MASS MOCA

I want to advocate for MASS MoCA. I was there last week, out in western MA in North Adams. MASS MoCA stands for Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and it is housed in old warehouse and manufacturing buildings. Lots of  them. In fact the buildings constitute a whole campus of galleries, at different levels and on different scales. The place is a fascinating look at the past, the 19th and early 20th century buildings that house the present day galleries, and the future too. It is both shocking and revelatory. I recommended it highly.

I know many of you that read this blog aren't anywhere close to Massachusetts, let  alone a small city in the Berkshires but MASS MoCA needs to be on your list of things to see if you  come here, along with Dia Beacon in Beacon, NY, Storm King in New Windsor, NY, to say nothing of Boston's Museums.

What did I see? Shows from the sublime

to the ridiculous, a still frame from a video piece:

to the sensory overload

to the incredible

These pieces were drawn and made by

and the only way I have of describing them is they look like they're drawn on the white inside curve of a cut-in-half ping pong ball, but larger. Amazing.

If you do go it is worth a look at what lies outside the art hanging on the walls. I came across a "boiler building" made to house the power generating plant for the mills

North Adams has had a tough time but is showing some sign of a resurgence. A couple of nice restaurants and B & B's too. I stayed at the Holiday Inn in town, which was fine. Of course, North Adams is in the Berkshires and about 10 minutes away from Williamstown with another great museum: The Clark.

If  you've read my piece on the Mountain Work you know I love drive up mountains and North Adams has great one: Mt Greylock. But note that the road up is only open in the warm months.

MASS MoCA. Worth the trip.

Topics: museums

Permalink | Posted July 19, 2016

Monsters Show

Heads up: I will be showing the Monsters work

at the Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA from September 25- January 15, 2017.

Stay tuned for more details. 

Questions?

email is here

Permalink | Posted July 16, 2016

One Person's Take

This post will be just one person's perspective: mine. I don't know if there are other characteristics in other people's lives as artists, I suspect there must be, but I can only reference mine. I am going to try to write about my life as an artist.

Note: I'm just going to share some of my past work that I believe embodies some of the things I am writing about.

Some ground rules. One is that the base of my creative life has been as a photographer. If you can't cope with that then no need to read further. I would cite that there are more similarities to the conventional arts like painting, sculpture and drawing for the photographer than differences. Second, is that we're not all crazy and emotional wrecks, although I certainly have been those things at times in my past. Finally, that we all drink from the common well of needing to express ourselves visually. That making our work comes from where are are at our core, a need, a requirement and that, in effect, our work is our life.

The essential element of what I hope to convey is that we are, for the most part, private people working in a public sphere. Photography tends to be a little unique here in that we need the exterior to make our work, at least most of us do. I live in the real world and am thankful that my discipline makes me be out in it, for if it didn't I would be more reclusive than I am now, not a good thing. There is an element of loneliness to what we do, or at least aloneness, for artists need to be comfortable in that private place, where their thoughts are theirs and only theirs.

Private people working in a public sphere. Noble, honorable, consistent, satisfying, heroic? Not so much, usually. More like coming out of a need to create comes a sharing of common human experience. Can I convey this in a picture I make standing in a field pointing my camera at a line of trees?

Can a picture like this resonate with you? I can't know this nor should I try to predispose its outcome. I simply need to make photographs that connect for me in the hope that my experience (or hopefully, my expertise) will also allow them to connect with you.

As a private person, words mostly fail me at times like these.  I wish that it weren't true. I can remember trying to convey to a large class, students asked to sit in a circle, after I came back from Prescott, Arizona listening to Fred Sommer for three days tell me everything, sharing with me his core philosophy that was informed by people like Einstein, Nietzsche, Blake and Stravinsky, and of course, his own desert explorations, how it all worked, to answer the primary questions about why you would embark upon a life as an artist. This was a total failure, me dissembling into incoherent ramblings and stories. I always thanked the higher powers that my students were incredibly forgiving of this teacher's incomprehensibilities.

I think that many people do get it, that artists are reaching down into something deep within them that is then shared. My own out is that my primary vehicle isn't words at all, it is photographs and I apologize for outright ineptitude in trying to write about this in this forum.  I hope for at least an A for effort.

Since a couple of key posts this past spring my readership has gone from very small to quite large (20k) so I am aware I am speaking to a great many. This loads what I write certainly, but also is immensely rewarding in that so many are now viewing my work, admittedly in a poor fashion due to small screens and not looking at my actual prints, but far better than knowing nothing of it at all. I am very grateful to you for  coming along for the ride.

The private part is mostly around what my thinking process is like. How I can work off a reaction to a place, a piece of music, something I've read or even some art I've seen to find the beginnings of an idea or a project. To initiate that spark of curiosity that questions things as in "I wonder what it would like if I...?" That's a fundamental thing but also a trained thing, a response to surroundings that is lubricated by experience, devotion, and yes, at least for me, single mindedness. Can I, or you, springboard from that beginning curiosity into a force to be reckoned with, a picture making machine that uses all it has to make a powerhouse body of work? That's probably why we have to practice, to be fluid in our knowledge of what we have to use, for to be in front of the best thing ever with a camera and to be inept, rusty and not fully conversant is tragic and we only have ourselves to blame.

This is the back of a postcard Harry Callahan wrote to me after I failed yet again on a Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1983. I'd asked him to write on my behalf and believe he did his best, several times as it would turn out. I was devastated but didn't stop photographing.

I have written about success and failure in this blog, things that can move us up or down on our own register, but really they should mean very little. These are external things, outside influencers and pressures that mostly take us away from our inner guide, which is our work. I used to tell students who were up against the artist's version of "writer's block" that "pictures make pictures". At times I have to remind myself of my own words as I am as capable of wrong turns, dead ends, laziness and an inability to see the forest for the trees as anyone else. 

I don't know that I have a firm conclusion for this post I've written.  Perhaps I can end with the thought that I have found artists to be consistently misundertood, under respected, maligned and biased against my whole adult life. Recently I am dealing with the concept that no cares about my work.  In fact that no one cares about most work.  Facing that is sobering, humbling, frustrating and mostly true. 

Enough.

I am off for a short road trip west from Boston for a couple of days in a sports car.  Me, a couple of cameras, my eyes, my keen mind (I hope), my perceptions, my past experiences all packed up and ready to find things to photograph. Who would have thought that this would still be an adventure after all these years. But it surely is.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 15, 2016

The Field

I've just added some new pictures to the site called "The Field." Take a look: here.

Head out to Medfield, MA right through town and out to the site of the Medfield State Hospital, drive right past the incredibly beautiful red brick buildings of the "campus", past the old and new water towers to the back side where there is a huge field.

That's where I've been working this week.

The hospital used to grow its own food so it's easy to understand the size of this field. My formula? Flat light, very careful wide angle work with several trips back to correct, reshoot, reframe and try to perfect (never possible but I still try). This project comes at a very good time for me as, since recovering from both hips being replaced this past winter, there has been little new work. In the early spring I finished a series called Zinc but that was work started earlier, last fall. The well has been relatively dry since then. This is a glacial pace for someone who has been traditionally very prolific. I think full recovery takes longer than I thought but truthfully, it has taken me a while to love what I do again. I am pleased to see that love returning in these pictures.

Some lead-in pictures

Some establishing pictures

Some confrontational pictures

including an epic crop of poison ivy growing up the fence. Then a few that I like to think of as substantive

like this one, the bike sitting there day after day each time I went back. What is the story? Where is its owner? Love a mystery.

This is a way of making pictures I've been using since the early 80's called Series Work. If you've read this blog before you know there are many. This way of working lies at the core of whatever I've made as a career photographer. These are sequenced pictures, one sitting next to another as in pages in a book. There is a beginning, a middle, usually a climax and an ending. There is a narrative, as abstract and obtuse as it may seem. Many of my series prescribe a path around a place or an area, as does this one. The Field is 18 photographs with two used as bookends, or framing pieces. Here's the opener:

an old park bench at the edge of the campus showing its age as there is a small tree growing right up through it and then the closer.

that perhaps it is not so difficult to tell is in color, to bring us out of the altered state of black and white and very wide lens. This one made with a normal focal length and normal perspective. Again the full series lives here.

Now, you and I both know that this blog and this online presentation is an extremely poor representation of the real work, which is printed on 22 x 17 inch paper and is quite simply, extraordinary. I know, a very bold statement and yet it's not bragging if it's true, right? You really do owe it to yourself to see the actual prints as I have something of a reputation as a very good printer. See if I've lived up to the hype.

How? Call 555 Gallery and ask if it would be possible to see the the new "Field Series". We will make it happen. Don't live nearby? Easy: make a trip to Boston. It is a very good time of year to visit. You will not regret it.


Topics: Black and White,New Work,Digital

Permalink | Posted July 10, 2016

ORANGE LINE

By 1983 I'd been teaching at Northeastern in Boston for a couple of years. I was teaching at Harvard two days a week as well. Plus I had a new kid, a new house, a German shepherd, a beat up Porsche 914 that was rusting everywhere and my marriage was in a shambles. Fast and not altogether heavenly times. 

I was struggling to be an artist during those years, squeezing a few hours in here and there to make pictures that now look scattered and disorganized. I had built a darkroom on the third floor of the house we were in in North Cambridge and would sneak up there after everyone was asleep to develop some film or make a print or two. I remember being exhausted all the time. 

I was building a new photo program at Northeastern with a tiny budget, no staff and a very poor facility that leaked when it rained from the ceiling above in a cruel irony right into the darkroom sink. I sat in meetings, stating the need as clearly and forcefully as I could to department chairs and deans, competing for bucks, space and faculty lines in a hugely competitive bureaucracy where art, and photography underneath that, didn't get much credit, exposure or attention. 

The MBTA started to build a new subway line right through the campus at Northeastern, right outside the building I taught in that was then called Ruggles Hall. I wanted to shoot this construction, but was stymied by having no permission to be on the site. The one time I tried I was promptly kicked out. A friend who had more experience than I did suggested I go on the site wearing a hard hat. I got one like the crew was wearing, put the camera on a tripod and walked on the site like I owned it. Bingo! Problem gone. For the next 1 1/2 years I roamed all over the new T line called the Orange Line and made pictures.

No assignment, no client, no show coming up, no reason to make these pictures whatsoever. This was one of the first construction projects I shot, mostly in 2 1/4  but also some in 4 x 5 (I didn't work in 8 x 10 yet). Did I have some sense that I was photographing a historically significant project? That the pictures might be worth something someday? Not particularly.  Little did I know.

So why write about this work now, in July of 2016? Because today (7/6) I donated all of this work to Northeastern University, where I taught for thirty years. It's taken months of inventorying, appraising, reading over tentative contracts and signing a final one but yes NU now owns the originals of the 19 prints, free and clear.

Let me tell how weird that feels, to let go of the only set of actual prints of this work. It feels very odd, partly good but partly I feel a loss, letting go of work that seemingly had no value but is now appraised at a very high amount. I retain all rights to use the imagery any way I wish. I can make new prints from the negatives, scan them and disseminate them any way I choose. NU also can sell the originals, store them, exhibit them, reproduce them any way they see fit with the only stipulation being to give me photo credit.

But what better use for the photographs I made than for Northeastern to have them? The Orange Line cut right through the campus, bisecting it and also providing a T stop right near the school's central quad. And there are my pictures showing the line being built in 1983 and 1984.

Are you new to photography, making work that might be significant in 40 years? Take good care of it. If you're older, did you make pictures long ago of something important, relevant, significant and timely? Still have them? Let them go where they might be of use. Let them go so that others can see them and appreciate them. Isn't that better than your work sitting on a shelf in your studio seldom seem?

Footnote. The 19 photographs that comprise the Orange Line pictures are now added to 53 I gave earlier over my career at Northeastern. The Development office decided that it would make sense to inventory and appraise all the other works I made over the years on the campus and informally gave to the school. I would frequently photograph buildings under construction then give the work to the school for display inside those same buildings. The new contract formalizes and legalizes those gifts as being owned by NU. The gift of those and the new gift of the Orange Line work makes this one of the largest donations to Northeatern in fiscal year 2015/2016. I am proud of that.

Addendum:

I received this letter from Joseph Aoun, the President of the University, the other day:

As I said earlier, if there is any possible use for older work, if there is any historical significance to it, give it away.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Commentary,Historical,Legacy

Permalink | Posted July 6, 2016