Sunday, August 29, 2010

Left her for some other woman

I recently bought a stack of old cabinet cards, cartes de visites, and tintypes.  This particular set seems to have been someone's personal family album, as many of them have similar handwritten notes and identifiers on the back, such as "my great aunt," etc.  One of the things I love about collecting old photographs is that many of them have personal inscriptions on the back.  Sometimes these notes are factual and identify the person in the image; other times, they are love notes for the photograph's intended viewer; and occasionally, they're funny or random.

Two cabinet cards struck me out of this batch, the first because it is sad and the second because it is funny.  On the back of the first one, of "Aunt Ella Harvard," it is written that she "Died at sea, wife of Capt. John Harvard."  How amazing that all these years later I am holding an image of a woman I've never met, and someone from her family recorded details of her death on the back, forever attached to her likeness.  I can only imagine the life she lived, and it is a strange feeling to know this detail about her passing- it's as if it makes the photo more intimate.

The second Cabinet Card is of a dapper looking man named Will Brown.  In pencil, the inscription reads "Will Brown, Aunt Clara Brown's husband.  'Left her for some other woman!'"  I couldn't help but laugh when I saw this inscription.  Not that the act of leaving someone for another woman is funny- but there was something comical to me that whoever had written this chose to use quotations, as if this was a phrase they had heard their aunt say many, many times.

In some ways, I tend to view the people in these images as if they existed a million years ago in some other world, but little inscriptions like this remind me that these are just people, and these are just photos of them that they would have used just as we use photos now.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Critical Mass Finalist!

I am very excited to announce that I've been selected as a Critical Mass 2010 Finalist.  I am so honored and excited- a huge thank you to all of the jurors and congratulations to all of the other artists.

Take a look at the list of artists here.

Congratulations everyone!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New work from Open View

I am very excited to post new photos from my project Open View.  I have been shooting like a maniac and still have 50 rolls of film to look through that I haven't even begun to edit!  Here are the newest selections from the 4 x 5 work.

I'm heading back out to the farm this weekend to photograph Puja showing her sheep at a fair, and I can't wait. I love fairs and I'm excited to document another aspect of life on the farm.

Violet painting the woodshop

Violet and Puppy

Violet holding eggs

Suzi working in the barn


Lily harvesting



Wood stove


Garlic drying in the barn


Barb feeding the sheep

Barb and Frankie

Barb holding Frankie

Monday, August 16, 2010

New work: A Place so as to Stay

Here are a few new images from A Place so as to Stay.  I am absolutely loving making this work and having the opportunity to photograph such amazing people.  Thanks to everyone for so generously allowing me into your homes and studios!

Jon in his studio

Jon, finished product

Nancy in her studio

Nancy in her studio

Jon and Dixie

Ashley at home

Michael and TT at home

Peter, jade carver

Peter carving jade in his studio

Peter's jades

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A visit to Mass MoCA

Last Friday I had the pleasure of going to visit Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA.  While it's one of my absolute favorite museums, the 3-hour drive from Boston is long enough that I don't go as often as I should.  However, since I was already out in Western Mass photographing at the farm, it was only a short drive away and I had a friend to go with, which makes it all that much more fun.

It is rare that I go to a museum and like everything.  I mean, everything.  (OK- quick disclaimer- I didn't see every single thing in the museum, but everything I saw, I liked).  Originally, my primary reason for going was to see Leonard Nimoy's "Secret Selves."  I have a few friends who took part in the project and was very curious to see the work in person after hearing and reading so much about it recently.  The show was quite a bit smaller than I had expected, but perhaps that's a relative measure in a space like Mass MoCA, where even the smallest gallery is bigger than most galleries in Boston.  The premise of Nimoy's project is as follows (from the Mass MoCA website): 

Inspired by Aristophanes' theory that humans were once double-sided creatures with two heads and multiple limbs before Zeus cleaved man in two and left him forever struggling to be whole again, Nimoy's photographs reveal his subjects' other half. Shooting in nearby Northampton, Massachusetts, Nimoy recruited volunteers from the local community with an open call for portrait models willing to be photographed posed and dressed as their true or imagined "secret selves." From the popular rock star and superman to the more unexpected dog lover and Pan, these various secret identities (off-line avatars as they might be described) offer an intimate, sometimes humorous, and often profound new look at the residents of Northampton and the inner yearnings and fantasies that we all share. 

The idea of a secret self is something that I am very interested in, but my first reaction to Nimoy's work was that the images themselves weren't very complicated.  The "secret" was perhaps a bit too obvious, or felt inauthentic.  Much of my favorite photography centers around the idea that everyone is more complicated than they seem to be and focuses on trying to capture this complexity visually, which is not an easy task.  While I was interested in the people within the images the same way I'm interested in a survey-style book about people with tattoos or piercings, for example, Nimoy didn't seem to bring out the complexity in his subjects in a way that I found emotionally compelling.  The images didn't transcend the specific to become universal.  

I like the idea of focusing on one particular place and photographing a large number of people in that place, as Nimoy did, but the result felt more anthropological than emotionally moving.  Before attending the exhibit, I had only seen the images online, and I was curious how I would feel seeing the prints in person, standing before a life-sized image of someone sharing the most private part of themselves.  The images were significantly better in person- but still not compelling to me purely on their own.  However, accompanying the images was a video of Nimoy talking with each of his subjects about their secret self, and this video nearly moved me to tears.  It was clear how much compassion he had with his subjects and that he was able to connect with them, intimately and quickly, about their most secret passions, struggles, and identities.  I was glued to the screen and watched every interview.  The video changed how I felt about the images, and after hearing the subjects talk, I saw them with a new light.  

I wish, in a way, that the photographs had the same emotional punch as the video, but perhaps there are things that can only be expressed in that particular medium.  The video really brought the work to life for me and made me feel the weight and the beauty of the secret self behind each person.

After I left Nimoy's show, I walked across the hall to see a large, wonderful exhibition by artist Petah Coyne called "Everything that rises must converge" and was absolutely blown away.  I got my emotional punch in the gut after all.  

From the Mass MoCA website:

Unlike many contemporary artists who focus on social or media-related issues, Petah Coyne imbues her work with a magical quality to evoke intensely personal associations. Her sculptures convey an inherent tension between vulnerability and aggression, innocence and seduction, beauty and decadence, and, ultimately, life and death. Coyne's work seems Victorian in its combination of an overloaded refinement with a distinctly decadent and morbid undercurrent. Her innovative use of materials includes dead fish, mud, sticks, black sand, old car parts, wax, satin ribbons, artificial flowers and birds, birdcages, and most recently, taxidermy animals, Madonna statues, and horsehair. 

There is so much I could write about Coyne's work from an intellectual point of view, but standing in the gallery experiencing her sculptures just made me feel.  I don't even know what exactly; I told my friend that Coyne's work made my stomach feel fuzzy.  It might sound stupid, perhaps--or not a very art-worldy way to talk about art--but I felt every emotional fiber in my body being intrigued and manipulated and stimulated in the most wonderful way.  Coyne's work transported me to another place: not a place of complete fantasy, but a place where you can almost recognize your own world and reality but everything is a little off, a little wonderful, a little surreal.  The color scheme was a beautiful combination of black and red (though one piece had quite a few taxidermy peacocks, adding a significant amount of green to the mix) and Coyne took full advantage of the size and height of the gallery.  Pieces of her work were suspended some thirty feet from the ceiling, falling like chandeliers over complex masses of wax flowers and taxidermy ducks, birds, and even some other animals such as squirrels and big cats.

In the gallery across the hall, Coyne had quite a few sculptures made out of white wax, which had a similar physical presence but a very different emotional tone.  In a separate gallery, she had an exhibition of grainy, surreal, silver gelatin prints full of motion.  She photographed moving objects while simultaneously moving the camera, creating a blurry mass of shapes and textures vaguely familiar but utterly foreign.  In this way, her photographs and her sculptures had the same effect on me- transporting me to a new, surreal land with just enough traces of familiarity to give me grounding and a perspective from which to enter this brave new world.  That being said, the physical expression of this idea was drastically different, and I was inspired to see an artist carry a theme throughout such different media.  On my first look, I didn't think that both bodies of work were made by the same artist, but after giving them some thought and absorbing the work for a while, I could clearly see the thread that tied the two together.

Images from "Everything that rises must converge":

On the second and third floors, seven artists were invited to create site-specific works, which made up the exhibition "Material World: Sculpture to Environment."  

Sebastion Smee of the Boston Globe wrote in his review, "Mass MoCA, the most consistently stimulating museum devoted to contemporary art in New England, has space to burn, making it the ideal place to show this kind of work. “Material World: Sculpture to Environment,’’ a group show devoted to large-scale, environment-altering installations made from cheap and plentiful materials, sees the museum playing to its strengths."

I wholeheartedly agree with that remark.  Mass MoCA has the unique and rare luxury of space, and lots of it.  I have always enjoyed that their exhibitions allow the work on display the appropriate amount of breathing room, whether that is a few feet or an entire gallery.  Many of the works in "Material World" require a large space in order to create a full immersion experience for the viewer.  

Upon first walking upstairs, I encountered a sculpture by Tobias Putrih called "Re-projection: Hoosac," made of monofilament and a spotlight.  The strands of monofilament were strung in a circular shape from one end of the very long room to the other, creating a large arc that begun higher on one end of the room and eventually sunk lower towards the other end.  A spotlight shone on the entire sculpture, illuminating portions along the arc differently depending on your position in the room.  The effect was disorienting, and I had a difficult time approaching the work initially because I couldn't tell how close I was to it or at what point I'd run into a mass of fishing line and make the guards angry.  However, after a while of studying it and moving my body in relation to the piece, I got a better grasp of where exactly it began and crawled under it, looking up at the wonderful arc of light.  

According to the exhibition catalogue, "many of the artist’s works reference the architecture and spectacle of the cinema: a space suspended between fantasy and reality, image and environment. With Re-projection: Hoosac Putrih distills the cinema to its most basic element: fishing line stretched across the gallery mimics the conical trajectory of a beam of light. A spotlight hits the strands of monofilament which in turn become a screen, reflecting an image in illuminated dots. Inspired by the Hoosac Tunnel just east of North Adams — a storied, engineering marvel that draws ghost-hunters to the area — Putrih’s tunnel is, likewise, both real and a representation, an optical trick that invites both wonder and investigation."  This is a wonderful piece that requires interaction (and a large space) to fully appreciate.

"Re-projection: Hoosac"

Another of my favorite pieces in the show was Orly Genger's "Big Boss," made out of rope and red paint.  The following description is from the exhibition catalogue: "created with 100 miles of knotted rope, Orly Genger’s installation commands the space with a towering wall that bursts through the architecture and falls into a riotous spill of material. Forcing viewers to rethink their path, the distinct elements articulate the structural potential and strength of the rope as well as its softer side. Genger’s work often grapples with a male-dominated history of sculpture and with the legacy of artists such as Tony Smith and Richard Serra. Hand-working her industrial material in an adapted crochet stitch, Genger introduces a traditionally female-identified craft process into an artistic idiom associated with a certain muscular bravado."

I loved experiencing this piece- walking around its mass, studying the different weights and textures of the rope.  It made me want to reach out and touch it, to pick up a massive braid of rope and rearrange it just to feel its weight and see how it would change in a new location.  Every piece in the show was compelling, original, and fully utilized the uniqueness of the space.  

 "Big Boss"

 "Big Boss"

 "The Geometry of Light" by Alyson Shotz (with "Big Boss" in the background)

In one of the largest spaces was a piece by Inigo Manglana-Ovalle called "Gravity is a force to be reckoned with," which was wonderful to experience.

Lastly, though this exhibition has been open for some time now, the Sol Lewitt wall drawing retrospective is always worth a visit.  For some reason, it didn't grab me as deeply the first time I saw it a while back, but on this visit, I found a brand new appreciation for the ideas and labor behind his work.  It is truly a gem of an exhibit and an absolute luxury to see that many of Lewitt's pieces executed in one space.  A trip to Mass MoCA wouldn't be complete without stopping in for a look, no matter how many times you've seen Lewitt's work before.  

A few wall drawings:

Unfortunately for me, I was looking at Lewitt's work right up until closing time, so I only noticed the Disfarmer photographs from the outside of the building as I was leaving, so I'll have to go back and take a closer look at those on my next visit.  I take a special delight in Disfarmer's work since I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, not too far from his Heber Springs studio.

On a shorter note, I also visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, where I enjoyed the exhibitions "Picasso looks at Degas" and Juan Minoz's solo sculpture exhibition.  Both shows were intriguing and interesting, and the Clark is a nice space that is definitely worth a visit.  If you make the trip out to the North Adams area, it's worth seeing both the Clark and Mass MoCA (and the Williams College Museum of Art is on my list for next time).  My day of art viewing was incredibly exciting and inspiring, and I'd definitely recommend a visit, especially to see the work currently at Mass MoCA- it's more than worth the drive.

A few pieces by Juan Minoz at the Clark: