Topic: Commentary (135 posts) Page 2 of 27

27 Years

As I wrote last week, I have sold and moved out of a townhouse I've owned in Cambridge, MA  for 27 years. The day after the movers left I went back and photographed the empty rooms. I wondered if the place still held meaning for me now that my things were gone, would the empty space still resonate because I had so many memories and experiences while living there. 

The answer is: mostly no. 

This was the small living room. 

These widows, letting light into the living room but also to the dining room and kitchen up a 1/2 flight of stairs, were one of the things I liked about living there.

This is the stairs up to to the next level,  where the DR and kitchen are.

The dining room and kitchen, which I renovated several years ago, with steps leading up to the third floor.

This is the third floor bedroom that was my daughter's for the first 10 or 12 years until she moved out. It was purple then. It then became my office where the computer was and where several generations of 44 inch Epson printers were over the years. If any room got my heart pounding it would be this one. So much work and so many prints made right here.

This was my bedroom. 27 years of putting my head down to sleep.

I've been out now for a week a half and it seems the most normal thing in the world to be in my new place, an apartment in a new complex with a year's lease.

Isn't it odd how we do and don't remember? Asked to sum up the 27 years of living in this place I would describe it as being very good. Great location, convenient to my work and to the city, comfortable, safe and secure. Perhaps it is what we carry, what we retain that matters, not so much the physical manifestation of our years in a place. 

Number 10 Fort Washington Place wasn't anything very special, just a townhouse along a lane in Cambridge, MA. But the memories I have, of parties, dinners, meeting for coffee, laughing, recuperating after surgery, packing to leave and unpacking from a trip, times hard and times good, those are what I carry and value. For almost three decades this was home.

Thanks for reading.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted September 6, 2018

A Personal History #5

The last installment of the Personal History Series (#4) ended in 2012. We'll pick up the narrative in 2013.

My life had reached a level of stability that was a real pleasure and that was good for my work. No financial worries and the freedom to travel. My daughter was in a good place too. No longer newly retired, I was photographing, processing, printing and showing work often. I was also still teaching and doing residencies. In fact, in the spring I taught at Penland in North Carolina and in the summer traveled to Iceland for the first time for a five-week residency at the Baer Art Centre in Hofsos. That experience rocked my world, for it was so different and such a very vast place, open and minimal, that it changed my work too. I remember in the early days of being there feeling as though there was nothing I could do that would possibly hold up to the place itself. Eventually, I came around to an understanding that I could make good work there.

That's the Baer Art Centre where we stayed in the lower right

I was showing my work by this time at 555 Gallery in Boston, working with Susan Nalband, the director. She brought to the conversation a sense of adventure and experimentation that was really wonderful. Her inaugural show highlighted my work from Iceland and Alaska fishing pictures by David Mattox.  

Digital photography had been improved once again. By this time I was working with the Nikon D800E, a problematic camera in many respects, but capable of truly wonderful files. 

By this time, I was comfortable with making my work of a wide array of diverse subjects and content, with ideas that embraced relatively straightforward photographs (such as landscape) but also included conceptual work, photographs that deconstructed and challenged conventions, particularly by looking at time (photo time) and shifting perspectives to inform and question the norm. 

I sought to redefine landscape photography or perhaps to bring it into the present day by photographing the same place from the air and on the ground (in the case of Toms Neck , from a kayak).

This work and two other series challenged preconceptions about what is there with evidence that much of landscape photography presents a facade and is two dimensional.

By 2014 I shook things up again.

Monster Moo Cards 

by photographing at a Costume World store in Fitchburg over most of the winter.This work was shown at 555 Gallery the following fall and at the Fitchburg Art Museum the next year.

Along with Monsters there was a great deal of other work, in series and also in single images from this time. Check the Gallery page of the site to see more.

We will finish this one here. Let's see if I can finish up in #6.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 29, 2018


I will be speaking at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem September 16, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. about Sally Mann's work in the exhibition: A Thousand Crossings

Tickets for this are free but you will need to reserve your spot.

Hope to see you there!

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 26, 2018

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