Tim Roemer, engineer

Parable Magazine assigned me to make a portrait of Tim Roemer, a young engineer who holds multiple degrees from University of New Hampshire. We wanted to create the photographs in the UNH engineering lab, so he and I met there, and he gave me a tour of the facilities, including the machine he built for his graduate degree. (The device tests and measures the rate at which metal stretches over tension—I think.)

Tim was a great host and subject. We were able to go anywhere we wished, thanks to his good relationships with the administrators. A real joy of these assignments is seeing a world hidden from everyday view—and then showing them to my audience. I could have made his portrait anywhere, but by using a location that was his academic home for 6 years, the photograph becomes a small part of the accompanying written narrative, allowing the reader to see a view of an engineering lab. Such an environment is also more visually interesting, of course.

David Clayton, artist

I met David many years ago. We were introduced at a reception--and then again a few weeks later. Our social, academic, and artistic circles overlapped, and we became friends. He's a trained iconographer, and his most famous venture is a series (and blog and book) called The Way of Beauty.

These photographs were made in his (now former) studio and the chapel at Thomas More College, where he was artist-in-residence, in 2012.  We spent a good portion of an afternoon discussing his work, students, philosophy, and more. He's always working on multiple fronts as an artist (visually & musically), author, and educator, so conversations with him are always varied and engaging.

He now has a new project and lives on the other side of the continent, from where he taunts us New Englanders with photos of tremendous views while hiking (among other things).

Openings 2016, an artist residency - part III: photographic impressions

In my two previous posts, I discussed my week at the Openings Collective artist residency, where, among my breaks editing a documentary project, I photographed my fellow artists working and as portrait subjects. I have little more to add to those words (ignoring my primary reason for attending—a project that remains to be finished and will someday receive its own account), except that I had my camera with me at all times. Most of that was habit, but I never knew where I’d find a fellow resident working, so being prepared was essential.

While wandering and visiting, I’d occasionally find a photograph presenting itself. With no human subject, I consider these environmental still lifes as patient subjects. Given all of the other activities occurring throughout the week, I didn’t make much time for this one, and most were discovered by accident. The main guest house—being quite old and large, with unoccupied rooms and even floors—proved most fruitful.

Openings 2016, an artist residency - part II: the artists

In the first part, I wrote about the Openings artist residency on Lake George that I attended last summer. My primary goal for the week was to edit a long-term personal documentary project; making photographs was somewhat incidental (albeit quite necessary) to my stay.

I had known from the beginning that I wanted to create portraits during the week. A number of factors made this desire challenging, however.

First, besides common meals and an evening group discussion, each of us (18, I think) there was entirely self-directed regarding our schedules. Scattered throughout the campus grounds, everyone worked independently. Besides our own artistic work and goals, the area (both the grounds of St Mary’s on the Lake and the surrounding Lake George region) provided many opportunities for recreation: hiking, boating, swimming, and more. Finding someone—let alone at a point in which they were open to a brief sitting—would prove difficult.

Second, while most of the artists knew one another from previous Openings residencies or exhibitions, I came as a stranger. Of course, I’m often commissioned to photograph subjects I’ve just met; but in that case, the goal is mutually known. Here, I had developed friendships over a week via discussions, critiques, shared meals, daily liturgy, walks, and simply living in close proximity; to then ask them to be subjects… It wouldn’t seem to be difficult, and I should be far more comfortable than am I, but I’ve always lacked the boldness to simply do so.

Residents presented their week’s work on Thursday evening, which left Friday for a little work, cleaning, packing, farewells, and departures. The impending deadline—it was now or never to make the portraits—provided sufficient incentive to steel my courage. Similar to my approach in photographing the artists working, I didn’t need to photograph everyone: some weren’t interested, others left early, et al. I divided my day among finishing tasks, visiting, and being on a bit of a hunt. Of those who agreed, some were eager, and others had to be persuaded

The only artistic limit I placed upon myself was finding a different environment for each subject. Given the variety of locales on the campus, this was relatively simple. (Indeed, creating a series of portraits with such variety was a great pleasure.) In many cases, I simply photographed each wherever I found him or her.

Openings 2016, an artist residency - part I: the work

The strange serendipity of discovery—meeting fellow travellers, finding new (to us) artwork and artists, et al—never ceases to amaze. In this case, I remember sometime in spring of 2016 receiving an email from a friend to a blog post about Bill Cunningham (RIP) written by author Heather King. As the documentary about his life and work is on my regular rotation of viewing material, I appreciate any scraps of critical reflection about him. Ms King, who’s based in Los Angeles, had just seen the documentary and wrote a brief piece about it. That was sufficient to begin a new adventure.

As I wandered around her blog, she mentioned in a post that she was heading east for the summer in part to attend a residency in upstate New York. Openings, an artist collective based in NYC, was founded and is run by Fr. Frank Sabatté, a member of the Paulist Fathers. The Paulists are an organization of Roman Catholic priests who serve in a number of capacities around the world. That a group of working artists had formed a collective with these shared goals was intriguing. Their week-long residency at St. Mary’s on the Lake (the Paulists’ summer retreat in Lake George, NY) was open to anyone. I had never attended a residency, and the thought of focusing my attention solely on art for a week was enticing.

My goal wasn’t to create new work. I had been working on a long-term documentary photography project since 2011, and I needed to edit. I decided to apply and pitched this project in my application, and it was accepted. Months later, I traveled a few hours, bringing about 700 proof prints, to begin a long process organizing this body of work.

That task was arduous, and while I made great (if not slow) progress, I needed breaks from staring at prints for hours a day—indoors, no less, during the beautiful summer days in Lake George. Much of my respite was found seeking out my fellow residents and photographing them at work. I didn’t seek to create anything of a catalog: some artists were more accessible, working in the open, usually outdoors. I wanted to create around my editing schedule, and that meant finding people as they were—a haphazard approach.

I truly enjoy observing artistic process, and the residency offered so many opportunities to see artists working in a wide range of media: drawing, painting, sculpture, woodworking, cyanotypes, and more. I was also intrigued by the variety of impromptu “studios”: indoor common areas, dorm rooms, open air, dockside, utility spaces, various sheds—even the house attic (which, incidentally, was full of old treasures and, more importantly, interesting light). These provided a brilliant variety of environments.

raising a barn (for art)

Last week was filled with preparation for—and participation in—ArtFront's inaugural 3-day pop-up art exhibit. I wrote about my involvement and the results, but now it was time to install the work. While a couple of us were hanging my 6-foot prints, Christina had a team to build structures for her chandeliers. I helped when I could, and I wasn't able to observe this process fully, but I made a few photos as they took form. When it was ready, Christina asked someone to document the "barn raising"; I was happy to oblige.

I posted the short set below on my Instagram feed the next day and, as we were at the exhibit every night, didn't think about it again until now. What I found intriguing especially was the process of building a structure to hold her artwork with pallets as the base and top. She and Vivian had a general plan, materials, and tools, but putting it together to make it functional and stable took a team effort with many attempts: how to anchor the 15-foot posts? these screws? no, try those; the palettes don't have enough depth, so add blocks to the middle of the pallets; we need to stabilize the outside further, so add these metal plates; et al.

Observing the process of another artist—even in as mundane an activity as building temporary exhibition staging for the actual artwork—provides nearly endless fascination for me. It's a reminder that the habit of making at any stage of mastery is not pre-determined or even simple; it demands practical intelligence, the ability to judge the particulars of the object and what it needs, and how to achieve it. To make objects well requires time and practice such that a habit forms, so that when new situations present themselves, the ability to solve them is readily (and literally) at hand. Making art is, to a great degree, solving the problem of creating a whole, integral object.

a photographic collaboration with dance and sculpture

Amy Fortier, artistic director of Ballet Misha (and friend), asked me a few weeks ago to create promotional photographs for her upcoming performances with ArtFront, a new arts organization in New Hampshire. Her performative element of the exhibit would be made in and around the work of sculptors Vivian Beer and Christina Pitsch, and she wanted photographs to reflect that.

Moving their works into Amy’s (ground floor) dance studio was a far easier option than moving them into my (second floor) studio, so I moved my photo gear into her space for the weekend. The process was uniquely collaborative: Amy and Vivian directed the dancers, making suggestions and adjusting positions, while viewing the photographic results nearly in real-time on my laptop monitor.   Working without a mirror, the dancers would also run back to check the screen and make mental notes about changes to be made. All of us had an intensity of focus, bringing to bear our own individual aesthetic visions and artistic skills on this moment, but creating something together, in concert, that would have been impossible to make otherwise.

We had initially planned for a day-long session, but, as efficiently as we worked, we knew by mid-afternoon that we’d be returning the next day. As with all good things, though, no one complained about the time and effort required to make these. That everyone--artists working at very high levels in their respective fields--involved expressed such enthusiasm about the final product is gratifying and humbling.

ArtFront’s inaugural exhibition will be held on March 23-25 in downtown Manchester.

a Romanian Orthodox ordination

My wife initially met the wonderful Geana family a couple years ago through a homeschool group. The children of both families have become close, too. Their father, Mircea, was already a deacon at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church (part of the Romanian Orthodox Church), and we were excited to hear that he was going to become a priest. Being invited to the ordination was an honor, especially among the small and close community that exists within this parish.

The church was small, and the interior was covered in dark wood and icons, illuminated by low but mostly even light. According to Orthodox (and other Eastern church) tradition, standing throughout the liturgy is expected, so pews are hardly existent. (As a photographer, this would have certain benefits.) With the Church hierarchy (including Mircea's father, also a priest), traveling from Romania, in attendance, the event was sufficiently significant that they had hired a photographer (or at least an advanced amateur was working). I wasn’t planning to photograph, but of course I had my camera with me.

I’m unsure how long I lasted until I was compelled to create something, but I began photographing intermittently. I didn’t want to interfere with the other photographer, or move around too much, but I’ve photographed enough liturgies to know how to be subtle while working. Being over two hours long, I had plenty of opportunities to create at a measured pace.

One of the remarkable elements of this event was experiencing the community’s unity and support for Mircea and his family in this moment. Such occasions are rare in the church, and the joy among the parishioners and visiting clergy was palpable. The day was a true celebration.

Alan Chong for New Hampshire Magazine

 

Last fall, I was commissioned by New Hampshire Magazine to create a portrait of Alan Chong, the new Director and CEO of The Currier Museum of Art. It would be made on location, and the magazine wanted to use the opportunity to promote a major new exhibition at the museum about the White Mountains, which was still being installed. Their idea was to place him in front of a large reproduction of a painting, in order to have a faux mountain-esque background.

Because of the delicacy of photographing in a museum, the magazine’s creative director and I scouted our locations the day before the session. We found the reproduction and planned lighting, and we identified a few other potential spots as alternatives.

This latter planning was worth it: when we entered the space with gear the next day, a five-foot tall crate containing a painting was directly in front of the wall we were going to use. Our PR contact at the museum checked with the curatorial staff, and moving the crate would not be possible.

We shifted to our second location, the Winter Garden Café. This is actually one of my favorite spots in the museum: a very tall ceiling allows diffused light from high windows scatter evenly through the room, which is a light grey. The modern, clean lines are especially strong in the corner of the room.

Alan met us there. We worked quickly and moved to two other spots in the museum to give the editor some options, but I was confident that our first photographs were the strongest. The one below was published.

Alan Chong, executive director of the Currier Museum of Art

Bridgewater Old Home Day, or, Bean hole beans

Last summer I had a brief Saturday assignment about an hour north of my home: create the annual town portrait for Bridgewater during their Old Home Day. It was straightforward: any town residents present will be photographed en masse in front of the town hall.

After we finished, my contact invited me to enjoy their "bean hole beans"--another (very old) annual tradition. Here, on the day prior, pits are dug; fires started; and beans are prepared in large cast iron kettles, covered, and cooked overnight. Every year, after the town portrait, the pits are uncovered and served to the town. According to the organizers, this tradition is the longest running in the state, and they take great pride in it.

I discovered the history and process only after I recognized that—at the very least—this was a unique local tradition. As the townspeople gathered to watch, I started photographing the volunteers uncover the pits, remove the kettles, and begin serving the meal. I finished working just about when the line was gone, and I was invited to have a plate.

Realizing that these traditions still exist and even thrive after over 100 years is rather remarkable. To experience and document it as it has been practiced (except for the wooden structure, which was built a few years ago) since its inception is humbling.

York Family for Family Business Magazine

I’ve known various members of the York family for years. Most recently, I created executive portraits for the Dyn leadership team, including Kyle York, their CSO. So I was excited when I received an assignment from Family Business Magazine to photograph his entire family--parents, the five brothers, spouses, and grandkids. The magazine needed a portrait with the parents and brothers for the cover, and another with everyone. I wanted a different location for each, but I knew the timeline would be tight, so we couldn’t move too far between the two photos.

Fortunately, Kyle's assistant, Ashley, helped coordinate this entire project. She and I worked through some ideas for locations, and we settled on the building owned by the family and the current home of GYK Antler: located in the millyard of Manchester, I had just been there a few weeks prior for a meeting. As it happens, the building itself was owned by Henry Spaulding, grandfather of the York brothers, when he ran an athletic shoe manufacturing company. So this location not only had ideal spots to create the photos I needed to make (my primary concern), but it also had significance to the family and relevance to the article being written.

Ashley also coordinated the entire family schedule for this session--twice, in fact. We had initially settled on a Friday afternoon in October. I was in my studio preparing that day when Ashley called a few hours prior to the session . She asked whether I had seen the news: I hadn’t, so she told me about the major DDOS attack on Dyn’s servers that had been occurring all day. The company had thought that the attack had ended in the morning, but another round had started, so Kyle was going to be occupied for the rest of the day, and we had to reschedule. The day's weather had been overcast and raining anyway, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed.

The weather was far better for the new session, but Daylight Savings had also occurred in the interim, which meant our timeline was going to be pushing against the available light. I had prepared the lighting for both locations (with Ashley standing in as a test subject) to be ready to move quickly once everyone arrived.

After some lighting adjustments (to account for the difference of light between setup and the start), the session went smoothly. Meeting and working with the entire family was wonderful. Gratefully, both the magazine and the family seems pleased with the results.

in the state prison

2016 was a Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church, and Holy Doors were established throughout the diocese (at least one in each deanery) for the faithful. One such door was made in New Hampshire's state prison in Concord, upon the request of an inmate while Bishop Libasci was visiting. As it was very likely the only Holy Door in the world located in a prison, the diocesan magazine featured it in an article ("Mercy Behind Bars", Sept/Oct 2016). I was asked to make photographs.

This wasn't my first assignment in the state prison: one of my first jobs for this magazine was a feature on the prison chaplain, who's also a Catholic deacon. That was long ago, and, besides the stresses of photographing a subject, I had to be keenly aware of my surroundings and not wander from my escorts. Even that wasn't sufficient: we had just stepped outside to tour the yard when we were called back over the intercom by the watchtower. So much for that photo op.

While I had some familiarity with the process and environment, this assignment had its own challenges. First, the prison Holy Door was nothing but the door to the chapel with a small sign signifying its status; no other decorations were permitted. So it's a door.

Second, I'd be photographing the weekly Mass held in the chapel. A local priest visits and says Mass there, assisted by the deacon. But, in discussing this assignment with the communications director and the editor, we decided not to show any of the inmates' faces. We could have requested photo releases from them, but with a couple dozen inmates in attendance, that could have quickly become out of hand. Furthermore, my bosses wished to avoid any potential criticism that we were glorifying the inmates. The story was about the Holy Door and the unique opportunity for blessings it brought to the inmates and the prison. We didn't wish to emphasize any individuals there, at least for this article. So not including inmates' faces in the photographs was another limit.

Finally, and I didn't discover this until I was there, but the lighting in the chapel was some of the worst I'd ever seen. Large lamps suspended from the 30'+ ceilings were directed upwards, resulting in dull, flat light. Better yet, the bulbs were old-style fluorescent ones with major color shifts seen from photo to photo (and sometimes even in one frame). The magazine wanted color photos, of course, but I knew the results would be far better in black & white.

Despite all of these, entering this subculture--convicted, imprisoned criminals who are also practicing Catholics--that is far from our daily lives was admittedly surreal. I watched as the inmates prepared for Mass: rearranged the chapel from the previous Protestant service, set up the altar, rehearsed the music, assisted the deacon. I met a few, and while not verbose, they were friendly and pleasant. Most importantly for my working there, they were focused on the Mass and didn't seem to mind my presence. For all of its photographic failings, the space became transformed: for that hour, the reality of being in a prison was forgotten, and the reverence I witnessed there was no different than any of the dozens of churches I've visited over the years. I'd like to think that, unlike these other places, living here, the spiritual can take priority in a peculiar and special way.   

casting a ballot

As on most occasions, I brought my camera with me when my wife and I went to the polling station (a local school). I didn't set out to create a small project, and I didn't really spend any more time photographing than I would have if I had only voted; but, within the 17 minutes between the first and last photographs, I had inadvertently made a photo essay.

Presented here chronologically:

photographing in the kitchen

I've been photographing for The Farmers Dinner for a couple years. Initially, the focus was the food and the event, but over the past year, Keith (founder and chef) & I have moved away from the latter, replacing it with the work in the kitchen.

I have a keen interest in the process of art-making: the recording studio, the painter's studio--and the kitchen. Unlike many arts, the work of the restaurant kitchen is collaborative, bringing together many individuals.  This brings a certain ordered chaos to the kitchen; combined with cramped quarters, hot stoves, incoming waitstaff--all while not interfering with food production--it makes creating documentary photographs in that environment a delicate practice.

The photos below were made during a pop-up dinner at Riverwalk Cafe & Music Bar. Keith had asked me to photograph the food, but I couldn't help wandering around the kitchen in between courses. 

the Hitchcock family

I've known parents Elizabeth and Jeremy Hitchcock for a few years, and I met their three children when I photographed them last year. Returning to them this year meant I already knew the kids and their personalities. Better yet: they live across the street from a large park, so after some indoor portraits, we ventured out for more on a bright fall morning. 

I knew the session was a success when the littlest one, Benji, invited me back to the house for hot cocoa. What else could be better?

 

Nick Farewell, playwright

I've been working as the photographer for theatre kapow since their inception. Now finishing their seventh season, they continue to produce increasingly challenging works of drama, not the least of which derives from complex narratives, stagings, and sets—which, in turn, always places new and interesting artistic demands on my photography.

This season's final production, Uma Vida Imaginária, is no exception. Based on the novel by Nick Farewell, this theatrical premiere employs a non-linear story and extensive on-stage video projection. Both cast and crew were thrilled that Nick was planning to attend the dress rehearsal and opening weekend. Traveling from Brazil on the day of the dress, he had been delayed significantly (increasing his total travel time to 16 hours), but arrived about 45 minutes before it started.

I had wanted to make his portrait, but I knew he was exhausted, so I was hesitant to ask. Fortunately, director Matt Cahoon, knowing my intention, took the initiative, and Nick agreed. I found a spot in the stairwell that had a small remnant of the day's light and then worked quickly, keeping our session to less than two minutes. The production began soon after. It opens tonight and is well worth your time.

Liza

Liza is only in high school but has already won some local acclaim as an actress, including for her performance as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She's a wonderful young woman who clearly has great potential on and off stage.

Liza, 2014. Photograph by Matthew Lomanno