Concrete: A Skateboarder’s Canvas
These images were inspired by the gestures in the portraits done by John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, and their contemporaries. Using oil and watercolor, the painters captured the human qualities of their models. As a photographer, I am dazzled by their success. While photographic film was introduced during their lifetimes, it wouldn’t be used to such subtle colored effect for years to come.
The woman I see is another view of myself. At first rising, she appears to me, as of a dream. Moving slowly, soft with sleep, she prepares for the day. I only see her for a moment; she disappears as I turn. Her back to me, I’m not sure where she is going. She seems determined, ready. It must almost be time to leave. As night descends, I glimpse her return. The day is put aside. Tomorrow I will look for her again. Perhaps I will find her.
Bosque Mágico De La Habana (Havana’s Magic Forest)
In February of 2016 after six days of roaming the streets of Havana, Cuba, documenting the people and the changes occurring since the announcement of renewed relations with the United States, I entered the Bosque de la Habana (Havana’s Forest).
Near the park’s entrance were faded food pavilions and gazebos, that hinted at the history of a lush space which once served as a verdant oasis for families to go on weekends. Deeper into the forest, along the Almendares River, I followed a walkway where I could imagine young couples and lovers once strolling in evenings past.
The true beauty of the park, however, lay in its deepest recesses, where over the years vines and new growth have combined with old growth, forming strange enchanted creatures and structures which have a life of their own. The forest appeared to me to be a metaphor for Cuba today.
Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to international news is aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. Rarely a day goes by without news and photos depicting individuals and families taking desperate measures to survive and rebuild their lives in Europe. The current refugee crisis evokes memories of the post-WWII refugee crisis where, again, millions of destitute people without a homeland sought a safe haven.
Thanks to the Displaced Persons Act, my mother and grandmother arrived in the US in 1951 after living in European refugee camps for 10 years. Relatives who had the means to leave Latvia were scattered across several countries. After settling in Wisconsin, my grandmother resumed contact with her closest relatives still in Europe. Over the years correspondence accumulated. These letters, punctuated with photos, were instrumental to the mooring of our family to the rest of our Latvian relatives dispersed across the globe. With the passage of time and the recounting of many a story, my identity and values were married to those of my distant relatives.
In my work, Altars, I use family photos in still life studies as a way to look back on the impact of those largely unknown relatives. It is my intention to pay homage and question narrative recited over the years. It is with the gaze of an adult that I pay homage to individuals who displayed strength and love despite their profound losses and foibles. I continue to receive their gifts with gratitude.
Union Square at Work
Union Square at Work presents photographs and stories of people who work in Union Square — the oldest commercial district in Somerville, Massachusetts. Located immediately outside of Boston, Somerville is a three-time winner of the National Civic League’s All-America City Award. Union Square is home to mechanics, restaurants, salvage yards, non-profits, tailors, plumbers, schools, salons, bars and many other businesses. There is a tattoo studio and a clean technology incubator. An American Legion Post and a used record store. A glass services company and a puppet artist. Some businesses have been open for 20, 30, even 100 years or more, often run by the same family. Other businesses just opened last month. There are shops that specialize in Guatemalan, Brazilian, Korean, Haitian, and Indian goods. There are also artists and musicians who write, record, and perform in the Square (the project includes a playlist of 20 local bands). Union Square is anchored by the ever-busy Market Basket discount grocery. Far from representing all of the many Union Square businesses, this project represents a sample of working life in the Square.
This project was started as a way to explore the meaning of work and local business, not as a response to Union Square’s upcoming redevelopment. However, Union Square is on the cusp of a major change. An MBTA Green Line transit station is expected to open, connecting the Square with Cambridge and Boston. In addition, infrastructure improvements and over 2 million square feet of new development are planned in the city’s $1 billion Union Square Revitalization Plan. Understandably, there is both excitement and concern about the changes to come — who will gain, and what will be lost? What new opportunities will arrive and which will disappear? Already, a number of shops have moved, closed, or been knocked down to make way for the future. As we move into that future, we might pause and see this All-American neighborhood as it stands today.
People in Motion
The concept of People in Motion was to show movement, in two dimensions. As a photographer, I have always tried to freeze the moment. That tack sharp image is only part of the story, especially in sports. We see motion but it happens so quickly, that it is left up to the viewer’s imagination to interpret what we saw.
After photographing the classic cars moving through traffic on the streets in Havana, it became apparent that we often miss much of what we see. At this year’s Boston Marathon I began to see movement in a different light. The body moves so beautifully, sometimes so fast, that its essence is often lost when frozen in time. My goal in photographing these sporting events was to slow things down enough to see the motion and appreciate the movement.
An artist’s studio is a place where beauty is brought into being from the most mundane of ingredients. Miro thought of his studio as “a vegetable garden, where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to water.” Some artists demand large studios, some small. Some want light, others not. Some consider the outdoors to be their studios.
Whatever the individual preference, art comes into existence someplace. That place is surely marked by the birth throes of creativity. Tools, fragments of disassembled still-lifes, and drips of paint all testify to what has happened, but who listens? Does the artist notice the detritus? Do the objects stuck in the corners or peering out from under the tables make their imprint on the new works-in-progress?
I explored these questions by visiting the studios of working painters. Left alone, I looked not at the art being created but at the spaces between, the floors where they had rested, the tables where brushes had been cleaned, the shelves where rags were stored, the paper, materials, objects, paints, cleaners — the stuff lying around and waiting to be swept up, discarded, or used again someday. I found beauty outside of the canvases but am left wondering – does beauty result from the creation of art in particular, or is it an inevitable result of all human activity?
I headed into the landscape with a piece of white foam-core and my camera, intending to get “back to basics” by simply photographing shadows. I think of shadows as nature’s own photographs, ready-made images that bring to mind photograms – the form of photography’s earliest images, created by laying down objects on a light-sensitive surface to record the shadow.
My initial interventions with the white board in the landscape led me into further experiments: using translucent surfaces to capture shadows, while also allowing some color and texture to be recorded; moving the camera during long exposures to blur the landscape while recording trails of reflected light; re-photographing hand-drawn shadows, in homage to the camera-lucida, a pre-photographic camera-like device used by 19th century artists as a drawing aid. Acknowledging the “painterly” quality of some of the resulting images, I decided to crop to a slender vertical format, referencing traditional scroll-paintings.
I have always been curious about the nature of artistic inspiration. How did Rembrandt figure out the way to represent light to create his masterpieces? Why did Picasso become a cubist? What led Jackson Pollock to drip paint trails on a canvas? How did Paul Strand veer from his mentors to represent society and culture with simple, almost architectural photographs?
Picasso became my inspiration for a series of photographs that redefine time and overcome the limitations of a camera. Just as Picasso showed his subjects from several viewpoints simultaneously—staying within two dimensions—I decided to experiment with the same approach, using Layers in Photoshop to generate my reality.
The Cubism Revisited series has two parts. The first was my effort to represent the disparate views that one has of another individual when intimately close.
- When your face is up against another person’s face and one eye is closed, you have a monocular view.
- When the other eye is closed instead, there is a different monocular view.
- And when both eyes are open, you have a binocular view.
I found I could layer the three or more view angles and achieve what I had seen with my own eyes—a Cubist view. As a further homage to Picasso’s style, I have added colored geometric forms to some of the composites.
Carrying the concept further, the second set of layered photos captures two or more people closely related genetically—mother and daughter; father and son; grandmother, mother, daughter. In this set I was hoping somehow to represent the genetic ties, even though no one ever looks exactly like just one parent—or one grandparent. Super-imposing faces while trying to maintain the integrity of each individual was challenging. The process of creation was both demanding and gratifying as I merged angles of faces to create surreal combinations.
Since I started to do photography, I have always wanted to “beat” the camera’s single- point-in-time function. I have shaken the camera, used long exposures and occasionally turned to video to tell a story. The cubist layering approach of this series defies the concept of time, creates a monocular-binocular effect and collapses years between each generation.
Scientists tell us that we actually see everything upside down, but our brain re-arranges the facts to convince us that we see right side up. Photographic cubism may represent another accurate way of interpreting what we see. As Picasso said: “We all know that art is not the truth, art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Birds of Sorrow
My daughter left a Chinese proverb on my pillow one night. It read, “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.” The power and relevance of this statement provided the impetus for the series, Birds of Sorrow. This visual narrative explores the universal emotions of grief and the struggle to find meaning in death. We have all loved, experienced loss and been faced with a complex mosaic of overlapping emotions: anger, sadness, mourning, remembrance. Not beyond repair, we heal – we allow for the celebration of life by looking forward. These constructed images began deliberately dark and obscure, but I found that as the series evolved … in came the light.
In December my neighbor was brought to hospice. As I held her hand, she smiled and said, “I’ve had a really full life, and I’ve tried just about everything. This is one thing I’ve never done before. So I guess I’ll try it once.”