Archive for the “PRC History” Category

Cover of Seydel's forthcoming book, to be published in April by Siglio

Robert Seydel, director of programming at the PRC from 1992 to 1997 and an associate professor of visual art at Hampshire College, died yesterday in Amherst. His colleague, former PRC executive director John Jacob, offered the following reminiscence and comments about Seydel.

Dear Friends of the PRC,

I am deeply saddened to write to you of the death of Robert Seydel, of a massive heart attack, while preparing for his classes at Hampshire College yesterday morning.

Robert and I came to the PRC at the same time, in the early 1990s. During a period of financial crisis soon after our arrival, there came a day when we were its last two employees. Standing together in its darkened galleries, we conceived of a plan to save the PRC, with Robert taking on the curatorial responsibilities and me the administrative. Enlisting the support of artists and community members, as well as celebrities such as Dennis Hopper and Patti Smith, Robert organized a visionary program for the PRC while I negotiated forgiveness for its debts. A new organization, with a square green logo and a growing focus on the region, emerged. During the years that followed, Robert and I never tired of marveling at our unlikely success.

A truly gentle man, after leaving the PRC Robert found his calling as a teacher at Hampshire College. There, his colleague Sandra Matthews has written to me, “Robert had a deep impact on so many people; he was such a completely unique and amazing person and a phenomenal teacher.” Robert was also exceedingly modest, perhaps most of all about his artistic talents. He presented an exhibition of excerpts from his Book of Saul at the Cue Art Foundation, New York, in 2007, and his untimely death precedes by months the publication of his Book of Ruth; both projects had engaged him for many years. About his work Robert wrote:

Art, as creation and as sign of primary Imagination, is not objects but a state, a kind of fluid. It is revelation of a sort that both objects and figures are the excess of… The wind is what comes through, barely glued down, sign of what maker here.

Robert was a cherished work-mate and a dear friend. His passing is a loss to me and my family; to his students and colleagues among whom he was beloved; and to the community, for and about whom his hesitant voice expressed an extraordinary graciousness and wisdom.

Sorrowfully,

John Jacob

A local article about Seydel’s death can be found here. Leslie Brown published the following writing by Seydel, with a brief bio attached, in conjunction with her 2006 exhibition PRC P.O.V.: Photography Now and the Next 30 Years link.

Click here for a link to the CUE Art Foundation web site featuring Seydel’s statement about his Book of Saul project.

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Just before you enter the PRC gallery there is a nook, just large enough for a framed 24 x 20 inch Polaroid (height before width, of course; it might not fit if it were 20 x 24). That singular space, between Laura’s desk and the gallery walls now graced by the work of Chris Enos and Carl Chiarenza, features just such a piece–a Polaroid from the big camera, conceived and executed by the artist Neal Slavin. Slavin, whose work is featured in the monographs Portugal (Lustrum, 1971), When Two or More Are Gathered Together (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976), and Britons (Aperture, 1986), is known for his droll and magical group portraits. When birds of a feather, or like-minded people, gather, something wonderful seems to happen, and this is what Slavin has recorded with the oversize instant camera.

On Friday the 6th, Slavin gave a lecture for the PRC at Morse Auditorium; the lecture drew on the groups and photographs represented in Britons. The photographer led a “critique workshop” at the PRC on Saturday the 7th. Slavin’s prints were on display at the Clarence Kennedy Gallery in Cambridge.

Although the group of PRC notables now on display in our lobby bears both Slavin’s real signature and the bemused faces that so often populate his photographs, the circumstances of his making the picture  are somewhat murky. We are also trying to identify all the people in the photograph, which had been hiding in one of our off-site storage areas for who knows how many years.

Here’s who (we think) we know, and their connection to the PRC at the time (according to the newsletter):

1. Lee Mondale, PRC contributor
2. Audrey Kadis
3. Julie Houck (thanks Jim and Jonathan—see comments below)
4. Don Perrin, PRC board of directors
5. Andrew “Drew” Epstein, PRC board of directors
6. Thurman “Jack” Naylor, PRC board of directors
7. Stan Trecker, PRC executive director
8. Laura Blacklow, PRC board of directors (thanks Leslie—for more on Laura, follow the link in Leslie’s comment)
9. Jonathan Goell, PRC board of directors
10. Polly Brown

If you can help, by confirming the names we have or identifying those names and roles yet-t0-be-recalled, please reply to this blog post.

Neal Slavin’s blog here.

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This book was published by the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation, Inc. in 1978, to acknowledge the recipients of its fellowships in three years of the program. Susan R. Channing was the editor, a natural fit given her role as the Artists Fellowship Program Director. Estelle Jussim wrote the Introduction, “Looking at Winners,” and one of my favorite designers, Katy Homans, did the graphics and layout. It was printed by Thomas Todd Company in Boston.

Title page of "Art of the State"; click here to go to Google books' page

I was struck by a number of things when I read through this modestly-scaled paperback book, which spotlights the period in which the PRC was emerging on the Boston scene.

First, the panelists. The three panels consisted of: Berenice Abbott, Ben Fernandez, Charles Harbutt, Lotte Jacobi, Syl Labrot, William Larson, Joan Lyons, Nathan Lyons, Mary Ellen Mark, Ray Metzker, and Barbara Morgan.

Second, the 18 fellowship recipients. The list is almost as impressive, in retrospect, as the panelists: Ken Brown, Carl Chiarenza, Stephen R. Elston, Chris Enos, Benno Friedman, Ruth Green, Bruce Kinch, Kipton Kumler, Jerome Liebling, Wendy MacNeil, Chester Michalik, Kevin Monaghan, Jonathan Morse, Thomas J. Petit, Nancy Rankin, John Rizzo, Lauren Shaw, and Jim Stone. Each artist is represented in the book by a compact biography and four nice duotone reproductions. (A nifty surprise to see Chiarenza, Enos, and Liebling all awarded in year one. Within a couple of years they were all involved with the PRC.)

The competition for the awards was fairly tough. The first year, five recipients were chosen from 450 applicants. The second year, six from 305. In year three, seven from 485. When I ran the McKnight Photography Fellowships program in Minnesota, we typically had about 120 applicants for four $25,000 awards. Clearly, there are a lot of photographers who considered themselves eligible for this support in Massachusetts.

The first paragraph of Jussim’s introduction was prescient, if a bit premature. It began:

Photography is in its hey-day. It has reached the apex of its popularity, its influence, its critical acclaim. It is chic. It is fashionable. It is produced, exhibited, purchased and pursued with the same modish flamboyance which once erupted over abstract expressionism and pop art. It is perhaps the only visual art which demonstrates such vigor, such exuberance, such accessibility. Schools of photographic practice, university programs in the history of photography, journals devoted to photographic criticism, books about, by, and for photographers proliferate in all languages, all countries, on all levels of quality.

The apex of photography’s popularity certainly hadn’t been attained in 1978. If anything, the chic quotient of photography continues to rise, however inexplicable or mysterious that phenomenon may be. Like the housing bubble—when will it burst, and what will the fallout be?

I do like the pleasures that Jussim celebrates in the work chosen for these awards; her writing is very thoughtful, but always deferential to and respectful of the experience of direct encounter with images. Especially when she writes the following about a hero to both Massachusetts and Minnesota photography: “A new conception of what constitutes a collision with reality emanates from the work of Jerome Liebling, where the outer realities are unflinchingly squeezed by a fierce individual perception which has the willingness to confront the painful fragilities of humanity, to press hard against the meaning of objects.”

The amount of the grants? $3,000. Enough, today, to buy a pretty decent digital camera, or a computer with enough oomph to process its images, but not both. Times have changed. Ever present, though, are those who question and doubt photography’s qualifications, its rights to be considered an enduring medium worthy of attention. Jussim sensed their presence thirty years ago. “It seems obvious,” she wrote toward the end of her introduction, “that the doom-sayers who have recently begun to prophesy the imminent demise of photography have been entirely too pessimistic.” Indeed.

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Cover of Loreti's book. Click on the image to go to Blurb.

Back in September I received a lovely little self-published book from Belmont-based photographer and teacher Tony Loreti. He offered to donate it to the PRC Library, and we’re happy to accept it. I should have passed it along to our librarian at that point, but it’s been kicking around my desktop since then, refusing to go until I paid it proper attention. Certain books are like that—they refuse to be ignored.

As I approach the end of my first half-year in Boston, I realize more and more how little I’ve entered the community. Rather, how very much community there is to enter, and how every step into it suggests the greater distances and myriad directions yet to travel. Like false peaks as you climb mountains. I’m grateful for the patience and indulgence of many people as I fit all the pieces together, though each time I think I see the narrowing end of a trail, the path of discovery turns a corner and a new panorama opens for me. No complaints, just a new scene to absorb.

This is also a moment at the PRC when we’re looking at what we did then in order to create programming now. As we consider 35 years of existence, 35 years of providing resources to the photography community of Boston in the form of information, exhibitions, publications, insight, and inspiration, we must remember how much we’ve forgotten, or have never known. We can still be taken aback by how many facets there are to the spectrum of photographic practice. Knowing it all is impossible. Knowing all of Boston’s contributions to photographic history would be herculean. Grasping a significant fragment of it takes dedication and diligence. We aspire to comprehensiveness, but will inevitably fall short of being encyclopedic. Please bear with us.

I don’t know Tony personally (though how can I dislike someone whose mailing address puts him on Slade Street!). But I’m pleased to see what he’s seen during the last three decades and shared in his book. Arranged chronologically, it covers ground from Allston, Charlestown, and East Cambridge to Roxbury, North End, and South Boston. (I don’t know what that sentence means geographically, whether it’s inclusive or meaningful in terms of representing Boston, but it sounds good and all of those places appear in A Boston Portrait along with many others among about 75 reproductions.) I enjoy the Boston he’s portraying, and I almost recognize it (the newbie talking again). He has a good sense of how close he needs to be to capture the energy and vividness of the lives he has encountered. He seems to be at ease in the city, and with its people in a great number of circumstances. These street photographs are of an engaged, embracing nature; they are exquisitely pedestrian, in that they honor life at street level.

Thanks, Tony, for contribuing to the PRC and to the visual history of Boston. And for helping me deepen my knowledge about the city.

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Boston has lost one of its leading photojournalists, and the PRC has lost one of its early advocates. Lee Lockwood, a 1954 graduate of Boston University and a member of the photography agency Black Star during the 1960s, became a trustee of this organization in 1979. He joined Carl Chiarenza, Estelle Jussim, Jerome Liebling, Elaine Mayes, Bart Parker, and several other notable individuals who were led by the 3-person board of directors consisting of A. D. Coleman, Jeff Weiss, and Chris Enos, the motive force behind the PRC and its founding director. In 1979 the PRC was still in its infancy, consisting of a newsletter and lots of sweat equity. He remained on the board until late 1987, when the staff numbered nine and the board of directors almost twenty. The gallery program was up and running in the Bakalar & Klebenov Galleries at 602 Commonwealth, and VIEWS: The Journal of Photography in New England was appearing quarterly. Lockwood was a part of that tremendous evolution.

In a consolation note to Lockwood’s sister Susan Lewinnek (a current PRC board member), Chris Enos recalled that “Lee was to represent the documentary photographers. His connections and suggestions were very valuable. Plus, It gave us credibility to have him on the board because of his reputation as a photographer.” His connections and his experience were deep, significant, and not widely known outside of journalistic circles. He was skilled as both a photographer and a writer, and his work always evinced a commitment to social change. As obituaries in several papers relate (links below), Lockwood was most known for a long interview he had in 1965 with Fidel Castro; he also published books on Eldridge Cleaver and Daniel Berrigan. In 1967 he was the first photographer in a decade to photograph in North Vietnam; he arranged a visa while he was in Cuba for the Castro interview.

He wrote the following in the introduction to his 1967 book, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Today’s Cuba in Text and Picture: “We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears. Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.” A worthy sentiment, and one so seldom followed.

Obituary notices in:

The Boston Globe

The New York Times

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