Archive for the “Interviews + Conversations” Category

By Kati Blair Kotrc, Ed.M.
Director of Education, Communications, and Development
VSA Massachusetts

Inclusion is an imperative for the health of all cultural organizations. Not only do the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state regulations legally mandate including people with disabilities, it also makes good business sense. 11% of the population in Massachusetts are people with disabilities, 13% are over 65 and experiencing the loss of vision, hearing and mobility associated with aging. Add to that the family and friends that they travel with and you have a sizable potential audience. Furthermore, whatever is done to address the particular needs of an individual or group typically improves the experience for everyone. Who hasn’t rolled a suitcase over a curb cut intended to provide access to the sidewalk for someone using a wheelchair? Similarly, once a large print guide is created it often becomes more popular than the standard print version because everyone can use it easily. Any organization that isn’t deliberately designing for access and inclusion is likely coming up short.

By providing audio descriptions of visual information, organizations create access points for visitors who are blind or have low vision, but can also deepen the engagement of sighted visitors. See for yourself by listening to or reading the descriptions of Gordon Sasaki’s NY Portraits featuring New York artists, musicians, writers, dancers and actors with disabilities.

Diana – Actor/Model. Audio description text: This close up is a head and shoulders shot of an attractive woman, appearing to be in her 30’s. Her dark full hair, looking slightly wind blown, hangs to her bare shoulders. She pulls up her right eyebrow with the middle finger of her right hand. Her left arm, which appears to have been amputated just below the elbow, reaches up to frame the left side of her face. The end of this arm, skin folded in to form a vertical crease, pulls up the eyebrow above her left eye. Her lips, with a light tone and shine to them, are parted to reveal the tips of her upper teeth, and curl up at each end. Her jaw lines descend gracefully to her small round chin. The photo is cropped just below her neck with no indication of clothing. Out of focus patterned curtains form the background.

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By Mike Murowchick, PRC Workshop Assistant

When first I signed up for Lisa Kessler’s “Vision & Voice” Master Class at the Photographic Resource Center in February and agreed to serve as the Workshop Assistant, I had a feeling it would mark a significant stop on my journey as a young photographer. I had never taken a critique-based photo class before, and I was thrilled to have the chance to learn from Lisa and begin to find my “voice.” Three short months later, I can say with certainty that this class has exceeded all of my expectations and has been the most meaningful experience I have had as a photographer.

Classmates view and discuss the work of David Mattox during the final project presentations. Photo by Lisa Kessler.

 

The workshop was comprised of ten students, each coming from various photography backgrounds. Some of us had been shooting for decades, while others, including myself, had only been shooting for a few years. Despite this, each of us brought a unique perspective to the class, and we were all able to rely on each other week-in and week-out for invaluable advice on how to improve our work. The class ran from 6-9 pm, but every week we all felt like we could have stayed at the PRC all night burning the midnight oil while looking at each other’s work!

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Zach Hoffman, Associate Curator/PRC Spring 2013 Intern

Unconventional Inventions: Innovative, Unusual, and Alternative Approaches to Photography, previously on display at Endicott College’s Carol Grillo Gallery in the Walter J Manninen Center for the Arts as a Photographic Resource Center satellite exhibit, showcases artists working outside the mainstream who integrate creativity with ingenuity to push the boundaries of the photographic medium. After almost four months of dedication and hard work as the Associate Curator, I am pleased to share with you the struggles and successes I encountered as I worked to make this “unconventional” exhibition a reality.

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by Barbara Ayotte

Benedict Fernandez

Benedict Fernandez at his Almanac Gallery in Hoboken, NJ. Photograph by Elliott Ruga

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon this spring, PRC Executive Director Glenn Ruga, his brother Elliott, and I visited the Almanac Gallery on Garden Street in Hoboken, NJ, owned by Benedict “Ben” Fernandez and his wife, Siiri.  Originally Ben’s parents’ home, the small gallery feels more like a museum, marking significant milestones in documentary photography. Ben is most known for his “protest” photography, particularly his famous and intimate portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr. (A portfolio of this work will be sold at the upcoming PRC event “Treasures from the PRC Vault” on May 7.)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photograph by Benedict Fernandez

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photograph by Benedict Fernandez. One of 12 images included in Countdown to Eternity portfolio.

Ben was seated on a couch in a small, sparse room dominated by a wall of posters marking the first photography expos at Arles that Ben helped to organize, the ICP lectures of The Concerned Photographer series featuring the icons of twentieth century photography including Cornell Capa and Ben, and posters of rallies with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Photos of Ben with Lisette Model, Richard Avedon, Susan Meiselas and Capa dotted the other walls, near shelves of boxed prints and portfolios.

Minutes after we walked in, Siiri was ready to reminisce about the amazing influence and breadth of Ben’s career, of which Ben prefers to call “photo-anthropology” as opposed to photojournalism. Siiri started by taking out his famous Martin Luther King, Jr. portfolio “Countdown to Eternity,” commissioned by Kodak. The exhibition based on this portfolio has been shown in 18 cities and is still traveling. We didn’t know that there was also a second portfolio, commissioned by Leica. Only five copies of the Leica version were created and are valued at $25,000. The Kodak version sold at the George Eastman House Auction for between $5.000 and 7,000. (Ben and Siiri could not remember the exact price.)

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Marketing Conversations for Photographers

 

 

 

Issue #1: How to Build Awareness for Your Work

By Cindy A Stephens

We are witnessing the democratization of photography.  The rise and rapid adoption of digital technology has made photography accessible to the masses in a way that wasn’t possible a generation ago.

Millions of images are now shared on social media sharing sites by hobbyists as well as emerging photographers and established pros.  Some work is superb and other images are merely mediocre.

The result of this seismic shift is that it is increasingly difficult to stand out in a very crowded marketplace.  Technical know-how and creative genius is no longer sufficient to becoming an established fine art or commercial photographer.  Marketing acumen — the ability to differentiate you as an artist — is now a required skill for photographers.

Free-lance photographer David H. Wells tells me that marketing is as important a skill for a photographer as the actual photographing.

“I would argue that marketing is more important [than photographic skill], proven by the wild success of many photographically mediocre artists who have great marketing systems,” David says.

I found it startling that David spends only 10% of his time photographing.  The other 90% is spent on marketing activities.  Like many photographers, he has multiple revenue streams including stock photography, assignments, and teaching workshops and he spreads his marketing efforts across them.

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 By Jessica Ladd, PRC Fall 2012 Intern

Since opening in 1971, the Panopticon Gallery has become one of the oldest fine art photography galleries in the United States specializing in contemporary, modern, and vintage photography.  Their goal is to represent established and emerging photographers who are focused on developing and expanding their careers. They also regularly assist collectors in buying, selling, and locating photographs along with supporting local educational institutions. On October 25th, I had the privilege of attending the Panopticon Gallery’s Fall Photography Salon, where photographers represented by gallery owner Jason Landry were able to show off their most recent work. The artists-Lindsey Beal, Heidi Kirkpatrick, Stella Johnson, Roger Farrington, Alexander Harding, and Bill Franson-all had very different ideas, making each of their portfolios unique.  Throughout the night, I was able to talk with and interview each photographer and learn more about his or her artistic style.  My goal was to learn what each of their portfolios was about, if there was a message they were trying to convey, and what inspired them to create their personal style of photography.

Interestingly enough, both Heidi Kirkpatrick and Lindsey Beal have incorporated themes involving contemporary and historical women’s issues, feminism, and sexuality into their work. Their images highlight the delicate shapes and gentle curves of the female body through unique photographic methods such as transparent imagery on film, sculpture, and 3D mixed media objects. But while the overarching themes of Beal and Kirkpatrick’s work are similar, vast differences set them apart from one another. Kirkpatrick’s work depicts the world experienced by women, along with exploring various areas of the female body in detail, such as faces, arms, legs, breasts, hands, and hair. The subjects in her images range from infants to full grown women, symbolizing the different stages of female’s life.  In a non-traditional approach to photography, Kirkpatrick has transferred these vintage images onto three-dimensional objects including wooden blocks, ceramic spheres, and even mahjong tiles. When I inquired as to why she had chosen such a unique way to display her work, she said that she wanted to give both the objects and photographs a second life. “Only part of their story is being told,” she stated, “The rest is out of reach.” This idea caused me to view the items in a new light, and not as old things, but symbols of another era. What purpose did these objects serve before they were altered? Who are the women in these photographs? What stories do they have to tell? The answers to these questions are, unfortunately, lost with time, but through her creative process, Kirkpatrick has indeed given them a ‘new life.’

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Interview with Alison Nordström
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
By Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, PRC Program & Exhibition Manager

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this year’s EXPOSURE juror, Alison Nordström, over the phone. During a forty-minute conversation, we discussed her role at George Eastman House, where photography is going in the coming decades, and the rise of digital images made by mobile devices.

1. What is your favorite part of working at George Eastman House?

“At George Eastman House I serve as Senior Curator of Photographs and Director of Exhibitions and run a graduate school. Although these are separate jobs, they are inextricably intertwined. In fact, my favorite aspect of working at the Eastman House has to do with the pictures in the collection – studying them in my capacity as curator, showing them to students in my capacity as professor, or organizing them into an exhibition or publication in my capacity as Director of Exhibitions – but my passion always comes back to the objects themselves.”

2. What are some of your upcoming projects at George Eastman House?

“We’ve just opened Untold Stories, a collection survey, in response to the ludicrous situation of having millions of photographs but showing the same 500 or so over and over. This exhibition is about 320 photos broken up into series, or groups of photos, ten to twelve at a time, work we’ve never shown before. Some are recent acquisitions but others have never been shown publically because they were sitting in a box in our archives. Our holdings of Ansel Adams are so broad that we pulled [images] from his earliest portfolios – a nice change from the very familiar Moonrise and Half-Dome. Another big project is our exhibition on Lewis Hine. Eastman House acquired the photographic contents of Hine’s house when he died, some 10,000 objects in total, so we now have 400 objects in an exhibition traveling in Europe [to three different venues]. He’s not as well known in Europe, so we feel we changed the discourse about Hine; people are seeing work of his they never associated with him. We didn’t want to show just child labor or the Empire State Building, we wanted to show those in context with many other Hine photographs.

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Article by Hilary Falcon, PRC Intern, Spring 2012

For Almond Dhukka, president and savior of the Boston University Photography Club, the love affair with photography all began with a messed up delivery from eBay. After placing an order for a three-ring binder, the engineer in Almond was only hoping to store his class notes in a more methodical manner. What arrived on his doorstep, however, was fate: around $4,000 worth of Nikon camera equipment, all in one box. But Almond still longed for his three-ring binder. After receiving a message from Ebay about the photographer in San Diego who was out an entire order of DSLR + equipment, Almond referred to the terms & agreements listed on eBay’s website and pointed out that the camera goodies were technically his now.

Anyways, it was kismet. Because Almond promptly got to work at learning every technical aspect of his new camera, clearing away its aura of mystery and dissecting each and every one of its functions. This all came pretty naturally for Almond; he majored in Mechanical Engineering and graduated this May from BU with a job already lined up in Connecticut to work on nuclear-powered submarines. When looking at Almond’s photography, one can see that he is drawn to architecture, geometry, symmetry – in a word, linear design. “I love to know how everything works,” Almonds says.

So how did Almond come to save the BU Photo Club, which was suffering from low membership, involvement, and enthusiasm? Read the rest of this entry »

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Untitled (from the series Lessons of Impermanence), 2009 30 x 24 inches, color coupler print from 4x5 negative

GS: Tell me how you first connected with photography.

TS:  My relationship to photography has always been that it was simply another art medium that could be put to use to manifest my ideas, in the same realm as, say, painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. I started out as a painter, and originally wanted to pursue that. However, as I gained familiarity with the grand scheme of art, both historically and the more contemporary, photography became more appealing to me.

GS: Where did you grow up? Is your family from there?

TS: I grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts, close to Boston. The majority of my immediate family is there.

GS: And you live in Somerville now, right?

TS:  I do.  It’s a great little city with a fairly large art community.

GS: Where did you go to college, Tara? Have you attended grad school?

TS: I received my BFA from The Art Institute of Boston in 2010. I was a fine arts major at first, then after two weeks, I impulsively switched into the photography program. I did this simply because it felt right, but also because I needed a change, and photography was exciting to me.

Grad school, if I go, probably will not be for a few more years. I think it’s important to take time off, and I’m really enjoying life without school.

GS: What was the first photograph you remember seeing, that made a significant impact on you, and how old were you?

TS: This sounds bad, but I honestly can’t remember the first photograph that I saw that drew me in.  I was more interested in the medium as a whole.  I had never realized that photography could be whatever you wanted it to be, it wasn’t just, you know, snapping pictures of what was around you. The possibilities of what a photograph could be were endless, and from a naive standpoint,  that was very exciting. There was a mysterious, sort of eerie quality to photography that I was attracted to.  A photograph possesses the implication that what is depicted in the image is, in a sense, real, and that the moment presented actually happened. I’m saying this in a broad sense; I understand that with all of the digital work and manipulation that goes on now, it is often looked down upon to say that something is “real,” especially in an academic setting.  I’m referring to this idea in comparison to the feeling or construction of a painting or a drawing.

I used to go to the book store when I was younger and look through all of the art books because I honestly didn’t know much about the extent of what art could be and I was hungry to see all of the possibilities. It was then that I came upon photography, and there was just something about it that drew me in. When I first felt this attraction to photography, I was about 9 or 10 years old, and it was something I felt I would never be able to do. Photography was extremely intimidating and I didn’t know how to wrap my head around it. It wasn’t until I started becoming more educated and developed in the arts, especially in a technical sense, that I had a grasp on how to construct a photograph. At the time I first started using a camera (an old 35mm that belonged to my father that was just sitting in the closet unused and collecting dust) I was painting a lot of really basic still life studies for school. I began to experiment with photographing these still lives and trying to make them look like paintings. This isn’t to say that I didn’t try everything, like most new photographers do. I walked around and took street photographs, portraits, abandoned building pictures, all of those different things people new to the medium do to learn how they see. It wasn’t until I went to get my BFA that I decided to pursue photography.

GS: I respond to what you wrote about the “realness” attached to photographs. When I was a kid flipping through books and magazines I was always wary of pictures of things like frogs and fish that I didn’t like in reality. Something about them, about the images themselves unsettled me; it was as though touching the picture was actually like touching the thing. Some of your still life images remind me of the apprehension I experienced as a child. They create a sense of fear, or uneasiness.

TS:  I like the idea of a photograph being able to represent something unsettling that is not typically part of everyday life. This feeling that you talk about as a child looking at photographs, the uneasy feeling that you felt as though you were touching the real thing, is one of the qualities that makes the medium of photography appealing to me over other artistic mediums. A photograph can be very confrontational, especially if it depicts something uncanny that viewers may not necessarily want to look at.

GS: I’m glad you brought up that notion of the uncanny, because that’s a phenomenon your work brings to the foreground. I think the uncanny takes the familiar, the everyday, and makes it strange. In your work, you take ordinary things–ordinary in a butchershop, fishmongers, or slaughterhouse, perhaps, but still not all that unusual–and by recontextualizing them, by putting them in settings that assume some ritual, some set of actions that may still be going on, these objects assume a new uneasiness. It’s not so much that the objects aren’t part of everyday life, it’s the treatment, the presentation of them, that puts them into the realm of the strange and unsettling.

TS:  Still lives have an air of mystery to them and oftentimes, their content is very ambiguous, which makes it such an interesting genre.  Most still lives feel very quiet and delicate, but they can also have the ability to imply something very strange, or even horrific, that occurred before, after, or on the outskirts of the scene. The choice and rendering of the object is so important in establishing what the photograph is intended to express. My photographs, especially when at full scale, force the viewer to see the explicit detail prevalent in the image, no matter how generally grotesque the subject matter may be. However, by using the aesthetic sensibility of painting, the viewer is often seduced by the image’s beauty and can not help but want to look at these fearful, vile arrangements. It is my way of pursuing the age-old sensibility of the vanitas still life, using beautiful, seductive images to successfully introduce unappealing, frightening motifs.

Untitled No. 5 (from the series Seven Evil Thoughts), 2010 40 x 180 inches, color coupler print from 4x5 negative

GS: How large are the multi-panel pieces you’ve been making, like this one?

TS:  Each panel is 40 x 30 inches, making the entire six panel piece 40 x 180 inches.

GS: Tell me about the process, conceptual and physical, you follow to get the images to “full scale” as you put it. You said earlier that you photographed the still life compositions you were making for school; was it a straight line from that to creating tableaux directly for the camera? Did you always know that the images needed to get as big as the recent work is? What motifs, or other goals, were pushing you to get larger?

TS:  By “full scale” I was referring to the photographs in their large exhibition format (versus on a computer screen, handling prints, etc). My process always begins with the concept. Ideas, various influences, feelings and words circulate until I organize and make sense of everything. I then begin to conceptualize specific images, which eventually leads to preliminary sketches of the entire portfolio.

Sketch for Untitled No. 7 (from the series Retribution), 2010, 18 x 12 inches, watercolor on paper

Untitled No. 7 (from the series Retribution), 2011, 40 x 30 inches, color coupler print from 4 x 5 negative

After all of the sketching is realized, I begin shooting. The entire process of arranging the image varies depending on the nature of its content, but I always try to take my time with the work.

When I began photographing the still life arrangements that were originally intended to be painted, I quickly realized that I could, essentially, “paint with the camera.”  The process of moving away from painting and into photography was fairly straightforward and simple for me. It just kind of made sense. However, I hope to never let go of the use of paint in my process entirely. Besides being a necessary tool in the pre-planning of my photographs, I think the sketches play a significant role in informing the grand scheme of the work.

I always knew my photographs had to be large in order to explicitly imply the notion of painting. As much as I appreciate small work that packs a punch, I am in love with impact that large images can have. The first artist that comes to mind when speaking specifically about size is the painter Jenny Saville. I became enamored with her work and the magnificence of its size, it is so overwhelming and confrontational, and the scale she chooses maintains the dialogue she has established with the old master painters. Since my work is also referencing that area of art history, I find the larger size effective. In my arrangements, every drip, stain, mark, and gesture is important.  I agonize over every minute detail. Making the work large is the only way to do these details justice.

Panel 2 of Untitled No. 5 (from the series Seven Evil Thoughts), 2010, 40 x 30 inches, color coupler print from 4 x 5 negative

Panel 4 of Untitled No. 5 (from the series Seven Evil Thoughts), 2010, 40 x 30 inches, color coupler print from 4 x 5 negative

GS: Tara, thanks for talking this through with me. As I’m writing, late in May, I know you’ve just received notification about your 2011 Photography Fellowship award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I wanted to say congratulations on the honor; I was pleased to have seen and supported your work in that context as one of the three jurors this year. Will this financial gain allow you to do anything new you’d been hoping to do for some time?

TS:  Thank you so much, George.  I am so grateful for the several people that have been supportive of my work. Every artist certainly needs those people, and I feel very fortunate.  I’ve recently completed a new body of work and am currently in the early planning stages of the next, but I always want to go bigger, more elaborate, as I keep going.  It is definitely beyond exciting for me to have funds to work with.  We’ll see what’s in store for the future.

This conversation was carried out through document sharing, starting in February 2011.

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Blue sky. As in, "blue sky" thinking. As in, the sky's the limit.

At a PRC board retreat this winter, one section of the day-long discussion centered around future planning—how do the board members, the leaders of this organization, envision its future? Provoking the session were a variety of open-ended questions about photography and the role of an organization that calls itself, as we do, a “resource center” for photography.

I believe that the board has a critical voice in the PRC’s direction. I also believe that as a membership organization we have a responsibility to listen to our constituency. We cannot function as an organization if we don’t consider, and do our best to meet, the interests of those who join us as members. You pay your money, you have a right to expect something in return. And we have an obligation to listen. While we can’t serve everyone all the time, we can mediate between points of highly concentrated interest and identify common ground among our members’ diverse passions.

We must make the most of the limited resources we have in order to provide the most valuable resources to our audiences. We want to know what you want and expect from the PRC. Call it a feedback loop, call it a membership survey, call it a desperate plea for blog traffic, or call it fodder for what I am planning as a “Vision Night” at the PRC this fall; I pass the following questions along to you, gentle reader, in hopes of stirring up a set of ideas that will grow into visions, discussions, and eventually new directions for this organization. Please contribute your thoughts here on the blog, and I will return to the list at intervals over the coming months.

(These are in no particular order, though the number may help organize responses.)

  1. What is the current state of photography as an art form? As a form that has value and meaning to our culture?
  2. Where do you see photography heading?
  3. Is the PRC in its current state still relevant? If so, how do we keep it relevant? If not, how to make it relevant again (if it every was)?
  4. What do you want or need from an organization dedicated to photography? Are you getting it?
  5. If you are not a member, what would induce you to become one?
  6. How do you envision the PRC in five years? Farther out (15 years)?

Just for reference, here’s our existing mission statement:

The Photographic Resource Center (PRC) at Boston University is an independent, non-profit organization that serves as a vital forum for the exploration and interpretation of new work, ideas, and methods in photography and related media.

Thank you for helping us envision the new PRC.

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