Caught in a Dilemma 2

In Caught in a Dilemma? I outlined my case: that credentials, education and experience have little relevance in today's world of photography as an art. The table has skewed in recent years, thanks, in large part, to the Web, digital capture and social networking.

In a conversation with a colleague, a woman who has a long track record of curated exhibitions and writing about the medium, she said something about "scholarly' works. By that she meant work with teeth, with substance that held importance culturally, historically, perhaps politically, that used photographs as an expressive medium to speak to larger social issues. Think "Robert Frank"or "Walker Evans" verses someone who's popular on websites or has a social media presence.

photograph by Trey Ratcliff

I am not here to disparage Mr. Ratcliff's work (his site is here) or any others whose primary presence is on line. The amount of hits his site gets verses mine is extremely high. So what's the best way to get work seen? To share one's sensibilities? There is the tradition verses new forms of communication that span borders, language and cultural differences instantly. 

Clearly, if that is your goal, to reach thousands, to get your work seen by the masses, the online approach is the one. Start a site, write a blog and reach out to like minded people hungry for your kind of pictures.  Keep your work impactful, accessible, colorful, based on travels to exotic locations and you'll do well. You could expand this base to offer workshops that share your "knowledge". Need a gallery to show it? Not so much or perhaps this is of secondary importance. Need it collected in museums? Not likely as most museums aren't interested in this kind of work. See the dichotomy here? That which is massively popular is the work least likely to be thought of as credible by the intellectual, academic, curatorial and scholarly authorities among us. This as a concept has enough teeth to be like church verses the state, doesn't it?

Man, this field, this discipline has become obtuse, massive, convoluted and complex! What can one person (i.e. me) do about it? Nothing. Can I bring some clarity to it, some perspective based upon my rapidly advancing years? No, not even close. I'll wager that most people wandering into the gallery that shows my work will respond with more enthusiasm and perhaps open their wallets to the above over the top picture by Mt. Ratcliffe than they would to my efforts  shown below. While this is frustrating, I also find the sea changes taking place tremendously exciting, as though we are on the edge of a new frontier, boldly going where no man has gone before (to steal a phrase). Were I young I would embrace all this change and work within the medium's incredible diversity to carve out an expressive career immersed in utilizing innovation and do it with both feet. But much of being an artist is knowing what you are not, as a method by which you then know what you are. Life's like that too, isn't it? After all these years, it is safe to assume I know what I am and what I am not. I hope you do too.

For myself, I am loving where I am (except for a physical limitation here and there) and still making work that is perhaps a little less prolific but has an edge, a point, that hopefully transcends some of the more pedestrian characteristics of much of the work we see on line. 

From Blackwater Dam, NH

Oh, and by the way, we are working now on the next show of mine at 555 Gallery to open in September and it definitely will not be "rocks and trees".

So stay tuned and to Mr. Trey Ratcliff: party on, man! 

Permalink | Posted May 21, 2015

Caught in a Dilemma?

I don't know if you can relate but let's try it. There may be wisdom here but it may also be inconsequential or even foolhardy. We will see. At any rate, it will be good to run it down, to look at it a little as a phenomena.

I am starting here: senior and career artist photographer with some credentials (full professor at one highly ranked university and 13 years teaching at another, BFA and MFA degrees in photography at one of the top programs nationally, a long exhibition list over the whole career, grants and work in many museums and private permanent collections, currently represented by Boston-based 555 Gallery). In brief: a long established tenure of working in black and white analog series but also firmly established in the digital and color world of contemporary practice for the past 13 years.

Okay, so that's the framework. Let's just add that I taught photo history and contemporary directions in photography as lecture courses over the years. I know my discipline. But I am not solely a theoretician, I am a practitioner as well. Throughout my career I believed that part of my validation as a teacher was that I was out there making work. However, I live and breath in contemporary times and see photography changing so very drastically every day. Let me acquire some pictures to show you what I mean.

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff who describes himself on his site, "I'm a warm hearted old-school gentleman with really cool tools". His site is: here. I do not know Mr. Ratcliff but he describes his site as being one of the most frequented travel websites in the world. I suggest going to his site to get its full effect.

Whereas I come from a tradition of making pictures like these:

From the series Blackwater Dam made over a three year period in the early 90's. The full series is on the the site: here.

These fit into a firmly established tradition of landscape pictures made by a  practicing photographic artist: 8 x 10 view camera, 24 x 20 inch black and white prints made by me in the darkroom, a Zone System tonal scale, selenium toned prints, dry mounted and over matted 30 x 26 inches.

At issue is this: Mr Ratcliff's work has tremendous popularity. It also is, to my eye, overdone, too saturated and limited in its appeal (Mr Ratcliff is all about HDR photography). But is his work less credible or viable than mine based upon my credentials and his lack of same? I don't think so and there lies the sea change. 

We are going somewhere.

Stay tuned. 

Caught in a Dilemma? 2 coming up.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 18, 2015


I've been ordering portfolios, custom cases and supplies from Portoliobox for I   don't know how long, probably thirty years or so. They are based in Warren, RI and Stuart Einhorn who runs things there is the best: responsive, creative and with his long experience in dealing with artists, a real pro. Let's be honest, working with artists can be challenging, I know. I am one. This is, quite simply, an excellent company.

Want a 25 x 17 inch portfolio and can't find it anywhere? Call Stuart.Want a case for your upcoming limited edition portfolio? Call Stuart. Want a purple slipcase for your new book? Want an overlap folio in 24 x 30 inches? How about something special for those that gave at a high level to the Kickstarter campaign for your new book? Call Stuart. 

Is this cheap stuff, banged off in Asia by the thousands? No way. This is local expert craftspeople making custom cases and folios to your specific specifications. 

Portfoliobox was recently sold to a bigger company called Taylor Box Company. No matter. Have no fear, Portfoliobox is there.

Call Stuart.



Topics: Product Mention

Permalink | Posted May 12, 2015


It seems the blog has taken a little bit of a vacation. This wasn't planned but I was away some and involved in a few different projects that kept me from writing. After this one that is an announcement I will be back with real content soon.

I have been asked by the New England School of Photography (NESOP) in Boston to be its keynote speaker at this year's graduation ceremonies in mid June. I am honored and humbled to be asked. Needless to say I have accepted the invitation.

Now comes the hard part. What do I tell a group of graduating students at the school? I've always listened to graduation speeches with a good deal of skepticism, for how could someone stand up there and be actually helpful to young people going off into the world to make their careers?

But before I delve into that I have to tell you what I love about doing this. I love that this is the same school I started out as a teacher in 1975, two years after getting out of graduate school. Of course, this was not only another century but the photography that we taught with 4 x 5 view cameras working in black and white in darkrooms bears little resemblance to the photography of today. Video wasn't even in the discipline's crosshairs then.  Now, for a pro, the two go hand in hand. NESOP was a place that launched not only its graduates' careers but young faculty too: Henry Horenstein, Jane Tuckerman, Joe DeMaio, Tom Petit, Jon Barkan, Jim Stone, and Barry Kipperman come to mind to name just a few.  

What will I say? I will reflect on my own career to analogize about the beginning of theirs. I will share my thoughts about failures that turned into wins, risks taken that succeeded, rejection and how to cope with the fact that all successful people receive far more "no's" than "yes's", that teaching within the discipline of photography that I loved with all my heart never truly felt like work, that being an invested and active photographic artist throughout my career informed my teaching and that my students helped me stay young, tolerant and invested in my art. Stuff like that.

Put yourself there. What would you say to a bunch of students about to graduate? It feels like a really good exercise to put yourself through, even if you aren't someplace's keynote speaker.

I am looking forward to it but I promise there will be sleepless nights thinking it through and deciding what to say.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 10, 2015

When is a Show Better?

We've all been to exhibitions that didn't live up to their hype. For instance, the Herb Ritts solo exhibition at the Boston MFA in 1996 (touted by the museum as one of its most popular) comes to mind as a major debacle to this photographer. Way too much hype with way too little substance. Much more fulfilling is the show that's a "sleeper", when the location isn't particularly prestigious or when there isn't so much built up about it, but when the work transcends the venue. Especially if you discover it, when if you go you realize this is the real deal, that the work hanging on the walls is exceptional and that the show is far more than the exhibition's composite parts, when there is a curatorial whole and that you finish provoked, stimulated, maybe a little awed and wishing there was more.

[Photo]gogues: New England, a show that opened this week downtown in Boston at Lafayette Center along a hallway connecting Macy's to a hotel, is just that. This is a show that takes your breath away with its richness, diversity and sheer beauty. The show is the third time curators Paula Tognarelli and Frances Jakubek from the Griffin Museum have pulled together works by regional teachers of photography and it is a stunning testimony to the vibrancy of the discipline. They have done a commendable job in the face of a wealth of riches.

I wish I had room here to highlight each artist but perhaps I can provide you with enough to convince you to go see this show. Disclaimer: I have three pieces in the show. My modest contribution are aerial photographs taken above Martha's Vineyard in 2012. It is an honor to have my work alongside such wonderful art.

The artists whose works are represented in [Photo]gogues are: 

 Lindsay Beal, RI College:

   Lindsay Beal

Jesseca Ferguson, School of the Museum of Fine Arts

Bill Franson, NE School of Photography:

 Bill Franson

Daniel Mosher Long, Manchester Community College

Sarah Malakoff, U. of Massachuesetts, Dartmouth:

Sarah Malakoff

S. Billie Mandle, Hampshire College

Neal Rantoul, Northeastern University

Thad Russell, RI School of Art and Design

Matthew Swarts, Communit College of RI:

Matthew Swarts

Mara Trachtenberg, Community College of RI

The exhibition is part of this year's Flash Forward Festival.

Descriptive terms for the work in the show? 

Diverse, moving, eclectic, elegiac, abstract, forceful, tender, iconic, strong, straight, figurative, disturbing, etc. I wish I was better with language as this list could go on and on.

I also loved the catalog. I assume you can track it down through the Griffin Museum. It is $20 and worth it.

The way to do this is to head for the downtown Macy's. There is a parking garage underneath but watch out as it is expensive. Once in Macy's head for men's shoes (when was the last time you got directions to a show and it involved going to men's shoes in a department store?) and look for the ramp. Go up it and you are at the show.

The exhibition is up through May 15 so go soon as, before you know it, it will be gone. 

It may a take little more effort to get to [Photo]gogues than some other shows but I promise it'll be worth it.

Topics: Review

Permalink | Posted May 1, 2015