Portland, Maine 1996
These are on the site at: Portland.
In this post I will take us through some of the background to the set of pictures and provide some context for them as well, then in a post or two, I will discuss each photograph and try to place them in perspective as a whole. This is another tightly sequenced series of pictures.
The Portland series was made in March of 1996 on the start of a spring break from teaching at Northeastern.
By the mid eighties I had sold the camera I used to make series pictures, the Hasseblad SWC, in order to buy a Toyo Field 8 x 10 camera and lens. While this was painful, I was so excited to be finally working in 8 x10, and it was so very difficult to master, I didn't really miss the SWC that much. Plus my personal life about the same time was so chaotic I was fortunate if I made any good pictures at all. I was teaching two days a week at Harvard and the rest at Northeastern, I was under the gun of tenure consideration, my marriage had split up, I was looking after my 4 year old daughter half time, I went from a very nice house in Cambridge to a basement apartment in a complex filled with partying singles in Somerville that had olive green carpeting, and on and on.
But by 1996 things had calmed down a little. I was tenured, had my own place, was teaching most summers in Italy, the 8 x 10 had become a well oiled picture making machine for me and at Northeastern we had a sweet deal where faculty and students could get Hasselblad equipment directly from the company at cost or below. My friend Andrea Greitzer was a student at the time. She still has two of them. I bought a brand new Hasselblad SWC.
I had it in my mind that I would make pictures much like I had made in the early eighties, as in Nantucket and Yountville, as well as a few others. But I wasn't really the same person or the same photographer now almost 15 years later.
At any rate, I left home one day early in a ten day spring break from teaching and headed to Portland on a gray morning with just the SWC with me, no 8 x 10. Along the way the sky cleared and by the time I got to Portland, a couple of hours from home, I had bright blue skies on a cold late March weekday. This immediately presented some challenges for me as all the older series work I'd made was shot under gray skies using very flat light. Simply put, back then if it was sunny I did not make a series. What did I do on this clear blue sky sunny day inPortland? I made a series.
It took me an overnight stay as I didn't get everything done that first day and I was excited enough with what I had done to book into a motel that night and get back at it the next morning. For consistency the weather needed to stay clear and luckily it did.
So, what was I up to? How could I change the way that I worked and make the pictures fit, be consistent to what I'd done before and be relevant? Simply enough, the pictures had evolved and now had extended the structure I'd created earlier into imagery with depth; shadows and highlights. This new chapter in my series work opened up a new definition for me. This was very exciting.
Look how far more complex this picture is when compared to some of the earlier work. For instance, compare it to this from Nantucket made in 1981:
The Portland picture is so very convoluted, intricate and enigmatic when compared to the very straightforward rendering of the Nantucket picture. All those highlights and shadows in the Portland one break up the space into a kind of patchwork and make the picture ambivalent about where things reside in the frame and what is background and what is foreground.
Of course, there were technical things to consider and to think about and, in fact, this is exactly what I did that night in my motel room. I planned a strategy for exposure (over) and developing (under) to contain a far too broad dynamic range from the shadows in what I was shooting to the highlights. It was good I went back and reshot some of the frames the next morning as it turned out these were better handled than the day before. This is standard Zone System stuff, modified slightly to handle roll film with 12 exposures per roll, rather than individual sheets as in working with a view camera.
This would seem a good time to end this post as I am conscious to keep them not too long as no one wants to read a book here. But let me finish by saying that a rather narrow and confining way of working had been broadened certainly by it being a sunny day in 1996 in downtown Portland, Maine instead of cloudy, but also by the intervening 15 years where I'd grown and expanded my view of how I thought pictures made by me could look.
I am thankful the skies cleared that day.
Next up, I'll break down the sequence or path I took.
Hope you stay with me.
Next up? Portland 2