Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Downs at Albuquerque: Ellen Rennard

Last night I had the pleasure of having dinner with my friend and fellow photographer Ellen Rennard.  We fixed up a huge salad of fresh greens, had a lovely glass of wine, and then started looking at pictures.  It is such a joy to share work and talk about projects- I need to do more of it for sure.

Ellen has spent the last several years working on a project called The Downs at Albuquerque, a poignant documentation of a racetrack and the people and horses that make up the modern day culture of horse racing.

From Ellen's statement:

Forty years ago, horseracing was the most popular spectator sport in America.  Around that time, I rode a horse on the exercise track at Arlington Park outside of Chicago and, as women were just beginning to ride in big races, I entertained a fleeting dream of becoming a jockey.  Decades later, beginning in 2003, when I was teaching in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I returned to photograph at The Downs at Albuquerque, a thoroughbred and quarter horse racetrack at the state fairgrounds.  Even though horses are now cooled on mechanical hot-walkers and crowds have thinned, much appeared unchanged.  Focusing on the people, horses, and trappings of life at the track, I chose black and white film and silver gelatin prints to suggest the look of photographs from the heyday of racing which still hang on the walls of tackrooms and The Jockey Club at The Downs.  

In spite of what remains, racing has declined, and many small and mid-level tracks have closed.   For a while it appeared that The Downs would move to a new location in the small town of Moriarty, where the track's owners planned to build a $65 million racetrack and casino with more than double the number of slot machines.  When the economy faltered, that plan was shelved.  The lease at the fairgrounds has been extended for two years, but beyond that, who knows.  

One groom told me that most racetracks have become more like bus stations, with strangers just coming and going.  "It used to be that everyone would get together after they had finished with the horses," he said.  "Now it's just a job.  Still, at this track, it's more like the old days."  

My aim is to remind people of the vestiges of the past that still exist in the shadows of the grandstand that overlooks the finish line at The Downs at Albuquerque, and to show that, in spite of the odds, true horsemen and women endure.  For them, the horse still matters.  

Below are some of my favorite images:





Johanna, Fastening the Girth

Tacking Up



Jazz Time Boy

Corazon de Jesus

View the rest of this wonderful project at www.ellenrennard.com.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Farm City by Novella Carpenter

Over the past few months as I've been working on my new project at Open View Farm, I've had farming on the brain in a major way. Suddenly, processed food looks strange to me, and I'm finding myself daydreaming about sheep, vegetables, honeybees, farm-fresh eggs, and canned delights such as Dilly Beans.

My good friend Jessie passed along a book for me to read, titled Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It is a wonderfully written tale of Carpenter's experience starting an urban farm in Oakland, CA. Amidst unlikely surroundings, she grows a variety of vegetables, raises chickens, turkeys, and ducks, and eventually raises animals such as rabbits and pigs! Throughout this process, she taps every resource available to her, ranging from discarded food scraps from the city's restaurants, with which she feeds her animals, to the skills of friends and other farmers, which she acquires through a variety of ingenious barters.

Carpenter is a wonderful writer and her story is compelling. Her approach is frank and honest, and she deals with complicated issues in a very human way, sharing her emotions, triumphs, and failures candidly with the reader. I am inspired by her creativity and dedication and absolutely enjoyed reading every single page. It is exciting to think of all of the different ways you can grow your own food, whether you live in an urban environment or a rural setting, and the book is a great reminder of the huge amount of effort, time, and sacrifice that goes into producing the food we eat.

I have a feeling this is only the beginning of my farm-related reading, but I'd absolutely recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially those with an interest in urban gardening and eating locally.

Find out more information about the author and her farm on her blog.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Photo Shoot #3

Whenever I prepare to go photographing, I always look as if I'm going on a month-long backpacking trip. Usually, I am asked if I am going camping. Similarly, when going on vacation, I often have one tiny backpack of clothing and 4 bags of camera gear.

Well, today is no exception. My bags are packed full of cameras and film (4 x 5 and 120!) and I'm heading back to the farm this evening to spend the next few days photographing. This will be my third trip to make pictures, and I'm looking forward to being there for a slightly longer period of time. After my last trip, I came back with quite a stash of film and it's taken me until now to make my way through it, but I'm more excited than ever. The images are starting to add up to something, even though the project is still in its infancy.

Tomorrow I'll be following the farmers as they harvest and wash their crop before taking it to market in the afternoon. More pictures to come soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dan from Open View Farm

Here is the photo I was so excited about last week, developed and scanned. I love it as much as I thought I would.

Dan, from Open View

MassArt Class Photo

One of my friends and fellow photographers, Heidi Finn, recently posted this photo of the seniors in MassArt's 2007 BFA in Photography class to her Facebook page and I couldn't resist posting it here. Oh, MassArt. Good times were had by all!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mark Ruwedel at the Peabody Essex Museum

Chocolate Mountains/Ancient Footpath, Towards Indian Pass
Mark Ruwedel; 1996; Gelatin Silver Print; Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

I recently had the privilege of attending a preview of Mark Ruwedel’s new show at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel, and hearing the artist speak about his work. The exhibition is comprised of 41 images, the majority of which are black-and-white, of dinosaur tracks and ancient footpaths in the American West.

I immediately noticed that the prints themselves are gorgeous, as Mark is a master printer. All of his images are made with a large-format camera which he caries to remote locations in search of paths and tracks. I made my way around the exhibition to take note of what was on display, but the images contain too much to absorb in one pass.

Purgatoire River Site, #2
Mark Ruwedel; 1996; Gelatin Silver Print; Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

Visually, many of the images share a similar framing: a worn path or imprinted track leading directly up the center of the frame to a peak or valley, implying not so much a destination but rather suggesting the passage of time and the movement of living beings. Through his composition, Mark places the viewer firmly on the path themselves and asks them to be a participant rather than a casual observer.

The work came alive for me when I went back to look a second time and to hear Mark speak about his images. Photographing in the American West has a long history that Mark is undoubtedly a part of, but his images are transcendent of the traditional expectations associated with such imagery. Mark spoke of reading the landscape like one would read a historical archive, mining it for clues about a time gone past. His photographs aren’t one-liners; they’re meant to be studied, and they become infinitely more poignant upon close (and repeated) examination. The photographs are layered, both visually and conceptually, so that the more you view them and think about them, the more aspects you begin to see and understand.

Chocolate Mountains/A Ceremonial Trail on an Ancient Terrace
Mark Ruwedel; 2001; Gelatin Silver Print; Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

Upon entering the exhibition at PEM, the viewer immediately sees the introductory wall text describing Mark’s work, but otherwise there are no labels or titles on the walls. Mark writes his titles directly below each photograph onto their mounting in soft pencil, so faint that you have to look close to see it. From afar, it is invisible, but up close, it is wonderfully evident, precise, and informative. He gave multiple reasons for choosing to title these images in this way. The first is the influence of 19th century photography, much of which was mounted on boards with title information directly beneath it. I immediately called to mind the thousands of Social Museum photographs at the Harvard Art Museum (H/AM). As much a historical document as is it a collection of photographs, the Social Museum collection combines images and text to tell the viewer something concrete about a place, a time, and the human condition. Two examples from the H/AM's Collections Online are below:

Frances Benjamin Johnston, Races, Negroes: United States. Virginia. Hampton. Hampton Normal and Industrial School: Agencies Promoting Assimilation of the Negro. Training for Commercial and Industrial Employment. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Va., 1899-1900

Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, On deposit from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection, 3.2002.2

Lewis Wickes Hine, Housing, Conditions: United States. Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Survey: Drying Produces Dust: Bad Surface Drainage., c. 1908

Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, On deposit from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection, 3.2002.7

Mark’s method of titling directly mirrors his method of image-making. Without a close examination, you’ll miss the titles completely and will also miss the intricacy of his images. From far away, you see the forms of mountains or hills, tracks or footprints. Up close, the images come alive with a thousand details. PEM’s Curator of Photography Phillip Prodger says, “The richness and beauty of his prints commands attention from the start but their jewel-like detail invites repeated viewing. They get better every time you see them.”

I wasn’t sold on this idea immediately, as it is a commonly echoed sentiment about photography that I find to only sometimes be true. However, with Mark’s work, it is absolutely dead on. The poignancy of his work lies in the details and it really does get better the more you look.

Interestingly, though the images are of dinosaur tracks and ancient footprints (both ripe subjects in the natural history realm), Mark was careful to extract himself from this kind of examination, saying that his images would be useless to a paleontologist or anthropologist. They are visual representations, of course, but Mark’s intentions have much more to do with examining the ethereal aspect of time by capturing living beings’ affect on nature in the past as well as examining our current relationship to it.

The power is in the subtlety. One of my favorite images, which also happens to be one of the few color images in the exhibition, shows dinosaur tracks beneath pooled water. The tracks would be nearly invisible if it weren’t for the slightly darker coloration of the water that has pooled above them and likely would have disappeared in a black-and-white image. When asked why he shot in both black-and-white and color, his response was that he was experimenting and chose whichever felt right at the time. He didn’t go out into the field with a project in mind. He photographed dinosaur tracks when he had an opportunity, but he didn’t think of them as a project until after he had made the images. I find this answer refreshing and exciting, as it seems that photographers are often expected to have a project conceptually fleshed out and polished before even beginning to make the work.

Paluxy River Site, #1
Mark Ruwedel; 1994; Color coupler print; Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

Ultimately, echoing the sentiments of Phillip Prodger, I am drawn to go back and look at these images again. They are much more complicated than they seem initially, raising questions about mortality and the physical traces of beings from a time that no longer exists. It is fascinating how visual representations of a place can bring up such complicated ideas about the passage of time and the layering of history, experience, and space.

Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel is on display at the Peabody Essex Museum from June 12, 2010 to January 1, 2011.

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Project: Open View

I have recently begun working on a new project that I am very excited about. For the next year and a half, I will be documenting daily life at Open View Farm Educational Center, an amazing place in Western Massachusetts owned by a good friend of mine. The farm's mission is as follows:

"In the context of a working Fiber farm, Open View Farm Educational Center is committed to creating an environment where interpersonal understanding across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national identity, and religion is valued, artistic expression is nurtured and avenues towards Peace and Justice in our communities and in the classroom are explored."

Open View is, in short, an incredible place. Though I have been visiting the farm for years, and even making photographs there (such as "Barb holding a lamb," "Feeding goats," and "Michael"), I have always wanted to do an in-depth photography project over the course of at least one full year. Last month I took my first trip to the farm to make images, shooting only with my 4 x 5. I loved the images that I made, but in looking at the contact prints, I realized that there is a vitality to the farm that is impossible to capture exclusively in large-format. On Sunday, I returned to the farm armed with a 4 x 5 and a Mamiya 7.

I left Boston early in the morning, driving somewhat against my better judgment out the Mass Pike in the rainy, overcast weather. I wondered if I would even be able to photograph; the forecast predicted an 80% chance of thunderstorms. But, I reminded myself that my goal is to capture the farm in all of its seasons, all kinds of weather, and during every kind of activity. So I went ahead with the day of shooting, and it turned out more magnificent than I could have imagined. Luckily, I remembered my raincoat, which proved to be an essential tool for keeping my film dry.

I arrived at the farm around 11 am, and the hillside was covered in steamy fog, which made for an absolutely breathtaking scene. The sheep and the llama live on the hillside, and without realizing it, I quickly took 5 rolls of film of them against this foggy, steamy backdrop. Over the course of the day, I went along with the farmers as they did their daily activities and captured barn cleaning, a tractor driving lesson, bringing the lambs into the barn to get them away from the impending thunderstorm and tornado, checking the mail, feeding and watering the animals, etc. I also took many portraits of the people on the farm, who are all incredible (more on that to come once the photos are developed and ready to be shown).

One of the farmers, Dan (pictured below), arrived mid afternoon among a rainstorm and was decked out head to toe in yellow raingear. I couldn't resist the opportunity for a portrait, and he generously stood in the rain for me (again with the hillside in the background) while I made four 4 x 5 exposures of him as my camera slowly got soaked. I can't wait to see these images, as Dan is a natural at being photographed, the scene was absolutely perfect, and I know they're going to be great.

In two weeks, I'm going back to spend the day photographing the farmers as they harvest their crop, wash it, and take it to market. I'm looking forward to slowly witnessing more and more aspects of life on the farm and am very grateful to the farmers who have welcomed me with open arms.

Below are some of the images from my first shoot. I'll be sure to post newer ones as soon as I can.

Suzi carrying bags of fleece


Kyla and Dan planting potatoes

Kyla and Dan planting


Dan on the tractor

Thank you note (I found a egg)


Emmy making a basket

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Photos

Here are a few new photos....

Carl, Curator at the Harvard Mineralogical Museum, from A Place so as to Stay

Nate at home, from A Place so as to Stay

Nate, from The (Trans)Gender Series

Nate, from The (Trans)Gender Series

Nate, from The (Trans)Gender Series

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Opening of "Familiar Bodies" at Carroll and Sons this Friday

Please join me this Friday at Carroll and Sons for the opening of "Familiar Bodies." This group show features a stellar group of images by photographers who make work using the people around them and the people in their lives.

Exhibiting photographers include Tina Barney, Doug Dubois, Jess T. Dugan, Mitch Epstein, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Tierney Gearon, David Hilliard, A. D. Jacobson, Jodie Vincenta Jacobson, Laura Letinsky, Sally Mann, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Matthew Pillsbury, Camilo Ramirez, Irina Rozovsky, Gary Schneider, and Sage Sohier.

Familiar Bodies
May 14-June 26
Opening Reception: June 4th, 5:30-7:30

Carroll and Sons Art Gallery
450 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118