Topic: Europe (5 posts)


Ever feel you were in a place that was somehow magical? That, for whatever reason, things colluded to make where you were something so very special as to be once in a lifetime? I am sure you have.

Orvieto, Italy 2009

Ever happen to be there with a camera? Were you able to capture that special circumstance? Take advantage of this gift? I am sure you have.

Arsenale, Venice, Italy 2007

I know I have. There is the sense of tread lightly here and speak in whispers as this is so incredible you could shatter it in an instant. That feeling of OMG I just have to get this, all I have to do with this camera in my hands is to bear witness to this beauty, this sublime place, this other worldly quality. This is both a powerful concept, to be able to make something truly sublime out of what is in front of you, and humbling for it is such a transient thing, this picture you are making.

Oakesdale Cemetery, Washington 1997

Isn't it this at least part of what we seek? It is often what we are looking for as artists reliant upon the world around us to make our pictures. To find a circumstance, a unique combination of weather, place, light and use of a creative frame of mind that will combine together something perhaps mundane into something truly extraordinary. Very empowering, this. The feeling that it may be put there for you, arranged and choreographed as a display for you to photograph. Odd, yes?

Bermuda 1982

Two things: one, you can't have this "ah ha" moment, this ultimate reward, without being out there with a camera, a lot. You need to be in the world, seeing, looking, being a photo predator, on the "hunt" for pictures. Two, experience should be your guide, your practically instinctual director of future success. This is where your intellect is effectively useless, perhaps for logisitcs only, for it is your intuition, your heart, that will lead you down that path, over that rise, around that corner to find the sublime, the magical.

Vignole, Italy 2006

I am most fortunate to have had this kind of experience numerous times over my career. I can't assume it or take it for granted but I can be thankful when it comes and accept it for the gift it is.  

Topics: Europe,Black and White,Italy,Digital,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 18, 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


1976. I know, another century, way before you were born, archaic pictures from a different time, totally irrelevant to present day photography. Well, you don't have to read this but that's where I am going, showing  you some work I made then. In the mid 70's I had started teaching at the New England School of Photography (NESOP) in Boston and was shooting a lot of 35mm, in earlier days with a Nikon and then a little later a Leica M4. Most summers I spent some time with my folks at Martha's Vineyard where the family home is. Going to the beach I'd bring a camera. We had access to a private beach on the South Shore called Squibnocket in those days. On long afternoons in the hot summer sun I would wander off and explore with a camera loaded with Kodak black and white infrared film and a 25A three stop red filter on the front of a wide angle lens. This below is typical of the kind of picture I'd make, hanging the camera around my neck and setting it on a self timer, my hands sliding into the frame, a desire to interact with what was in front of me, to play a part in the picture:

Way back there as two dots on the water are a pair of swans. This was taken after walking back from the shore and the surf to a private inland pond. I made many more like these in those years, not really knowing why, not able to verbalize well what the motive was, more of a feeling than a thought. I wasn't alone, others were making more personal pictures, extending photography to areas not seen before, putting themselves in the frame. Occasionally I still do this. These from Iceland a few years ago:

I believe this way of working affirms a belief in the medium's inherent malleability, in its capability of being almost anything visual, looking like what is in front of the lens, looking nothing like the reality at all.

At any rate, bringing it back to infrared in the 70's, I had started photographing foliage in the spring and summer with the film, knowing it reacted to the chlorophyll in the foliage, rendering it light, while making blue skies go dark.

These are from Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA near where I live. Mt Auburn has been a source of many of my pictures over the years. These and more I used for a grant application in 1978, which I did not receive.

I wanted to exert controls over the pictures then that would alter the images, make them in strong color (chemically toned black and white prints), using a wide lens (in this case the 21 Summicron lens on a Leica), and making them as big as I could get away with, 16 x 20 inches.

Eventually I found my hands slipping into cemetery pictures locally and as I travelled. These never became a fixed set, just an amalgam of pictures from different locations.

I don't have a strong background in religion and am not religious now. But not believing in a fixed religion doesn't mean you don't have a sense of purpose or that you aren't spiritual in some way. I think of these pictures as speaking to a connection, to empathy for others and a desire to connect on a level that is sympathetic. I've never shown them, until now.

I can cite two friends as influences: Jane Tuckerman, who has worked in infrared her whole career and who was a colleague of mine at Harvard, and Peter Laytin, who first exposed me to infrared and its possibilities. Thanks to you both.

After these I moved on to photograph using infrared at the concentration camp Dachau, in Germany. Let me know if you'd like to see those. 

Topics: Black and White,Europe,infrared,US,70's,Vintage

Permalink | Posted March 14, 2017

Lugano 1982

Ever hear of it? Lugano is in southern Switzerland, not far from the northern Italian border. Though it is in CH, its history is that is was part of Italy and so the primary language is, you guessed it, Italian. It is a sort of paradise, being south enough to have palm trees along the lake with a view up to snow covered mountains in the Alps, a couple of hours away.

Why Lugano? Because my ex wife and the mother of my daughter Maru is from there. Though we divorced 20 years ago, back then we went to visit frequently, staying with her parents above Lugano in a little town call Breganzona.

We were there over the holidays in December, 1981. I'd brought the 4 x5, intending to borrow a car and get out to shoot in the area. I did just that, coming back to Cambridge in January to make prints. There was no real intention to make a narrative here, just to photograph what interested me and to end up with a portfolio of prints from the best negatives. The full portfolio is in my studio and the prints are about 11 x 14 inches, toned with selenium, mounted and matted archivally on 16 x 20 museum board.

Here goes.

I don't know that there is always wisdom in hindsight but my take on these is that the pictures mix some rather chaotic places with some of real serenity. 

My wife's parents had a swimming pool housed in its own building across the yard from the house. I remember I spent a lot of time there, swimming, reading and photographing. I was reading books like "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard and probably "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Racing" by Robert Pirsig in those days.

In Lugano it could snow one day and then you might wake up to this, rising  temperatures, melting snow and brilliant sun.

The pool and the main house are all gone now, along with my in laws. He to a brain tumor in his late 50's and she just last year. The property fell into disrepair after he died and has been sold, most likely to be torn down for apartments or condos. 

As an aside, one of the mounted prints has this on the back:

presumably because I had it in a show at some point.

My, how things have changed.

Topics: Black and White,Europe,Series,Vintage

Permalink | Posted December 16, 2016

Harry Callahan

Those of you that know me know I studied at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) with Harry Callahan. I also spent my two graduate years studying with Aaron Siskind as well. I transferred into RISD as a junior, finished with a BFA in Photography in 1971 and then continued on in graduate work graduating in Photography in 1973 with an MFA. My longest running friendship from those days has been with Henry Horenstein, who also came to RISD as a junior and stayed through graduate studies. Henry teaches at RISD and is a fantastic photographer and author of many many books: Henry Horenstein

Harry Callahan was a complex and wonderful person, difficult to fathom for someone as young as I was but a strong influence for a student so excited by making pictures and a powerful example and mentor. There are many stories and remembrances about Harry, both during the time I was a student and after as well. But I will restrict myself to two. This post will share one of them.

The first story about Harry is when I was about six years out of school. He and his wife Eleanor still lived in Providence in 1979 and occasionally I would go down from Cambridge, MA where I lived to see them. In the summer of 1979 I had traveled to Europe, not for the first time, but for the first time to make pictures. I started in Germany, drove through Paris to southern France, flew to London, drove up through England to the highlands of Scotland north and west of Edinburgh. I was working in black and white, shooting with a single lens Rollei SL66 with Kodak's Plus- X film and in infrared using a 35mm Leica M3. I had a wonderful time, no big surprise. I shot a lot and came back to begin processing the film. That fall I was teaching both at New England School of Photography in Boston and Harvard University so was pretty busy but when I had time I would go into the darkroom in my apartment, develop some film and begin making 11 x 14 work prints of some of the things I'd shot in the summer.

I remember I couldn't make much sense out of what I'd shot. There didn't seem to be any logic or cohesion to what I'd done that I could see. But I carried on and by Christmas break I had now amassed several boxes of prints all with the same problem: no substance. Now I was concerned. What did I do? I called Harry and asked him if he'd mind me coming to Providence to see him and could I show him some work? He said, sure, come on down.

When I met with him at his house along Benefit Street we covered some pleasantries and did a little catching up and then I told him what my problem was. He looked through the box of prints that I had brought.  I told him I couldn't make any sense of what I had. He seemed to understand this right away and then told me he'd had the same thing happen to him. In 1957 Harry had traveled to France for several months with Eleanor to photograph. When returning he had the same problem. Too overwhelmed by the new, too out of sorts compared to where he'd come from, the place too foreign to assimilate, not there long enough to get in it and understand what he could do with it. I certainly didn't have a clue I was making such a scattered group of pictures in Europe in 1979. I thought I was just continuing to photograph as I knew how to. Wrong. I went home that day severely humbled as I knew Harry was right. I  hadn't made anything worthwhile except to succeed at making pictures of things I hadn't seen before through first impression. Substance? No. Was I saying anything in the pictures, telling a story? No. Thank goodness I learned this lesson early in my career. I never did anything with all that work, never final printed them, never made portfolios, or took them around to museums and galleries to get them shown. Hard pill to swallow but a very good lesson.  I see this very often today in other's work when I review portfolios: making pictures from trips is very dangerous.

This picture of Eleanor and Harry Callahan was made in the 90's in Atlanta.

So thank you, Harry. He had a way of setting you straight in a very understated and non-condemning way.

Are all the series that I've made since from travels wonderful? No. It has been a career-long struggle to make pictures that count from new places I visit. To make pictures that raise the bar on the genré,  that contain some continuity, cohesion, thought and emotion, that say something. The point is, as my friend Patrick Philips says (he publishes the magazine "Martha's Vineyard Arts and Ideas": MV Arts & Ideas) to make pictures that "tell a story".  

Harry said: "Photography is an adventure just as life is an adventure. If man wishes to express himself photographically, he must understand, surely to a certain extent, his relationship to life."

Travel can be a very large part of that. Stay tuned for the second story about the photographer Harry Callahan.

Topics: Callahan Take 1,Europe,Black and White,1979

Permalink | Posted December 16, 2012