Entries in African-American Museum (2)


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……..


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.



Difficult to talk about the father without mentioning the son, Andrew Wyeth. Some nice info about Andrew here Andrew Wyeth on Artsy