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!
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.
Masada Jones is one of a number of young people whom I know in this town who make it a good place to live, by simply doing her part. Formerly the Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator for the Lowell Community Health Center, she has recently moved across the street to become the Assistant Directory of Extended Day at the Lowell Community Charter Public School. She is also, or maybe foremost, a poet and has recently published a book of her work called "Becoming Broken".
Masada and I had met several years ago for a project that I was working on that really never got off the ground, but I had never photographed her until she and her Mom came to my studio about a month ago. A little snafu with the film processing, and paid shoots, got in my way in completing this collection, but here is the work - finally.
I got a mini-education in the art of crafting wood, or maybe just in the kinds of woods that are used. John Welch, of John Francis Designs allowed me into his studio a couple of weeks ago to photograph him and he enthusiastically explained to me, the clean slate, about some of the exotic hard-woods that he uses. I had no idea that some trees have a dark part and a very light part in the trunk!
Ok, back to talking about John. He recently moved into a larger space. It is flooded with great light from the huge Western Avenue Studios windows that face onto the Pawtucket canal. But let’s go directly to the photos! These are a mix of digital, medium format color film (Portra 160) and black & white film (Ilford HP5), all with window light.
You can visit John on Western Avenue’s First Saturday Open Studios, or you can go Like his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/johnfrancisdesigns
Jeweler Robert Williams was kind enough to let me photograph him a few Saturdays ago in his Lowell studio, for my artist series. I learned that day too that he also makes high-end flutes - I think he said he is a master silver caster - in Boston, which he told me is where the best flutes are made. What I do know is that he makes amazing jewelry and is a super-nice guy. You can see a few of his pieces on his web site (http://www.rawjewelers.com), as well as on a video done by Howl Magazine here: https://youtu.be/_HfMrKg2FD4
His studio is at Western Avenue Studios, in Lowell, Massachusetts - Studio 208.
I have been making portraits of artists for several years now. I find artists to be the least self-conscious of subjects. I’m not sure why, although maybe it has to do with their understanding of the process. It’s very freeing in one way, but it also comes with the responsibility of “portraying” a person in an honest way. It’s well understood that photographic gear has nothing to do with making images that work, aside from the more mundane technical qualities of images. It’s also true though that a photographer brings feelings, perceptions and interpretations to a photo shoot such that the portrait is as much about the photographer as it is about the subject.
Last week I had an amazing time visiting the Western Avenue studio of Roneld Lores and Angela Alés, and photographing Roneld. I haven't mentioned it to Angela, but I am hoping that I can photograph her as well sometime in the future. Angela, by the way, has a show now at the Galatea Fine Art gallery on Harrison Avenue in Boston. The opening reception is this Friday, January 8th, 2016. Here is more information: http://galateafineart.com
Click here for a look at Roneld’s web site, and here are my images of him.
Last week Diana Jaye Coluntino stopped by my studio for a photo shoot. Diana, who studied fashion, metalsmithing and sculpture at Mount Ida and MassArt, ultimately teaching at MassArt, spent a decade designing in Venezuela and ended up in Lowell, Massachusetts as the Artistic Director of the Revolving Museum. A number of years ago, Diana founded New Vestures, where she is the Creative Director.
New Vestures provides “support, space, resources and classes related to the creation of fashion and textile projects”. Located in Lowell, New Vestures recently moved out of their Merrimack Street location into a temporary one in the beautifully renovated 110 Canal Street building, which houses the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub. What a cool location!
I visited Diana yesterday to get a tour of that space, where she is working while waiting for the buildout of New Vestures’ new location to be completed. That new home will be just up the hill, still in the growing Hamilton Canal District, at Mill No. 5. That space, on the building’s 5th floor, just above the city’s cool new retail space on the 4th, will give New Vestures 3000 square feet of work space, not to mention a bunch of big windows overlooking the district.
So here are some of the shots during my tour and the portraits we did in my studio. Thank you Diana and best of luck in your new location!
I recently did a profile/photo-essay on Aron Leaman of Mill City Glass Works in Lowell for the Merrimack Valley Magazine (November/December 2015). Aron is incredibly passionate about his art, creating beautiful work as well as sharing his skills in classes that he holds at his studio at Western Avenue Studios. The magazine piece has a number of photos, with text by Emilie-Noelle Provost, so please check it out. Space can be limiting though, so here are several outtakes from my shoots that took place over several days. Visit Aron’s web site at MillCityGlassWorks.com.