Topic: Commentary (127 posts) Page 1 of 26

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

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

My Midsummer Adventure #4

Picture this: midsummer tropical weather blanketing the whole New England region. Intense showers and flash flooding, then clearing and drying out, only to repeat again and again with more squalls. For two days now and slated to continue for two more. So humid, the air soaked, everything wet and hot too.

In this context I visited the Clarke Art Museum today in Williamstown, MA to see this:

which is just a stupendous show, proving a vitality and power of women artists in the second half of the 19th century in and around Paris. What a delight. Read about it here.

 Highly recommended.

The Clark itself is wonderful, particularly in this weather. This is what it looked like in the rain on the back side by the infinity pool this afternoon.

Last night in Schenectady, NY and onwards to Utica tonight. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 24, 2018

My Midsummer Adventure #3

What's this? A non-photographic post in a photography blog? In the first post in this series I wrote I was going to break with convention, that the blog was becoming predictable. Well, here's a change.

In this blog I will write about Marlboro Music, the chamber music series of concerts each summer on the campus of Marlboro College near Brattleboro, VT. I went yesterday and heard the finest of presentations of pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven,  Elliot Carter and Johanness Brahms.

The formula is simple and elegant. Acknowledged masters rehearse and perform with younger musicians each summer. There is no schedule and no deadline. When you go to a performance at Marlboro you don't know what will be played that day. Musicians play when they are ready, not before.

The quality of the playing and the sound in the hall results in some of the best performances I have ever heard. 

This is a mentor/mentee relationship, although the quality of play by these younger artists is amazing.

Yesterday's concert was attended by a mostly regulars audience with a median age of somewhere around 80 years old. I felt young there!

These are people that are seriously committed to Marlboro. Most have been coming for many years.


The musicians taking a bow after they performed the Brahms (String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36).This incredible piece was composed by Brahms when he was 27 years old!

Marlboro Music: highly recommended.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 23, 2018

My Mid Summer Adventure # 2

In my last post I referenced kayaking down the Connecticut River several years ago. Well, yesterday I got to do it again.  I put the boat ing at the Brattleboro Marina and paddled up river for a few miles, heading against a current that seemed almost nonexistent. I wanted to photograph this one island from the boat and did bring a camera but it wasn't meant to be. Camera in waterproof bag in hatch behind me, couldn't get out of the boat as anything shallow was muck, so decided to enjoy the ride on a cloudless and hot mid summer afternoon with music playing nearby at Whetstone, Brattleboro's popular brew pub on the water.

The day had started out a little less good. Biking out from my motel at dawn in Greenfield, on the return leg, I came across an abandoned Rodeway Inn near a traffic circle. I laid the bike down and walked the circumference with a camera, ignoring the fence around the motel. Around the back things got a little more ominous as this U-shaped inn had a pool in the center and the fence had a gap. In I went:

There is no positive message here, no spin that will paint this in a good light. This is a physical presence to a failed business. My take is that the hotel simply sat on the wrong side of the traffic circle in a busy intersection, where Rt 2 intersects with interstate 91, positioned where people didn't go. 

Some sort of metaphor for failure, societal ills, a democracy in decline? I don't know.

This last one brought the whole day down, until I got on the river in a kayak with blue skies in the afternoon:

We ever get the chance, remind me to tell you the story of the recurring dream I  had as a child with the fence and the lion and my tricycle wheel that fell off and flew over the fence. And the growling. Night after night. Terrifying.

At any rate, the midsummer adventure continues today with a concert of chamber music at Marlboro (simply one of the best experiences you could have), a night at the Latchis Hotel (a wonderfully renovated old downtown hotel with a movie theatre built right in) in Brattleboro and then someplace new tomorrow. As I write this it is raining so this will change things a little. 

Glad you could come along.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2018