Last year I asked a former neighbor of mine at Lowell's Western Avenue Studios, Sergio Vélazquez, if I could photograph him, partly because he is an interesting guy, who also happens to be a photographer, but also because he sometimes lets his hair get pretty interesting. While I missed that window, Sergio having cut his hair before we could schedule the shoot, I ran into him again recently and we finally made it happen. Since the first proposed shoot, he and his wife Kerri, who together run Sweet Pig Press with their amazing antique letterpress printer, moved their studio and shop to Mill No. 5, on Jackson Street in Lowell. I thought that their shop, and that amazing printer, would make a great location with the evening available light.
This one is about me. This winter, in fact since mid-summer, I have been experiencing a sort of existential crisis concerning myself as an artist. I attended a workshop in July that was a pretty negative experience, a disaster really, mostly having to do with the instructor. I partially blame myself as well for the careless way in which I chose the workshop. Not surprisingly, I did meet several very talented and creative photographers at the workshop, but I found the dynamic fostered by the instructor pretty much sucked the life out of most of us. Possibly because of this experience, I realized in the early winter that, with the exception of one studio shoot, I felt completely blocked artistically. I think the experience of that summer workshop was a kind of message from my subconscious that I needed to take this more seriously.
So now as I slowly come out into the light in fits and starts, I am realizing that there is a reason that the phrase 'personal work' contains that adjective; it needs to be personal. It can't be done FOR someone else; that's client work. Nor can it be LIKE someone else's work.
I started my photographic journey before I was even in high school. I was enamored with the work of Penn, Avedon, Ansel Adams, and others of that era. But I was also attracted to 'the process' of making photographs. I was sloppy and careless with my process then, as I was with everything else as a kid, including my schoolwork. But I also recall the enthusiasm and abandon with which I set out to make photographs. I thought that Penn and Adams were about the process too, which to an extent they clearly were. But over time I have come to realize of late that the photographs that they made were about themselves as well. I think the idea that Ansel Adams' work is thought to have been simply about technical perfection of its day, and nothing more, engenders replication that is technically accurate, but lacks the artist himself.
My life as a photographer was on hiatus for much of my life as I pursued two other careers. I don't regret any of it. In fact, sometimes I wonder what kind of photographer I would be now had I been a commercial photographer for those 30-plus years. Re-creating my photographer 'self' as digital photography became real caused me to lose sight of my old 'self' and that old process for a while. I immersed myself in the new technology, including learning to use lighting, much of which either didn't exist or was far beyond my abilities to afford in the early 70s. Once again, it became all about the process. A couple of years ago I started to use film again, first sending my film to a lab, then buying a couple of larger format cameras and developing the film myself. It was still about the process. The process of shooting film though came with a lot of deja vu moments, causing me to think a lot about what my 15-year-old-self was thinking, and feeling.
Over the last year or so though this process-based photography has been feeling pretty hollow. I need to do more than just make technically good photographs. Probably not surprisingly, over this time I have been trying to make them less so; low-light, grainy images, paper negatives; maybe as a way to shake things up.
If you are my client, the good news is that I am basically a "pleaser". I am sure that it has something to do with my upbringing in a conservative Catholic family and 12 years of parochial school. Layer that on top of an inherently introverted personality and that makes for someone who does not like to disappoint. I will always strive to give my clients what they are looking for. But my personal work has to say something about myself. It's an ongoing project and definitely has it's ups and downs, good days and bad (ask my wife), but I need to feel that the work that I make has substance and meaning for me and that it says what I want it to say.
A few more of my photographs, probably from the early 1970s
I usually do an end-of-year retrospective of my work, but this year I am running a little late. But it's not really TOO late, is it? So here, without any excessive wordiness, are some of the things that I was involved with in 2017. I hope it is fun to skim through!
September 9 to November 4, 2017
I’m thrilled to announce that 20 of my photographs will be on display at the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell next month. The Portrait Experience: through photography is a showing of my work, where I will share Whistler's Parker Gallery with portrait artist Lisa Kovvuri.
By day, I photograph guys-in-ties on white paper. The photographs in this collection are an antidote to that. My subjects are dancers, artists, and people who have a look or a story that fascinates me.
I hope you will be able to join me for the opening reception at the Whistler House Museum’s Parker Gallery on Saturday, September 9 from 2 to 4 pm. The show, presented exclusively at the Whistler House, will run from Saturday, September 9, 2017 to November 4, 2017.
Now that the show's run is complete, please visit my page showing the work, as well as some shots of the installation and the opening reception, here.
Virginia Prak came by the studio the other evening for a very informal photo shoot. Virginia is a college student, pageant winner, as well as a dancer, instructor and board member of the Angkor Dance Troupe here in Lowell, Massachusetts. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Troupe. Click here for more about this great organization.
I hesitate to feature just one of the Angkor dancers over the other, very talented dancers. To be honest, I'd love to photograph many of them! So maybe this is a start. As it happens though, she and I had a little conversation starter as my wife, Amy, was Virginia's 2nd grade teacher :-).
Please enjoy the pictures!
Almost a year ago, the Lowell, MA, city council approved the sale of the iconic, but unused Smith Baker Center, a former church at the corner of Merrimack Street and Cardinal O’Connell Parkway, to the Coalition for a Better Acre. The CBA's plan is a little more complicated than simply purchasing it, so please check the article at the link here for the whole scoop. The former church has been vacant for a number of years, and the Coalition had come forward last year with a plan to change that. I had photographed inside the Smith Baker several years ago when I did a portrait of Suzzanne Cromwell, but the space itself was just a prop for that shoot. So I thought I would ask the Coalition for permission and access to do some “before” shots, hopeful that there would someday be an opportunity for some “after” ones. If you haven’t had a chance to see the interior, I hope this will give you a hint of it’s potential.
A special thank you to the CBA, and especially to Julia Gavin for a guided tour of the building.
There is more information about the CBA's plan and the building here.
I was asked to photograph a bowling alley for the last issue of the Merrimack Valley Magazine. As a kid, I used to walk to the candlepin bowling alley in the town where I grew up after school and play in an after-school league. It wasn’t much of a league, but I learned to play and remember having a good time. That could have been because I was doing it in lieu of going home to do homework. The lanes that the magazine had sent me to were not candlepin, which, if you are not familiar with it, is a New England thing, nor were they the more standard 10-pin lanes. North Chelmsford Duckpin Bowling Lanes is one of only a couple of Duckpin lanes that is still in operation. Coincidently, my late cousin, Richard Bisson, used to own and operate the T-Bowl duckpin lanes in Newington, Connecticuit. His daughter, Amy Sykes is a champion duckpin bowler, acquiring the title of “world’s best female duckpin bowler”. There is a really good article about Amy, and duckpin bowling from the NY Times here.
But what I encountered in North Chelmsford was something that was truly from another era. This issue of the magazine may still be in the stores, in which case you should grab a copy, but here is the opening spread as well as several more shots from my visit. Thanks very much to the lanes’ owner John DePalma too! It was a really interesting and fun experience.
About a year ago I had asked Marc Clermont to be a subject for my artist portrait series. He is the Facilities Manager at Western Avenue Studios, in Lowell, MA, and the founder and President of the Board of Directors of The Miracle Providers NorthEast, a non-profit organization that helps raise money for children and their families impacted by HIV/AIDS. Among their many fund-raising events, they regularly produce musical extravaganzas at the Onyx Room, also at Western Avenue.
I really didn’t realize what kind of preparation was involved for Marc to get into character, which was of course how I wanted to photograph him. I thought, a little mascara, a wig and a dress… what’s the problem? Well a couple of weeks ago Marc asked if I could show up at the Onyx Room for the next Miracle Provider’s show, at which time he could sit for my photographs before the show. I think it took Marc about an hour and a half to get ready. It was worth the wait! I hope you enjoy my take.
Please go to the Miracle Provider’s web page, or Facebook page to see what incredible work they do! They also have shots on the Facebook page from that, and other shows, expertly done by other photographers.
A couple of weeks ago Sarah, whose acquaintance I had made at a corporate shoot last year, and who has since transitioned to a creative career, came to the studio for one of my shoots. Clearly a very beautiful woman, I was intent on getting beyond the obvious and on trying to reveal a more serious side, and one that hopefully would show a presence… something serious, something more. Here is a loosely curated set of those images. I have a favorite, and that one will likely end up in one of my more select portfolios, but I will let you decide. I will be happy to hear your thoughts!