Sunday
May042014

Station Hope

Station Hope is another name for St John’s Church. St. John’s is the oldest standing consecrated building in Cleveland, dedicated in 1836. It is not far from my home.  The church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, hence the name. 

On Saturday April 26 there was an event at the church which was motivated by the leadership of the city councilman, Joe Cimperman and put on by my friends at Cleveland Public Theater. About two months ago they enlisted the arts community to participate.  At the event was a diverse array of performance and visual arts for the event and over 2000 attendees. I was there with my collaborator, Inda Blatch-Gelb, with two examples of a project we have started called Station Hope : Bound. We are bringing people together from both the neighborhood and anyone who has any ties to the church. Inda is casting the clasped hands of two strangers from these groups and while the casting material is setting, I am photographing them “bound” together. We then do a short interview asking for them to talk about the church. The work is being done in the sanctuary and we are seeking volunteers for future sessions.

How appropriate that this all started at this time of the year as we have just celebrated the Easter and Passover holidays. Easter is about rebirth and Passover is about the trip out of slavery. Perfect. 

There are a lot of themes here as we look at one of many churches in Cleveland that have an uncertain future due to the city being so much smaller than it was at its peak.  The story has a long arc that begins in 1836 and continues on.

 

 

It was a great night and am very excited about this new project.

Sunday
Dec152013

The Kindness of Strangers

When I started into photography full time nearly five years ago, i was prepared to be surprised. Turns out, not sufficiently prepared. Surely, free from the distractions of my other more traditional careers, the work would flourish.  While that may be true, the meaning of flourish and the meaning of the work are both completely different than anticipated.

The biggest rewards have not been the hoped for acceptance or recognition that the work has received.  It has been the people, mostly strangers, that have been in the work.

MarcellusThe hardest part of many of my projects has been obtaining participants.  The great abyss includes concerns about privacy, lack of trust of photographers and the photograph, confusion about my purpose and plain old fear. Sadly, the biggest barrier is the contemporary inability we all have to respond to any requests that are not urgent. We are all so busy, busy, busy.  I could get rich if I could monetize the instances of people telling me "I want to do it. Have been meaning to get back to you." Traveled to the other corner of Ohio earlier this week and attempted to contact two people who had expressed interest in participating in my Lustron Stories project. Neither one responded to emails or phone calls. Did they change their minds? Perhaps. Most likely they just did not get around to responding. 

This post is not just me whining about how hard it is to do what I do. it is about the other side of the coin. What happens when people do participate. 

This started with Precious Objects when I found myself photographing complete strangers. While we may debate the depth of a Facebook friend, when I hear from my two brothers on Long Island, Trevis and Marcellus, my day is better, my life is richer.  Same thing happens when I talk to Leo or Muriel's daughters about their dad and mom.

This phenomenon escalated with Lustron Stories. As in Precious Objects I found myself with new friends - people who were genuinely interested in what I was doing as I am with them. Added to that, some of these folks insisted on giving me gifts. I talked about the Thomas Kinkade plate that Richard gave me in an earlier post. Recently I received this beautiful barometer from Bob (who happens to be an original owner of his Lustron.) Bob was showing me around and pulled this right off the wall.

Added to the gifts, people in Lustron Stories and my new project with present and former teachers and students at the Music Settlement, Held Notes, have bought my books. Those of you who know me understand that I am a shameless promoter of the books. However, when I go into a stranger's home to do a photograph, it is not with the purpose of selling a book. The first time it happened, I was a bit stunned.  Last week when Renee ordered both The Album Project and Precious Objects Renee on the porch - her blue LustronI was just as pleasantly surprised as the first time. What is happening is more than a book sale. It is an ad hoc community of people joined by the work.

Who knew?

Blanche Dubois has nothing on me……..

Friday
May242013

Upcoming Exhibitions

The Album Project will open at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown on June 9, 2013. The reception is from 1 -3 PM on that day. Would love to see both the art and autism community there. The Butler is a wonderful institution and I am very happy that we have the opportunity to tell this story.

Next up are two showings of Every I Have Ever Lived - the foreclosure crisis in twelve neighborhoods. The first is at the Campbell Gallery at the Levin College of Urban Affairs of Cleveland State University opening on September 3, 2013. Next it will be shown at the gallery at Wilmington College in Wilmington OH opening on January 23, 2014.

I also have pieces from my current project, Lustron Stories in some current group juried exhibitions.Clementine, the original owner is now hanging in the Minneapolis Photo Center's Home exhibition and is included in the Butler Institute of American Art's Mid-Year Show. Also in Home is Richard the Collector. Lustron Homes are all steel prefabricated homes manufactured in Columbus OH between 1947 and 1950. In 1950, everyone's story was the same. Now the people and the stories are a cross-sectioon of what has become to Great American Dream. Another piece from the series, Kansas City Community College is currently hanging in the Artist's Archive of the Western Reserve annual member's exhibiton. Another print of this same piece photographer's:network 2013 opening on June 28, 2013. Thomas Kellner, the organizer of this very generous undertaking, has said this is last of these exhibits organized this way.

There is more (Precious Objects in Las Vegas in January) but we'll cut this off for now. Rule #6 - enough is enough (thank you Calvin Trillin.)

Saturday
Feb232013

N. C. Wyeth and Naazir

Self Portrait with Palette (1909)in conjunction with the exhibition of Precious Objects at the Zanesville (OH) Museum of Art, the director, Susan Talbot-Stanaway, presented a lecture on February 2 entitled "What Does a Portrait Say?"  We had had a bunch of people at the house the night before (a dinner for Emmet Gowin if you force me to name drop.) Nevertheless I drove through a snowstorm that morning to attend the lecture. Susan compared Wyeth's Self Portrait with Palette to the top half of the portrait of Naazir which is in the exhibit. Made the trip worth it. The similarities between the two works are amazing. The point of view, the lighting, the way the objects are embraced and even the expression on the faces are nearly mirror images.  Naazir was one of my subjects at the African-American Museum in Hempstead New York. My friend who had arranged the shoot, the fine photographer Laura Glabman, and I arrived 40 minutes before the scheduled start to set up the seamless, studio lights and my 4x5 wooden camera. Unfortunately, the museum was locked until the actual start time. By then we had a line of people waiting to participate - a situation that continued until the session was over.  Naazir's image is not a portrait in the usual sense. It was pretty much "Stand over there, hold your object close to you and don't move your feet once I have focussed." In many ways, it was as much a self-portrait as Wyeth's.  The other tie between to the two is that when describing Precious Objects and selecting pieces for exhibit or the book, I have frequently told people to consider the photographs as illustrations to the written statements. Wyeth, of course, was known as an illustrator (and the father of Andrew Wyeth.) Of course, when the subject shows through his image as strongly as Naazir did, the result is special.

You can see the Wyeth at the Brandywine River Museum where it is on loan from Mrs. Andrew Wyeth. As for Naazir, his image is the graphical inspiration for a new project I am starting this week whose subject is the love of music.

Saturday
Jan262013

On Being 65

Those of you who know me have had to listen to me go on endlessly about how good my work has been to me this year. Most of that has been Precious Objects but the week at FotoFest in Houston and the installation of Every Place I Have Ever Lived at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor all had their "Bright Moments". A handful of juried shows and even the occasional surprise pursuing new work and wrapping up one long term project (Costumes my collaboration with Cleveland Public Theater) also contributed. Ray Mc - The right image is the last in the project and the last of transparency film before switching to negatives What made the year so different was a maturing of my view of the place of these things. Was asked the other day whether I was going to do a sequel to Precious Objects. This is not a new question and my initial reaction is "been there, done that."  Part of being 65 is when someone hands you a question like that, you do not blurt out your initial reaction but are bit more respectful. Initially his follow up was about what he would pick which is what I like to call the "beginners" understanding of Precious Objects. The surprise came next as he went on to talk about the tragedy in Newtown, CT and what a great book I could make as a tribute to those kids.  This is no longer a "beginner". We are now talking about objects, photographs, exhibitions, books and art as political instruments. That is interesting to me. The fact that he now was able to see Precious Objects in that way was my reward for the day. More rewarding than anything I ever expected from my photography. That is pretty sweet.  Even better, he bought a book. 

There are a lot of issues with a project like that. First, as an artist, you have to be very aware of your role as an exploiter of tragedy. That is something you cannot escape. On fact, almost every photograph exploits at some level.  Newtown, because of its high profile also makes you vulnerable to others that might be exploiting the situation. It could get messy fast. In the end, the main reason I am not interested is that I am 65.  Certainly I care about kids being murdered in a school and have strong opinions about about violence and guns. As a hint, I do not think we should eliminate foreign aid to finance a machine gun nest in every middle school. That being said, it is not a core issue for me. At 65, my work has to be about things I really, really care about - community and neighborhood, the Great American Dream, music, people like my son who are different and a short list beyond that.

Being 65 means you don't have time to be cool any more. It also means you have been around long enough to understand that your sense of urgency may not be shared by those around you. Sucks to be them. Pretty sweet to be me right now.