Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blue Hills

(click to enlarge)

I did this picture last week, looking south from Boston, probably at the Blue Hills at about 7 AM. It took about 160 exposures and about 130 layers in photoshop. I'm off to Yaddo in a week. I may do some animal pictures, if they have any of them in Saratoga Springs. But I have some ideas for studio pictures using colored tape that I'm planning on trying.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Twelve Seconds

It was not too cold last week. So I went for a walk with my camera at lunch. I wandered a bit around the places I've often photographed over the past two years—the Frog Pond skating rink, City Hall Plaza, the Old Granary Burial Ground, etc. I ended up at Government Center, where there are a lot of stairs, levels, and overlooks. I set up my tripod on a very high, thick wall, which fills the lower left corner of the picture. It was awkward, standing on tiptoes to look thorough the viewfinder and adjust the settings. But people flowed in swarms with their Christmas shopping and take-out lunches from the food court in Quincy Market. There is something moving to me about crosswalks--the waiting, the desire to be elsewhere, the sudden dash into traffic or the brisk walk when the light changes. Stasis and change. Also, one feels very slightly the force of government and danger in the red blinking Do Not Walk sign and the awareness that you might get a jaywalking ticket or, if you make and error in judgment crossing against the light, government might end up being your caretaker, at least until the police scrape you off the ground and send you off to the hospital. I also like the feeling of solidarity as you mass on the curb and the relief of making it to the other side, out of the spotlight, back to ordinary pedestrian life.

I took about 300 pictures over 45 minutes. With a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. That represents about twelve seconds recorded out of the 45 minutes I stood there clicking away. This is in contrast with a still photo, which of course represents just the single twenty-fifth of a second. And a film, which would register 24 frames per second for the entire period. So the tally is 12 seconds of truth in my system, 1/25th (maximum) for the disciples of the decisive moment.

While I am doing the photoshopping, which takes about 20 hours over a week or two, I feel like I get to know some of the people I photographed. I might look at a particular person over ten frames to find the best figure in the best position for my purposes, and might silhouette them a couple of times, outlining their figures with a photoshop brush, getting to know the cut of their clothing, the knobs on their wrists, the shape of their heads, and sometimes a grimace or smile aimed at a walking companion, who may not be there. Many times, I end up omitting the companion, so figures are left expressing themselves to the air or to a person who passed in the same spot a few minutes sooner or later. I guess it heightens the feeling of isolation, each figure moving in its own little sphere of time.

At every stage, I am making decisions big and small, that affect the completed image. This is the essence of photography, of course, but multiplied many times for each of my images. Like most photographers, my pictures are answers to these questions: Where do I stand? Is the quality of the light adding to the picture? Is a certain fleeting feeling striking me just now, impelling me to press the shutter button? Will the pictures I'm taking fit into the rest of the images I'm working on? What's different in my work is that when I'm back home, I have to figure out what's hiding in all those images: what idea, theme, visual pun, emotional current, etc., is the richest material to make a picture from. I like the way this decision is the result of many random occurrences—coincidences, really, that are there, ready to be exploited. This makes my pictures both completely "found" objects and products of the imagination in equal part. Documents and fantasies.

Monday, December 14, 2009

City Hall Plaza (the third)

(click to enlarge)

Sometimes, I like to go back and rework a picture. I do this by reexamining the raw expsosures and thinking about what I want to do. For this picture, I took about 200 pictures back in July at City Hall Plaza. I've done two other pictures from this raw material. One fit just about everything I could fit into the scene. For the next one, I put the people in color order according to their clothing. For this one, I looked for people both close up and far away.  (In the same way some photographers play with scale--an important theme in street photography--but backwards, of course, in my case). It's like a jigsaw puzzle. First I fit in the big pieces--the man making the face, the old lady, the man in blue, the man in the yarmulke--then I look through all the pictures looking for other smaller figures that fit. I'm always amazed that something as simple and basic as scale can be of such perennial interest. I think it lays bare some of the animal wiring of the brain--that the eye can be fooled, the mind takes shortcuts to make sense of the world, etc.--and I think this accounts for some of the delight and strangeness playing with scale can elicit.

I'm almost ready for my show at Gallery Kayafas (January 22 through February 27--the opening is Feb. 5 at 5:30). I've spent most of the fall framing and printing and mulling over the final selection of ten pictures for the show, which I find the hardest part.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Critical MassTop 50

I'm a winner this year of Photolucida's Critical Mass competition. Photolucida, which is in Portland, OR, and runs terrific portfolio reviews, assembles 200 reviewers—curators, dealers, collectors, and generally influential photo people—who vote on the merits of some 600 applicants to arrive at the Top 50. There's also a book publication prize for the two or three Toppest of the lot. Good God am I happy!

Here's the Top 50:
Jenn Ackerman
Jody Ake
Leslie Alsheimer
Jane Fulton Alt
Carl Bower
Andrea Camuto
Manuel Capurso
Alejandro Cartagena
Pelle Cass
Edmund Clark
Victor Cobo
Caleb Cole
Scott Dalton
Dorothee Deiss
Mitch Dobrowner
Jade Doskow
Ed Freeman
Lucia Ganieva
Judy Gelles
N W Gibbons
Toni Greaves
Alexander Gronsky
Jessica Todd Harper
Jessica Ingram
Samar Jodha
Mary Shannon Johnstone
Jimmy Lam
Laurie Lambrecht
David Leventi
Larry Louie
Benjamin Lowy
Simone Lueck
David Maisel
Sarah Malakoff
Rania Matar
Tim Matsui
Mark Menjivar
Brad Moore
Kate Orne
Ara Oshagan
Rachel Papo
Bradley Peters
Alexis Pike
Birthe Piontek
Ellen Rennard
Betsy Schneider
Peter Sibbald
Christopher Sims
David Taylor
Phillip Toledano
Will Steacy
Serkan Taycan

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween (and the Fourth) Are My Favorite Holidays

I've always liked certain public holidays, the Fourth of July and Halloween, especially. What I like about them is that people mill around aimlessly in public places. They are usually in a good mood, and while children might be excited, the adults are usually just walking or standing or sitting around enjoying having no particular duties except to have a feeling of mild enjoyment. What people enjoy, or at least what I enjoy, is the sharing of this vague, dispersed happiness in a public space--so different from a concert or political rally or other public gatherings, which are focused and have a distinct mood and share a specific interest, a particular band, person, or cause.

But Halloween and the Fourth are swarming, drifting holidays. I think the mood I take from them has influenced the way I take pictures and what I'm looking for when I put together my composites. Community is perhaps the jargon version of the word I'm looking for, but it misses a nuance. The sense of people sharing their private feelings of pleasure or boredom in public--while still maintaining complete privacy and even serenity--despite the chaos and the crowds. I suppose what I am describing is a version of what Walker Evans was looking for in his subway pictures (the book is Many Are Called), pictures of people as they might be at home, unguarded and unobserved.

(Picture info: I took about 70 pictures over about 15 minutes to make this composite of about 100 layers.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time and Stuff

The Purpose of Time Is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once 
Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother's womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage, toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents' tread downstairs, all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You'll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

--X.J. Kennedy


"Jorge Luis Borges (speaking of blind people), photographed by many, and quoted by even more, felt despair, Dyer noted, because his medium, words, could never describe the simultaneity of everything occurring at once in a given moment in our universe—the ur-realiy of our visible universe—because words (and photographs) are successive, not simultaneous.  But Dyer persists: 'To reconcile the simultaneous and the successive; that is one of the ambitions of these pages,' he writes."

 — Mark Power on writer Geoff Dyer thoughts on photography on Power's blog, the Salt Mine:


I'm thinking about naming my show The Purpose of Time Is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once. I've always liked the simultaneous. It's why I like art but also statistics, indexes, air travel--anything that gives you an overall perspective. Of course I love successive things like novels and movies, too. But in my pictures, it's really the capturing of everything at once that grabs me. 

A sidebar: I suppose that the purpose of space is to keep everything from being in the same spot--maybe I should do some sculpture!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Work, at Last

Thank God it's not all kudo-gathering, paperwork, color-correcting, backing up files, and sending out packets. Some of what I do is make new pictures. Well, the kudo-gathering is also okay. But I like looking out my window for five minutes (top), taking pictures of tourists at the Boston Public Garden (second), listening to tour guides shout as I take pictures at the Granary burial ground (third), and my favorite occupation, standing on the Mass Ave bridge for half an hour (bottom). None of these pictures are quite finished, but I think they're close.

ICA/Foster Prize

I opened up an email last week, and it began, "You have been nominated for the ICA [Boston]’s James and Audrey Foster Prize..." 

This is a big honor, and what I like about it especially is that what the nominators (50 area art professsionals) are looking for is innovation, not just for who's best. The field is winnowed to 20 by January, and early in the year, 4 finalists emerge who will get solo shows at the ICA. Out of the 4, one gets the prize itself, 25 large. Nervous! Happy! Plenty of time later to be disappointed!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Caleb Cole

Caleb Cole

Caleb Cole uses a picture of mine on his blog Existing Light to make a comparison of fake v. real. I posted my thoughts over there on his very interesting blog. Also, Caleb's work is really good and funny. He poses in used clothing, imagining himself in the previous owner's original setting. (Sidebar: the above picture seems to be taken just a few blocks from my house, in front of the VFW post.) Look at his photo web site here. What I like is that, while his pictures might be said to "examine identity," his identity stubbornly remains, despite the odd trappings and scenes. The overwhelming feeling I get is that I am looking into the soul of Caleb himself (or the character played by Caleb in the pictures) as he moves through various incarnations.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Press

My work was featured on, which, according to Wikipedia, is the fourth largest Russian-language online news outlet. I got hundreds of hits on my Web site from it. This recurring culutre feature is apparently sponsored by a liquor company. It's called the Dewarist. I'm big in Russia!

The Boston Globe

The show I'm in at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, MA, was reviewed yesterday in the Boston Globe. That's my picture taking up most of the lefthand page. Mark Feeney describes my picture as a "glorious cacophony." I'll take it. Click here to read all about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

(click to enlarge)

It's a sad fact that I don't feel quite alive unless I've got a new picture going. So it's both pleasure and a relief, after a month or doing other things, to be in the middle working on this one, which is of the MFA near closing time on a Sunday. I took about 400 pictures over an hour or so to make this composite, which is not done yet. My wife (that's her with the luscious hair, just to the right of the last column on the wheelchair ramp) and I had  intended to go to  the Greene & Greene exhibition, which was of special interest to Margaret. I stood outside taking pictures instead.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Planning and Preparing

I've stopped taking pictures for the moment to get ready for my show at Gallery Kayafas early next year. The picture above is of the scale model I made of the gallery. It is kind of helpful, at least to figure out how many pictures to include. I'm getting ready so early because 1) I have to rent a printer at NESOP (New England School of Photography) to make thse 24 x 36 inch prints, 2) I'm going to Yaddo for the month of January and the show starts at the end of January, making my deadline for having the show printed and framed December 1 so I have time to plan for Yaddo, and 3) I have no experience in planning for two major events at once.

The practical upshot is that I'm spending my time color correcting and printing tests and fidding with my little model instead of doing new work, which drives me a little crazy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Danforth Museum

I'm in the Danforth Museum's photo biennial. I'm very pleased about it and hope to see you at the opening on September 12, 6-8 pm! Click on the screen grab above for more details.

Also coming up: the Photographic Resource Center's auction in October and a solo show at Gallery Kayafas, Boston, in February. More about these later.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Crosswalk Two

My previous crosswalk picture is about waiting and boredom, men and women. This one, from the same set of a couple of hundred exposures, is about families--clusters and strings of them. In the very same space and period of time, two very different dramas happened.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


(click to enlarge)

I've always liked crosswalks. First, I like the word, which is backwards: you walk across. I always see an "X" when I hear the word, and for a time, I usually said "let's X the street" instead of "let's cross the street." I like the way people look when they are waiting, at their most static. Gather enough boredom together and it's pretty dynamic. These people are simply waiting for a a walk sign or perhaps a break in traffic, when the real drama begins, I suppose. (I am working on such a picture, using the same set of 200-odd exposures that went into this image.)

Monday, August 3, 2009


Here's the Pilgrim monument on the edge of Boston Common. Most of these people are tourists, and I really like the pastel palette of their clothing. Pilgrims and tourists? Some relation, I suppose. (click image to enlarge)


That's my son with the red hair. He's a pretty good player, although I beat him in a game of one-on-one last summer (he smoked me all the other games we played) and I always beat him in horse, which is a stationary shooting game. This picture was tricky to photoshop because the shadows were moving so quickly. I think all the hundred or so pictures I took to make this only represent about ten minutes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Frog Pond, Boston Common, Summer

Here's a new picture. I've been doing these composites for a year and a half, but it still amazes me that so much goes on in fifteen or twenty minutes, which is what this picture represents. It was not a particularly busy day, and most of the frames I shot only contain 5 or 6 figures. And of course, there's something strange about the way we coexist with other forms of life, dogs, birds, squirrels, for instance.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Moving Tripod

Walker Evans
Atlanta, GA, 1936

Walker Evans Anodized Red Alloy Beadlock Wheel, Walker Evans Racing, Riverside, CA

I couldn't find the picture I was looking for. It's of Walker Evans's car, and I think it was from the thirties when he went on a road trip to photograph architecture with Lincoln Kirstein. (I have probably garbled the facts here, since this is from memory.) But that snapshot of Evans's car always stuck with me. (I've substituted the beautiful Evans picture above.) It's just a homely picture of an old-timey car on a dusty lot.

Ziess Planars, carbon fiber tripods, strobes and soft boxes--none of them are as important a tool to photographers as the car. It's unacknowledged, I think, and it's not just the road-trip photos of Frank, Friedlander, et al. It's true of almost any photograph that depends on a location, which covers a lot of ground, so to speak. Photographers like Gursky, Burtynsky, and Crewdson must rely heavily on their cars (or tractor-trailers, for that matter) for their pictures. Mobility is key. And the car is like a moving tripod, perfect for positioning the camera exactly where it needs to be. A lot of the history of American photography is inconceivable without the automobile. One obvious irony is the image of a nature photographer bumping along in his jalopy, burps of carbons dioxide and monoxide puffing from his tailpipe.

(Photo of Tom Stoppard's book case, made by T. Anthony, via The New York Times.)

This is of special interest to me because I don't drive, and I'm acutely conscious of how it affects my work, all of which is conducted along the routes of my everyday life, home to work, basically. You could say my work is about imagination, even introspection to the degree that it is a little about how the mind works. That would make the book my second most important tool.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Trinity Church 2

This picture is from the same set of exposures as the one below. I've always liked rhythmic compositions, somehow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Copley Square

Here's a new picture. It's a composite of about 45 images over half an hour. It really happened just like this, however. Even though it was only in my head.

I've been thinking about a certain kind of photographers often says something like, "reality is richer, stranger and more varied than imagination." They mean that you should go out and take pictures of real things and leave making things up to painters, novelists, sculptors, filmmakers, etc. It's true that the strength of photography is its documentary capability. But I think it's also true that all photographs are acts of imagination. The decision to photograph, say, man's effect on nature by taking pictures of orange lakes, trash-strewn fields, etc., is an idea, an act of imagination itself. And the truly successful work in this vein succeeds because it's imaginative, that is, we see this standard subject in a new way.

Call me defensive, but I think reality-imagination divide is kind of artificial. I guess I think my work straddles the divide, or at least does both things wrong.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Sometimes I just put my camera on the bench where I'm sitting and take pictures. If I don't bump it, it works as well as a tripod. It also makes me pretty inconspicuous. Many of these people, I believe, were snickering over the figures in the fountain--two nude boys, one riding on the other's bare bottom. When I was taking the pictures, I noticed people smiling, but involved as I was, I didn't notice what they were smiling at.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Self-Portrait

This is a Cezanne--The Bather.

Here's a self-portrait, done in the Boston Public Garden. I am categorically against photographic self-portraits. But that hasn't stopped me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

China Photo Press

I'm all excited because something called China Photo Press is publishing some of my pictures and an interview. The editor, who is very nice, asked for a portrait of me, and above is the self-portrait I sent. China Photo Press is sponsored by the China Photographers Association, which is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party! It's a twice-weekly printed newspaper! The self-portrait was made while I was taking pictures for another composite (Stepping). Some tourists dragged me from behind my camera and asked me to take their picture. I also took my own picture taking their picture.

Flowers and Blurs

This picture of flowers continues my pursuit of cliche. It also uses another cliche: blurriness. This is a composite of around a hundred exposures taken in the Boston Public Garden over about twenty minutes. A detail is below.

Sunday, May 31, 2009



I got to work one morning an hour early. I took pictures out my office window as parents were taking their kids to school and people were walking to work. It put me in mind of both my childhood and taking my own kids to school.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Men and Women

I went down to the Boston Common before work to take pictures last week. I wanted to photograph people walking their dogs, but did this instead. I did another picture of men on the left, women on the right last year, but I wasn't happy with it. This picture took about half an hour to do and there are about 150 men and women as well as roughly 2 buses, 3 trucks, 6 dogs, and 14 birds (including a hawk, I think).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Done and Done

Chris's comment below (on May 9) asks, " If you're going for cliche, how about doing a composite of tourists with cameras?" Already done, Chris! You're on the right wavelength, bud!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Another new picture. 25 minutes worth of pictures, maybe 30 layers in photoshop. At the PRC/Griffin portfolio reviews a couple of weeks ago, someone said to try some simpler compositions with fewer people. It seemed like a good observation.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


It's a good month. I went to the Griffin/PRC Portfolio Reviews last weekend (these events gather art and photo professionals to meet individually with fine art photographers, kind of like speed dating), and people were kind of nuts over my work, especially my squirrel picture. Also, I'm doing lots of new work, like this picture of stalks. Again in the Public Garden, about a hundred exposures in 20 minutes. The tourists are back and people are out with their cameras. Ideal conditions for me.

More Birds

When you are at the Boston Public Garden on certain days in spring, it feels like this picture, with birds swooping and wheeling everywhere. I would appear to be obsessed with birds, but I guess it's mostly formal (although my mother loved birds and so does my sister). I don't really care too much one way or another myself. What I like is that they are all over the place and at all angles, like some Constructivism. This picture has about a hundred layers and took the usual 45 minutes to photograph. The second image is a detail.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shepard Fairey: Two Views

This is my comment on Greg Cook's photo of a "vandalized" Shepard Fairey hunk of graffiti on Washington Street in Providence. Greg Cook's blog is the excellent New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Monday, May 11, 2009


This is a detail of of the picture below. I try to make nice, bland-looking pictures that are crazy when you look closely. Crazy is in the details.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Swan Boats

One of my main artistic goals is to avoid cliche, but lately what draws me to the things I photograph is their cliche value. I really like going to these over-photographed tourist spots--the Boston Public Garden, Copley Square, etc. My reasoning: I should go out and attack gives me the creeps head-on. I don't want to be fear tulips, ducks, foliage, children and the beautiful Boston Public Garden anymore. However, the woman (above) carrying the small canvas, in my opinion, is shirking her duty regarding the cliche. And I love her for it.

The picture above is of the Public Garden last Thursday and is a composite of just over a hundred different exposures taken over about 35 minutes during my lunch break. (Click image to get a little more bigness.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Public Garden

Here's a picture (plus a detail) I did this week, at the Boston Public Garden. Like my other work in this series, it's a digital composite, with people in their real positions. A kind of condensed still version of a time-lapse movie. I didn't know that I liked birds! (click on images to enlarge)

More Side Projects

It hasn't been a very productive winter, image-wise. But spring has been a boon and spurred me to do some corny flower pictures. Sometimes I like to think that my big project is going at the cliches of photography head on and seeing what I can do.