The next few posts will take us through the story behind the one-man show I had at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in Edgartown, MA in 1995. The reason I am writing about this now is that I am donating the full show, 21 prints, to the Museum in a couple of weeks to be included in their permanent collection.
In 1987 I became a tenured associate professor at Northeastern University. I was the head of the Photography Program in the Department of Art And Architecture. Along with tenure came a release from the pressure of being in what's called a "tenure track" where your every step is scrutinized and criticized by senior professors in your department prior to applying for tenure.
Now that I was tenured I found myself thinking about my photography a little differently. Somehow, I was now legit. My University had voted unanimously to approve my promotion, all the way up to the President and the Board of Trustees. With real job security, I could do some things that might not bring me much exposure to critics and curators but might benefit others.
I started by donating my services and photographs to various nonprofits. The first one of these was on the island, called the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF), an organization formed to manage open land on the island, to advise owners on how to build with sightlines that obstruct less and so on. I noticed that their visuals in their publications were terrible, as they were snapshots made by staff members on site visits. So, I made a presentation of my work to their board, suggesting that they might take me on, at no cost, assisting me with access to their managed properties and let me loose. The idea was that I would make pictures, show them to the board, then they could use them should they wish. Gratis.
That is just what happened.
I had photographed on the Vineyard for my whole career, and still do, but this put some real purpose behind my work in those years.
Over the next several years I photographed in all seasons, often being taken to a site VOLF wanted to have included in the survey.
I am going to end this segment here but let me finish by saying my photographs were used by VOLF for publicity purposes and I even mounted small shows of my work in their offices from time to time as well. Finally, I took on the design and production of a high-quality poster for them that used a landscape image of mine (the one you see above) and a top graphic designer from a prestigious firm, all pro bono.
Next up in The Show 2 we'll get to the show that hung in 1995 and to some of the work in it.
Note: I first published this in March 2014 and it quickly got me in trouble. It seems some parents had signed up their daughter to take a course with me at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina that spring. In researching their daughter's teacher they came across this post from my blog:
This Just In
They had no idea it was a joke, took it seriously and were going to withdraw their daughter from my class. It took a lot of apologizing and explaining before they'd let her take my class.
So it goes.
(Late July 2020) As the weeks and months go on, as the virus maintains its grip on our world, as our government fails in so many ways, as I work to stay safe and wear a mask, I am missing many things, as I know we all are.
I miss travel. In many ways, the core of my work over the past 20 years or so has entailed travel. The vast majority of trips I took were to make photographs, the locations and time of year chosen to make certain kinds of pictures; Washington for wheat, California for so many things including damage from wildfires, Utah for its incredible landscape, Europe and Italy for, well, all that is so wonderful about it, and the American South where I teach frequently but also because of a four-year project photographing one town: Spruce Pine in North Carolina. I would be there again in a New York minute if I could.
A small town, nestled into a valley just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. The town is past its prime of being a center for feldspar and mica mining and has suffered from several arson-set fires that were set in 2007.
My photographs from four years of photographing in Spruce Pine while teaching at Penland School of Crafts a few miles away are not flashy and no single pictures stand out. The work is tightly sequenced within each year and constitutes a survey of the town and my perception at a certain period in its history and as such, serves as a symbol of many small towns across the south, caught at a crossroads between its past and an indefinite future.
I've written several blogs about the work and have tried several tactics to get the work shown, all unsuccessful. Take a look and see what you think:
Spruce Pine 2012
Spruce Pine 2013
Spruce Pine 2014
Spruce Pine 2018
I always wonder if people actually do click the link to see the work. Does that take too much effort? I am sure you'll let me know: Neal's Email
There has been so little art going on in my world. I am sure for many of you as well. No museums, galleries, workshops, classes, portfolio reviews, showing work, preparing for shows, hanging shows. Hard, as art is at the core of me.
This happened today in the parking lot of a local museum:
I handed over the Pulaski Motel series (here) to Rachel Passannante, the Collections Manager at the Danforth Musem in Framingham MA.
This unorthodox way to turn work over to a museum's permanent collection was necessitated by the pandemic, of course.
The history of this body of work goes back to 2013, and to Jessica Roscio the curator of the museum. Jess is one of a number of curators I show work to every few years. Come to the studio, take a look at a few portfolios, make no commitment, be under no pressure; clearly a prerogative of a photo curator and hopefully one of the pleasures of their job, looking at work.
Time and again, Jessica would reference the Pulaski Motel series when she came to look at work, often asking to see them again. These black and white photographs, made during a trip to teach at Penland in the spring of 2012 are made up of a walk around an abandoned motel in rural Pulaski, Virginia one very hot afternoon. No pretty pictures these, they present a dystopian view of a world not quite right. In the context of the present pandemic, they may have been predictive in that there are motels across the country that have gone dark over the past few months.
Foreboding and flat, oddly still, dark and a little creepy; right up my alley. I am very pleased for these photographs to have a new home.
Pulaski Motel has never been shown, in fact, most don't know the pictures exist. I have a hunch that will change for Jessica wants to show them. No artist wants his/her work unseen.
Note: In this time of extreme crisis with COVID-19 coming back with a vengeance I urge extreme caution. Wear a mask! Please.
Talk to other photographers these days and one topic will come up should they discuss their equipment. The shockingly high quality of present-day digital.
Okay. What else?
Along with higher quality comes smaller cameras.
Case in point. I wrote in the last post that I was riding a bike every morning. This is primarily for exercise but also I can't help but see things to photograph along the way. Almost every morning I slide by something that, if I was standing in front of it with a camera, I would make a picture.
I suppose I could use my phone or a point-and-shoot camera but then I am sacrificing the option of making a large print later (bigger file size allows bigger prints). I can and have used a backpack to carry a camera but this is less than ideal as it is bulky and in the wrong place.
Not any longer.
With this little case, all has changed. It is a handlebar case. What's inside?
The Sony A7R MK IV and the Sony 24-105 f4 G lens. A camera of such high resolving power it is difficult to comprehend its capabilities.
This is what the case looks like mounted on my bike:
I know, a whole post about a bag? The bag is made by Topeak and it is called the Compact Handlebar Bag, appropriately enough. It is well designed and thought out and no, I am not sponsored by the company. It also can be a fanny pack when removed from the bike. Know that it is pricey, though.
I offer this: the image quality I get from this little camera and lens setup is at least as good as anything I ever made with the 8 x10 camera at any print size I like, be it 11 x 17 or 40 x 50.
This little bag enables me to photograph from the bike with ease. Oh yes, its mounting bracket allows me to remove it and take it with me.
These made this morning on my ride: