A Personal History #4

The fourth in a series of posts looking at my artistic career to date.

In #3 we dealt with a real shift in my work starting in about 2005. In this one, we will look at work made and changes that took place from 2012 closer to the present.

I think of the first year or so of retirement as an experiment. Would I work, make art, or kick back? Would I be motivated? Were there places that wanted to show my work, publish it, collect it or residencies I might want? Were there pressures to produce? I was showing with Panopticon Gallery in Boston at the time.

I left Northeastern University in January 2012 after thirty years of teaching. I went on vacation with family that month, a close friend took me to a solo piano concert by Keith Jarrett in Carnegie Hall and I spent much the rest of the winter living in Yuma, AZ. What ensued formed a pattern that has served me well in recent years. 


-Stay Someplace 


-Go Home


-Make Prints

I mostly do these trips alone. I am in a zone or trying to be on those trips. I suspect I am not very good company. I can enjoy a meal, seeing friends, but these are asides. These are working trips.

The sheer amount of new work that winter from the Southwest still blows me away. Makes me wonder what the ratio is of truly significant and worthy new work to the number of images made? Does that increase as you make more? Or, is this somehow a finite number based upon how smart you are, how perceptive you are, or adversely, how dumb you are or clueless?

I wish I could answer those questions but I do know the year or so just after leaving NU was a very heady time for me. I remember feeling powerful, on top of my game and in charge. My pictures, my sense of what they were and what they meant and how I was making them was changing, evolving. I was learning some new things. Photography itself had taken a leap forward about then. We had entered the era of the full-size sensor in cameras like Nikons and Canons. This meant a bump in quality. I also had increased my efforts in making aerial images and had breakthroughs that year in shooting the Imperial Sand Dunes in South California

and Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket: Martha'sVineyard


I felt such a release of pressure then, there were so many ideas surfacing, as though they had been welling up inside of me and were now free to come out.

I had mounted a twenty-five-year retrospective at Panopticon Gallery in Boston 

the year before and the "American Series " book was out so it felt like the black and white analog work, my "vintage" work, was solidly behind me. Now, I was firmly immersed in color and form:

from Wheat 2012

My work was all digital now and I was able to make bigger prints with better quality than before. To some extent, digital photography had reached a level of maturity and refinement we didn't have until now. 

We will stop here. Comments always welcome: here

To be continued...

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 19, 2018

A Personal History #3

An autobiography with an art slant, part 3.

I retired from my teaching position at Northeastern University in December 2012, after thirty years.

But before we bring things up to the present we have to go back a little to about  2005. This was when things went in a slightly different track.

Now a full professor, my position and place at the University was secure. As a senior faculty member, I applied for and was awarded more and better grants, several residencies and more times away than before. My first book came out that year

to critical acclaim, my work was being collected more, shown more and I had it in many major museums. This allowed a degree of creative freedom that was exhilarating. With the realization that I could do anything I wanted with my work, I did.

I  made pictures at 17 Cabela's stores across the Midwest:

I photographed at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

This led to work from Reggio Emilia in Italy:

And finally to the National Museum of Medicine and Health in Washington.

You get my point. I hadn't abandoned other ways of expressing, I had just expanded into other interests, including a preoccupation of just what "death" meant to me. 

This has happened to others, of course, but I was also beginning a disengagement from my position as a professor in those years, taking more risk as an artist and being more assertive. And some of the logistics for making some of this new work were complicated and difficult. Strike one for increased self-confidence. 

Let's stop here for this post. Next, we will go to what happened after I retired from Northeastern. I promise.

Topics: Color,Black and White,Europe,Digital,US

Permalink | Posted August 14, 2018

Something New on Site

Just a quick post to write that I have new work on the site.

Spruce Pine: here

These were made in late May and early June (2018) while teaching at Penland in North Carolina. Each year I teach there I photograph in the early mornings in town before class, often with students. There are portfolios from 2012,  2013 and 2014 as well.

Menemsha: here

I made these in late June after returning from North Carolina. Menemsha is a small fishing village on Martha's Vineyard. Same thing: get up early, go shoot, every day.

Topics: Northeast,Southeast,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted August 11, 2018

A Personal History #2

Continuing a series of posts on my career as a photographer.

By the mid-eighties, I'd been married and divorced, had one child, had owned a home and lost the home, had renovated a house, was teaching both at Northeastern and Harvard and photographed and printed constantly. It was fast times. 

Being on a tenure-track in a university comes with a whole host of requirements as you are under great scrutiny. I was exhibiting frequently and at increasingly prestigious places, I was shooting and printing constantly, my work was being published in periodicals, I was receiving numerous grants and I was presenting at conferences and symposia. I was teaching on the Vineyard and elsewhere in the summers and traveling whenever and wherever I could to make new work. In 1983 I received a one-semester sabbatical and traveled extensively throughout the American southwest photographing.  In 1986 I returned to the southwest to photograph over three months with the 8 x 10 camera. It was significant that I was Northeastern's first photography professor. This put me under some pressure not only to validate my work and myself but to validate that photography was a legitimate academic discipline worthy of study. In 1988 I was tenured at Northeastern University in a unanimous decision. 

#4 Digital

By the early 90's it was clear big changes were coming. I was successful in getting some very expensive scanning equipment donated and we were off and running in very early digital days. Initially, we were just scanning but soon after we were printing too. By 2003 the Photo Program I headed was legitimately on a roll; new courses were on the books, we were hiring new faculty and I was scanning and printing my 8 x 10 and 2 1/4 negatives. And, I had started to work in color. 

My whole creative output from the time I was a student until then had been in black and white. This for the simple reason that I didn't think most color photography was any good.

I had been traveling to the SE corner of Washington starting in 1996 in the summers to photograph the extensive wheat fields there. I had been working in 8 x 10 black and white making minimal, austere and formal studies of essential elements of the landscape.

In 2001 I began shooting in color, initially without much success but by the second year was beginning to get it. As I got better at it and my confidence increased I started exploring color in other aspects of my work and was beginning to print my color work digitally, from scans of my 8 x 10 transparencies.

This was tremendously exciting and motivating, to start as a novice and to be a student again in something new. I believe this is essential for a career artist to stay active and viable. Taking risk is key.

While digital capture (photographing digitally) was still in its infancy in the early 2000's, staying with film, scanning it once processed and then making inkjet prints was a highly qualitative way to work in those earlier years. 

Back at Northeastern, I had now been advised that I should apply to be a full professor, a position I call the "last promotion" for an academic as there isn't anything else after that. While less of a career-threat than tenure, as you aren't fired if you don't get it, the full professorship carries more prestige and establishes that you have "arrived", at least on campus. Think: big shot. I became a full professor at Northeastern in 2003 in a unanimous decision. 

Let's stop here. For the next post I will follow through to my retirement from Northeastern in 2012 and we'll take a look at the work I made from then to the present.

I thank you for your time and for joining me.

Topics: Analog,Digital,Northwest,American Series

Permalink | Posted August 9, 2018

A Personal History

For the next few posts I am going to relate my personal history as a career artist.


Because if I don't chronicle my own biography no one else will. I'd like to do it while I still have the ability remember it. Furthermore, there may be some value for you in reading one person's path in a career as an artist. 


Early Years

As a kid through my teenage years I was not a good student. I was distracted and mostly unmotivated to study. I cared about playing sports, skiing (I was a competitive skier in high school),girls (at adolescence), material things (go karts, mini bikes and later, cars), my friends, but I had no higher goals. My Dad was worried that I would be lost my whole life, with real justification.

By default I fell into art in not wanting to get drafted, at 20 or so. I found myself in a junior art school taking all kinds of classes: sculpture, painting,  photography, 2D & 3D design. I found I had an affinity for the visual and for creative expression. Surprisingly, I had ideas. This for the first time, really, affirmed I had ability. 

Photography hooked me early but painting was my first love. I spray painted large canvasses, masking off areas to produce large color fields. Where the imagery came from I didn't really know. Later, of course, I learned where this aesthetic came from. My paintings were abstract, horizon-based and landscape in origin. Starting with cans of Krylon, I soon progressed to a compressor and spray gun and mixing my own acrylics. Some of the paintings were as long as 14 feet. Most sold, relatively easily, which was odd as I was a real neophyte. I finished that junior college and was successful in transferring into the RI School of Design, but my efforts to be a painting major failed as I didn't know how to draw. As my Plan B, I succeeded in getting in with a photography major. I continued to paint that first year but was immersed in all things photography in my classes. Soon photography took precedence and painting trailed off. I was learning photography from the ground up, whereas in painting I didn't know what I was doing. I opted  for photography, rather than painting which I didn't know and had little training. It was a conscious and mature decision, perhaps one of my first, to put all I had into the study of photography and it was a good one. I never looked back.



I was now studying in the big leagues at RISD, with Harry Callahan and other faculty in those two undergraduate years and then with Aaron Siskind as well in  graduate work at RISD resulting in a MFA in Photography in 1973. While my work grew and matured, there was nothing particularly ground breaking about it. I worked hard on my skills in my study. I became a very good black and white printer, and used good equipment (4 x 5 view camera and a Rollei SLR 120mm camera called a SL66) to make black and white photographs that were refined, smooth and increasingly well designed. 

Teaching became my goal and what I sought when I finished RISD, with little success initially. But I was driven now in my work as an artist. I photographed daily, built my own darkroom wherever I lived, processed my own film and always made my own prints. This was a single minded obsession to the exclusion of much else. However, while my education had prepared me well in photography and art I was not well prepared to make a living.  I freelanced as an architectural photographer for a couple of years after school.  In 1975 I got my first real teaching job at NESOP (New England School of Photography) in Boston. By then I was showing my work, at college galleries mostly: Dartmouth, Hampshire, Tufts, Harvard. By 1978 I was also teaching at Harvard and in 1981 I landed an assistant professorship at Northeastern University, where I stayed until I retired in 2012 as head of the Photography Program. I started the program and built it to be a large area of study, hiring faculty, overseeing the building of new facilities, designing the curriculum, orchestrating the changeover to digital and so on.

My art stayed within the realm of high-end black and white photography, progressing in the 80's to working principally with the 8 x10 view camera. I taught Ansel Adam's Zone System and practiced it too. 

PMK Pyro became my preferred film developer and I became knowledgeable about various proprietary toners, including gold and used it with Kodak's Azo paper with success. 

From Fences and Walls, 1979

My work matured and I developed my own voice, instead of being so influenced by my teachers. By 1981 I had discovered working in series, making sequential pictures in a narrative form. I called these Series Works (we made a book of these in 2005 called "American Series"). For all those years the level of immersion was total, with new work coming every few months, working simultaneously on different projects and using vacations and summers for making photographs. I learned that not only was I prolific but that I could back up my propensity to work hard with a flood of new ideas. I often travelled to make my pictures and was teaching in Italy for most summers during the 90's.

Tarquinnia, Italy 1992 

 I showed my work in galleries and museums during those years. By this time my work was being collected and in permanent collections as well. I was not making much income from sales of my prints, but didn't need to either as my salary from Northeastern was good and improving with promotions. 

#3 Next up... the change to color and digital capture.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 4, 2018