Topic: Commentary (200 posts) Page 3 of 40

Open Studio

Hope you can join us in my new studio in Acton for a bite to eat and something to drink and see old and new work. Two Sunday afternoons: Nov 6 and Nov 13, from 1-5 pm both days. Easy to get to, plenty of parking. Got Questions? 617-821-5310

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 18, 2022

Cultural Placeholder

Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago when this concept was front and center on my mind. It is not so much there now, after several texts with a close friend where we effectively put it to bed. Read on.)

Going out on a limb here as this is new for me.  

The concept of “Cultural Marker” or “Cultural Placeholder”, the idea is that the work will have its place in our culture in the future. Can our work be used down the line as a way to place it in the time in which it was made? Can future historians turn to it and peg it as being made in a certain time frame? This might entail some tech, looking at photography in this stage of its development, but also aesthetics. I know, pretty abstract. Is there something inherently in the work that speaks to the time in which it was made? For instance, I know that pictures I made in the 70’s look dated and different than pictures I make today. And last, if the work is preserved, why would anyone choose to highlight mine for cultural place holding over someone else’s?

Presumably, there would be a perspective on one's work that pegs it as being from a certain era. For instance, early photography could be a cultural marker by all of it being in black and white before the discovery of color. Of course, there would be many subcategories such as Asian or European origination, technological ones like progressing from glass plate negatives to polyester plastic negatives, or later, to digital capture. But, if your work became used as a cultural marker in the future what was it that made yours unique and stand out as an embodiment of the time, place and culture in which it was made?

Eugene Atget, Paris. Atget, obviously a hugely important cultural placeholder.

Taking this one step further, could work be made for the purpose of it becoming a cultural placeholder? Photographing content that sits squarely in the crosshairs of "now", such as new buildings, or new cars, or new fashion styles? Presumably, a picture of Donald Trump would place us firmly in our particularly twisted and perverse present.

But, where's the art in that, I wonder? As I think this through as I write the piece, there is a "time capsule" character at play. Put present-day content in a sealed box, bury it and direct it to be opened in 100 years. This gets us into the realm of conceptual art, where the idea is as important as or more important than the final result. 

What fun to go down this path. Are your pictures made with the significance of a cultural marker in mind? What are your thoughts about your work's relevance and importance in the overall scheme of things? Safe to say many of us just don't care. We'll be dead and gone so what's it matter? Fine. But who's to say whether it should be preserved or not? 

In the end, I arrived here: I cannot predict or say whether or not my work will have any significance after I am gone, as a cultural marker or anything else. All I can do is the best that I can, never letting shoddy work or sloppy thinking prevail. Keep the work at its highest level, do not compromise standards, and push on with new ideas and new forms of execution. 

You? Comment below.


Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 2, 2022

Almost Not Photo

Summer and 18 years old. On the Vineyard. My soon-to-be girlfriend Cindy left the party one night in July to get more beer. Off she went in the used 1957 BMW Isetta she had bought that afternoon. 

Not exactly a photo post but a good story.

This was an unusual mode of transportation

with two wheels in the rear that were closer together.  It was something of a cross between a motor scooter and a car. They were not known for their ability to take corners at speed. I had spent a few moments with her earlier explaining that corners were not her friend. She didn't pay much attention.

At any rate, off she went in a hurry to get down island ( 20 minutes away) before the liquor store closed. I couldn't go with her as the party was at my parent's house (who were away, of course) and I was worried people would trash the place.

The Isetta was a little different in terms of getting in and out of it. The front was a door that opened

with a steering wheel that moved out of the way so you could get in.

I didn't see Cindy for a bit but then she arrived back at the party with no beer and a bloody forehead. Turns out she was going a little fast at the big corner at the bottom of the hill on Middle Road about a mile from the house. A tree stopped her foreword movement and her head hit the steering wheel. She was shaken up and not pleased that her new car was toast. We went down to look at it the next morning and the whole front was pushed in by the tree. It was towed away later that day. I figure she owned that car for about 10 hours.

What got me into this line of thinking and remembering? I was at the Newport (RI) Car Museum yesterday photographing the cars and they had an Isetta. Photography played a part here as I wouldn't have much to share with you without an Isetta being there and getting me thinking about that night in the summer of 1965.

I hope you're having a good summer. Stay cool.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 19, 2022

RISD Portfolio

Starting in about 1966, the RI School of Design Photography Department held a competition each spring for students to be in the annual photography portfolio. The student group that pulled this off was the Photographic Education Society (no relation to the much larger national organization of the same name).

If accepted you had to make 150 copies of your image and mount them on the provided board. Of course, we all wanted to have our work in the portfolio. I was fortunate to have work of mine accepted in 1972.

Brian Pelletier

One of the benefits was that in the portfolio were photographs by both Aaron Siskind (by 1972) and Harry Callahan,  two of our high profile teachers. If accepted you got one copy of the portfolio. I think they sold for $150 each. This got you 25 prints from different undergraduate and graduate students plus several photo faculty.

I was looking over the three (1967,1972, and 1975) that I have and almost all the imagery is in black and white and most of the photographs are predominately straightforward. The printing style in those days was heavier, contrasty with deep blacks and bright whites. This was 30 years or so before digital took hold, and color was taught in one class as an elective. Printing color was slow, hot, unhealthy, expensive, and few bothered. "Art" photography was a black and white medium then and color was for reportage and perhaps advertising (think Life Magazine).

At any rate, looking at the prints from these portfolios gives us a glimpse of an earlier era. Photography as a form of creative expression looks, at least to this artist, like it was still evolving, contained primarily within straight imagery and straight prints. In those days making a good print was an accomplishment. A medium still exploring our world, with a camera in hand or on a tripod, the photographer going out to make discoveries and imagery mostly found or come across by chance. Studio, constructed, assembled, blended, configured, set up? Not so much. Our job in those days seemed to be to make art where we found it. 

Harry Callahan

Teaching: I would walk into class with a black 11x 14-inch portfolio box under my arm. I would ask the students to sit in a circle. I would then hand each student a mounted print from the portfolio. Once they each had one I would ask them to study it, as I was going to ask them to talk about it as if they had made it themselves. An intro student talking about a Callahan or a Jim Dow or a Linda Connor with no idea who those photographers were. After each had a chance to speak, some getting into the role-playing and some not as much, I brought them into a few of the photographers' works they talked about. This exercise was a real eye-opener for some students and I used the tactic for many years.

Jim Dow

Ed Sievers

Finally: for those of you that read the blog that are researchers, historians,  and curators who want to see more, you can find copies of all the portfolios that were made in the RISD library in Providence. If I can be of any help please contact me directly: here

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 22, 2022

Martin Parr at Boston College

I saw the superb show of the work of the British photographer Martin Parr this past week at Boston College's McMullen Museum and recommend it highly. Fellow photographer and teacher at Boston College Karl Baden has brought us a large sample of Parr's photographs made over his career. Cleanly and with excellent text that contextualizes the work, we go from the late 70s up through 2005 or so and are shown specific projects along the way, from early days with small analog black and white prints up through medium format large color inkjet prints. We are taken on a journey of Parr's interests, including many pictures from Ireland, unflinching and in-your face-pictures of demonstrations, family get-togethers, people on the street, a visit by the Pope, and photos of monuments and famous tourist destinations made with a wry sense of humor.

Excuse the hyperbole but I found the work in the show to be a confirmation of photography itself. Parr's pictures affirm that, although it may feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket, there is good in the world, for his spin is mostly positive.  That things aren't perhaps as bad as they seem. 

Parr's role as acute observer takes great discipline and this show presents us with work that speaks to his efficiency and wonderful ability to find things that hold our interest in unexceptional circumstances. For Parr, pictures are everywhere. 

Parr is a commentator on our human condition, with a decidedly British take. 

Take a practiced and perceptive photographer, put him/her in front of places of interest peopled with a broad cross-section of humanity,  add in some wit, irony, a strong sense of design and a fine color sensibility and you might have Martin Parr, clearly one the very best working today. I only wish the show gave us more current work, for what is there seems to stop about 2005.

Many photo shows these days leave me angry and frustrated, feeling that photography has lost its way, missed its inherent capabilities and attributes while being taken up by artists that bend it, mold it to make imagery that I don't have a clue about, personal and political pieces that I don't relate to. But there is wonderful work to see. So far this year I have seen this and the Frank Armstrong show at Fitchburg Art that confirm that photographs are being made that are superb.

Thank you to both Frank Amstrong and Martin Parr and the curators that brought them to us. 

More info?

through June 5

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 16, 2022