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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.