portrait

sculptor Emile Birch for New Hampshire Magazine

I have a great love of photographing artists at work, if only to observe their process, which is invariably unique. So when I received an assignment to photograph Emile Birch, who is one of New Hampshire's preeminent sculptors, I was grateful for the opportunity. His public monuments and work in schools had earned him a feature in New Hampshire Magazine exactly six years prior; this time, however, the circumstances were different. Emile had begun suffering from dementia, and this article would confront that issue directly.

Editor Rick Broussard sent me an advance copy of writer Karen Jamrog's article to help me prepare. Rick, creative director Chip Allen, and I decided the photography would require two stages: first, him working in his home studio; second, a portrait at one of his public sculptures. I would coordinate with his wife, Cynthia, whom he relies upon for appointments, transportation, et al.

The studio visit was scheduled first. I traveled west early on a Saturday morning, enjoyed brief introductions and a tour, and watched as he touched up some paint on a few of his new wooden pieces. (He's now limited to small-scale productions, which fill his studio.)

Although I knew another session for the portrait would occur, when I saw Emile step into the doorway to his studio towards the end of my time there, I couldn't help but ask him to pause while I made a series of photographs. As it happens, the magazine chose this portrait as the opening photograph (rather than the location one, as initially planned).

For the location portrait, we decided to use a lesser known work of his but one on prominent display in the capitol: The Eternal Shield, which was commissioned to memorialize the state's fallen firefighters. We met there a few weeks later around dusk to make the portraits. We lingered a bit (and enjoyed a coffee in a local shop) to allow darkness to fall in hopes that the statue's installed lighting (in the "flame") would illuminate; when that didn't happen, we said our goodbyes.

Karen's article about Emile, his legacy, and his current condition are well worth reading. I'm honored and grateful to illustrate a very small part of his life and work.

in memory of Charlie Hunt

When I speak to people about my work, they are occasionally surprised when I mention that the majority of my subjects are strangers. We meet once, perhaps twice, make photographs, and are unlikely to see each other again. The act of creating portraits—which is so intimate, requiring my subjects to allow me, if not into their environment, at least to be quickly at ease before my camera—becomes a fleeting interaction of two independent lives. This is not desirable, but it is simply a reality of life. Despite the brevity of our time together, I am always grateful of their time and trust, and I consider them to be friends.

Words are not sufficient to express the sorrow that one such friend has left us. When I was assigned to photograph Charlie Hunt and his family almost six years ago, he was a very young man recovering from brain cancer. His spirit was not diminished, however, and we chatted and made photographs at his home for a couple hours. My visual memory of our session—him playing his guitar, his siblings, his parents—remains quite vivid.

As the cancer returned over the years past, his diagnosis and circumstances were no doubt a great struggle both for him and his family. Charlie died on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. I have on occasion encountered his parents, for which I grateful; but I shall always regret not seeing him again.

Requiescat in pace, Charlie.

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.

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 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.

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

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.

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