative obscurity, but all of that gets swept away in the tsunami of cash.
It’s sad—I used to be able to convince myself that contemporary art was some kind of forum for ideas and feelings about the world we live in. But hang on! It is! Those ideas and feelings are now about money and sucking up to those that have it and will part with a little bit of it. That is the world we live in! The work is indeed a commentary on our world, but the work is part of that swirl of luxury as well. The intention of the artist might be ironic, but when their creations mimic the things and the world being criticized so perfectly, then the irony gets lost. A skull made of diamonds might be a comment on the over-the-top luxury mode of the art world, but it is more definitely of that world as well. The irony is sort of lost, if it was ever there. Now abstract art can safely be said to be about nothing but how big it is, where it can be placed and how much it costs.
This is not necessarily a criticism of the artists—it’s about how my perception has changed.
Like many others, I used to feel I could vicariously participate even if I was often viewed as an outsider. The artists were always welcoming and eager to hang and talk about things with me. They didn’t care that I spend most of my time in another world. I was treated more or less as an equal. The work, too, I viewed as often invigorating and inspiring. In my possibly naïve state, I could see a collision of ideas, passion, beauty and pure craziness. Now it’s impossible to see things beyond the hazy, distorting screen of the market.
The market and the disparity of wealth taints everything. The art world has increasingly become like one of those party magazines: you flip though the pages and see other people frolicking and living the glamorous life. In this case, we see the oligarchs and Wall Street dudes buying and selling art, going to art fairs and all the rest—the artists tagging along. I can’t see how this can be sustainable—how the work can maintain it’s value if the rest are losing interest as I am—but then, as long as the perceived value persists (there is no real value in artwork) and if these works maintain their status, there’s no reason for the bubble to burst. Like jewelry, artwork might be able to maintain its value (or even increase its value depending on rarity) and it can be displayed with pride every so often. One hopes it isn’t like tulips—one of the more famous historical speculation bubbles that left many empty handed <http://tinyurl.com/lx9xkus> .
Could painting—the sine qua non of arty baubles—become irrelevant and uncool not because of some reductionist spiritual aesthetic (as with Malevich’s work), but because it as a medium eventually looses all depth and human relevance due to economically inspired alienation? I’m wondering to myself how the tulip bubble might have affected how people viewed an innocent flower.


Puts a different spin on things in the art world, doesn't it?

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 17, 2014

Guest Post: Elin Spring

Most of you know of the blog written by Elin Spring. Hers is quickly becoming one of the most important blogs to follow as she seems to get to see everything, interview everyone and have her finger on the pulse of contemporary photography in our area.  In fact her efforts to show us what is up are so impressive she is being recognized in a week or so at the annual Focus Awards at the Griffin Museum of Photography with an award.

Her blog is called: "What Will You Remember?" and you can find it here. Elin asked me if I could review a show for her a month ago and I was happy to do so as I was going to see Brian Kaplan's exhibition titled "Not Your Vacation"at the Danforth Museum anyway. In fact, I was honored to be asked. It is hereIn turn I asked if she would write for this blog. She agreed and went right to a topic that caused caused quite a stir when I wrote about it: Portfolio Reviews

The following post, written by Elin, tackles the issue of portfolio reviews and poses a possible answer. Interesting stuff:

A New Kind of Review?

Ahhh, portfolio reviews! Those highly variable, high stakes markets in which photographers offer their wares, hoping to win gallery, museum and media attention. In the current system, this is the way photographers and art outlets find one another and, in many respects, it works. But sometimes not. What if you’re newly out of school or have just switched into a career in photography or just don’t have a complete, organized body of work to bring to a review, but you still crave feedback and direction?
When Neal Rantoul stated, “Photo teachers are massively underutilized as portfolio reviewers” in his summertime blog post (here), he put his finger on a rather gaping hole in the current review system and started an avalanche of discourse on Facebook. I’d like to take it up again because there appears to be a constructive solution. What if photographers were offered access to educators with the training and qualifications to help them prepare complete, professional projects before hitting the marketplace? What if there was a different kind of interactive evaluation, one I’ll call the “Creative Review”?

Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director and Curator of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, embraces the idea of extending the Griffin’s educational role and is in a perfect position to help develop another useful and effective system of portfolio reviews. I recently talked with Paula and Neal, in an effort to see where efforts might be joined to provide a new option to photographers that would better serve their careers. We came up with some ideas and invite your feedback. 

1. In addition to the traditional New England Portfolio Review (NEPR) event held each spring, a separate “Creative Review” event could be held in the fall.
2. Similar to last year’s NEPR, educational programming could take place in a morning session and individual “creative review” sessions could be conducted in the afternoon.

3. Professional photography educators would be recruited to evaluate reviewees’ works-in-progress and help guide their creative development.

4. Possibly, 2-3 reviewers could meet with each photographer simultaneously for a longer period of time (e.g. 30-40 minutes), rather than sequential, individual 20 minute reviews.

5. Perhaps other professionals, such as printers and writers, could be present to advise on printing techniques and artist statements.

Now it’s your turn! If you think you would utilize a “Creative Review” please speak up.

We’d like to know:

1. Would you like a separate event for Creative Reviews”?

2. Would you prefer single, short reviews or multiple reviewers in a longer session?

3. Would you like the advice of other professionals in your Creative Review?

We anticipate that the cost to photographers for “Creative Reviews” would not differ from current Portfolio Reviews.  If there is support for this idea in the photographic community, we will pursue it! 

Facebook would seem to be the place to air your views.

Thank you to Elin, and to Paula at the Griffin, for being willing to get the ball rolling. 

Topics: Commentary,Guest Blog

Permalink | Posted October 14, 2014