Ingbretson atelier: IV. abstractions

My previous post about this atelier project concerned the Ingbretson Studio as object: the artists' tools, their materials, and the space itself. This final post is related but dedicated to non-descriptive compositions; that is, the studio remains the subject matter, but the resulting photographs provide little to no visual information about it (and thus were kept from the photographic essay proper—the tragedy of page limits!). They are small sensual joys—found abstractions that demand nothing of me as creator or as viewer besides their aesthetic quality.

Ingbretson atelier: III. materials

The artists were my primary interests at the Ingbretson Studio; thus, the first and second posts about this project were limited to them and their work. However, their materials demanded their own attention as well. The space has this ubquituous, even light—a necessary but generous gift to a visual artist. Their palettes, paints, brushes, and pencils—to say nothing of the colorful objects on shelves and in stalls kept for years as potential subjects—rather than being the means to create, become the means to a composition. The space, intended to house the artists and their work, becomes itself the subject matter to a still life.

Ingbretson atelier: II. portraits of artists

In my previous post, I introduced my project about the Ingbretson Studio. Most of the students seemed to tolerate me, and some engaged me in conversation about their work or mine. I asked only these individuals to sit for a brief portrait—something I wouldn't usually do during a documentary project, but the north-facing windows and their scrims always produced remarkable light, and the artmaking always in progress compelled me to ask.

Aware of their tasks, I only made a few frames of each, always in a single setting, always in color.

Ingbretson atelier: I. artists working

A few years ago, my friend David Clayton told me about an art atelier in Manchester: The Ingbretson Studio for Drawing and Painting. I contacted Paul Ingbretson (the master and owner) about spending some time photographing there. He agreed, and I documented the life and work of his students and space.

I carried only two film rangefinders: one loaded with Tri-X (black & white) and the other with Portra 400 (color), using whichever one suited the subject matter and my photographic goal. I had only 35 & 50mm lenses and a handheld light meter. I listened: to conversations among the students, to Paul, and to the sounds of quiet making. I occasionally asked questions, discussed, and debated. Most were open to my presence and work, and I'm grateful to them for the opportunity.

The results, along with an essay, are published in the current issue of Dappled Things. My words there explain much of the studio's practices and culture; thus, I see no need to repeat or expand upon those words except by way of introduction. I will, however, be able to expand greatly on the amount of photographs published, organized thematically.

The first set, then, will show what one entering this atelier would see: students of various ages creating art in their stalls, similar to monks in their cells.

a house concert

I met The Hickory Horned Devils last year when I hosted a performance at Amoskeag Studio; since then, I've also gotten to know most of the band members. So when we were invited to a house concert (hosted by their lead singer, Jen) with other friends and family, we gladly accepted. Located on a hill in Pembroke, their property has a tremendous view and overlooks Concord (we could see the state capitol building miles away).

From the porch, the band performed three sets throughtout the evening before guests with chairs and blankets. The potluck was varied and plentiful, along with the grill and beverages. Dozens of children wandered and played in the yard. Adults strolled in the field past the stone wall. We visited with friends we didn't expect to see there. The band finished at dusk, and we lingered for a couple hours more while our children eeked out as much time in a new house with new friends as they could.

I didn't have a plan for photographing. I relaxed and ate (and drank) first while listening to the music and waiting for the light to improve. The resulting work is an eclectic collection of the day: friends lounging, musicians performing, corn and grass growing, suns setting. They do not convey the high spiritedness of the music, the sounds of conversation and laughter, the smells and tastes of the food, the serenity of a location felt in the midst of dozens of other people. They are moments, scenes worked over (with many failed attempts), and an opportunity to create something different and new.

Fulchino Vineyard for The Farmers Dinner

This dinner was the second for The Farmers Dinner at Fulchino Vineyard (the first being a few years ago), so I knew the chefs would be preparing the courses outdoors. But I (and the chefs, and the owners) were surprised how quickly the darkness came; work lights had to be purchased so the work could finish.

Along with the temperature dropping quickly, the situation was certainly a new one for me. The resulting photographs, made in between courses (I also photographed each dish), were full of contrast and deep shadows.

Megan & Rob, married

Megan and her girls got ready at her soon-to-be-husband Rob's family's centuries-old farmhouse, which offered a tremendous variety of new and unique rooms and backgrounds (a boon for documentary wedding photographers!). She and Rob had a traditional Latin Rite Catholic wedding Mass at Saint John the Evangelist Church with beautiful choral music. (I'm admittedly partial to the latter, having known and sung with the music director for years.)

For the reception, we returned to Rob's family property for a relaxed and informal evening. Family and friends were scattered throughout: from the wide, green lawns to the barn, tucked behind buildings and under ancient trees. Children of all ages wandered the property. Beer flowed freely, cigarette smoke filled the air, and the barbeque portions were generous. Smiles and laughter abounded.

As a photographer, I couldn't ask for much more. Congratulations to the newlyweds.

Élevage de Volailles for The Farmers Dinner

My latest work for The Farmers Dinner brought me to Élevage de Volailles, a small, family-run farm in Loudon Centre, New Hampshire. The event was held entirely outdoors: making the firepits, preparing the food, plating the dishes, and serving the guests. The process, of course, took days, and cooking and smoking the meat over open pits started early that morning. The summer sun was out in full force, with barely any clouds in the sky, so in addition to preparation, the chefs were battling smoke, heat exhaustion, sunstroke, and dehydration—for nearly 12 hours.

Photographing in harsh, late-day sun has its own challenges, but I fully embraced the high-contrast light and deep shadows. I had no doubts that the results would exist only as black-and-white. Seeing the chefs work in these circumstances, tasting (most of) what they served, and hearing the reactions of and appreciation by the guests gave me a further appreciation of the chefs' commitment to their work.

Harmonium Music Festival

I've photographed Harmonium for a couple years. It's a full day of music and fun; of course, I'm working throughout it. The main and community stages themselves are enough to keep me busy; despite this, last year was the first that I decided to work the edges a bit.  Lingering in the musicians' tent, watching load-in and preparations, wandering around the audience--any activity apart from the stage was what I was interested in.

I also decided to camp overnight, which meant I was present for the post-festival jam session. Listening to these musicians--only some of whom knew each other, musically or otherwise--was a real joy. They seemed to have endless amounts of energy.

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.