The other Woodman’s

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When somebody in MA says “Woodman’s”, my thoughts run to fried seafood and the venerable restaurant that catered many of the clambakes I have been lucky enough to attend. Nice thoughts, but today I visited an entirely different Woodman’s; equally enticing, in a very different way. The Woodman Institute Museum, in Dover, NH is a slice of times gone by, not only because it is a repository of historical artifacts, but because the whole feel of the place seems to bring you back, back to a time when curiosities were housed in glass cases; when the idea of stuffed birds, beasts, shells, rocks, civil war muskets, Japanese armor, antique cameras and whole rooms of dolls being in the same place didn’t seem weird at all. I came for the antique cameras, I stayed far longer than I had planned for the rest of the story.

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courtesy WoodmanMuseum.org
Thom Hindle
Thom and a friend at the Woodman

The photo history part is easy, and offers me a compelling way to recommend this wonderful place to the people who come to sites like this one. The 2014 featured exhibit, up through November at the Woodman Institute Museum, is Tintypes to Digital, celebrating 175 years of Photography. It has been put together by Thom Hindle,  charter member of PHSNE, a contributor to the 40th Anniversary Journal and, it turns out, past president of the trustees of Woodman Institute.

Showcasing many pieces from Thom’s own collection, the exhibit actually ranges beyond the title and includes a case filled with Daguerreotypes.  Those, along with the many images and displays from the people who made photo history in this part of New England, give the show a life and relevance that is sometimes missing in blockbuster exhibits. It is an intimate and interesting display, varied and rich in detail. Like every other room we visited at the Woodman Institute Museum it is both surprising and just a little outside what you might have expected in a little, local museum in a small mill town in NH.
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While a case may be made for the more environmentally accurate and modern displays of large, public museums, especially when it comes to stuffed animals, there is also a lot to recommend this throw back to a time when folks might line up to see a four legged chicken.

Visit it and don’t be in a rush. There are at least three buildings here, and multiple floors in two of them. The staff is as warm and welcoming as they can be and the whole experience will make you smile.

The Visual Science Lab.: The graying of traditional photography

The Visual Science Lab.: The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don’t understand..

Kirk Tuck s a thoughtful guy. Here, he tries to take apart the state of the camera business today. In short: things are changing and the old guys who have the big cameras are dinosaurs. Youth means now, and now means what you have with you is the best camera in the world. Connectivity beats perfect images every time.

Really? Is that all you have, Kirk? This is old news and the operating principle on which the old man/young man thing has been working for at least a few generations now, isn’t it? Weren’t we the “happening generation” back then? Well, it’s still happening, it’s just not happening to us as much as it’s happening to them. Get over it. The larger sampling of people who are movers and shakers in the culture has as much to do with it as technology. There are far more women and people from cultures other than Europe and North America speaking up these days, and being heard. That is surely having an effect on what we see and how we see it.

Interest in the still image, and in the equipment, technique and stories of people who are responsible for recording great still images, the images that haunt us, will continue to be important. Whether you use a phone or a view camera to make your art is really irrelevant. At any given time in the history of art making, there are techniques that are coming into style and techniques that have been pretty much left behind. Often this is a matter of technological change,  but sometimes it one of a cultural shift or something more ephemeral, like “style.” The move, in the early twentieth century, away from Pictorialism  and toward  sharp, contrasty images was partly technology, partly zeitgeist. 

Art changes. It is what Art does best, and whether we like it, understand it, become involved with it or just stand back and ignore it, the world of visual communication will continue to evolve in interesting ways. Hand wringing and anxious introspection are so yesterday. Yes, things are different now. Yes, those who cling to the old order are mostly men over the age of 50. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was… . Take out your phone and post a selfie, Dude.

In the time between when I write this and when anyone reads it, tens of thousands, if not millions of pictures will have been taken and shared with the virtual world. We will remember the ones that become art, regardless of what tools were used to make them. This is as it should be.

Just sayin’

Between the wars and on the walls

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Ilse Bing self portrait 1931

 

The thing that amazes me about this exhibit at Boston College’s McMullen Museum is that it gets better each time you visit. This is a show about the beginnings of photography as we came to know it in the twentieth century; rich with experimentation, nude bodies, touchy subjects and captured moments. It was as the curator said, the time between the wild, crazy years and the dark days of invasion and Nazi suppression of the arts. 

That curator, Ash Anderson, gave PHSNE a personal today, and I found much more in the images than I had on my previous visit; more detail, more richness of surface, more connections with the life that the images depict. His explanations were helpful, his delivery to the point and aimed directly at a room full of photo geeks and the tour went well. The real stars, however, were the great images on the wall. Sometimes the pictures are much smaller than you thought they would be, at least those whose reproductions have become recognizable to us. Some are darker, or lighter, or plainer than the versions you may have seen, since the negatives were often printed and reprinted in different ways by the artists themselves. Some are old favorites, and bring a small smile of recognition as you turn the corner and see one on the wall. After the second visit, I have more old favorites. 

Go make some of your own before the show comes down on June 8.

 

 

Books, festivals and the nature of shared photography

The mailbox for a PHSNE president gets filled up with lots of notices, some far more interesting than others. Two notices of events that have come in lately have caught my eye. The first, locally located, looks to be a great chance to see the art and craft of photography as it is practiced by those who would live, and ply their trade, in the northeast corners of MA.

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LOWELL PHOTOGRAPHY WEEKEND

May 17 and 18, 2014 Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell Photography Weekend is a multi­venue photography event taking place in Lowell Massachusetts on May 17 and 18, 2014. Thirteen Lowell galleries, museums and businesses will be hosting photographic exhibitions.


The second, which is from far-away Vienna, is about books of the stuff; those collected works, essays about the collected works and diverse collections of images strung together and put into cloth covers, to be neatly stored on shelves.

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VIENNAPHOTOBOOKFESTIVAL 2014

Date: Saturday, June 14, 2014, 10 am – 8 pm with party afterwards and Sunday, June 15, 2014, 10 am – 6 pm

Location: AnzenbergerGallery and OstLicht. Galerie für Fotografie Absberggasse 27, 1100 Vienna, Austria (Brotfabrik Wien)

This appears to be a very different beast, perhaps because of the scale of the undertaking, perhaps because of it’s international flavor and emphasis on big names and presumably high price tags, perhaps due to the nature of the objects themselves–collections, packaged goods. I do not mean to denigrate the photo book; as an art form it has much to recommend it as it gives us an artist a sort of long-form option, like an entire gallery full of themed work all within one manageable, portable device. (A website filled with art may be much the same  in content and intent, but it’s not the same thing, really, is it?)  All books are, to my mind, wonderful things, and a book of photographs has the possibility to be twice as fine.  A festival celebrating such things must be very fine indeed. The Viennese do know how to throw a party, and the email blast for PhotoBookfestival says “this year will also feature a framework programme  with DJ lineup, Bars and plenty of food.”  

If PHSNE had a large slush fund for travel and publicity, the President could attend each of these events, schmoozing and drinking with all the notables while spreading the word of our quiet provincial gatherings here in New England. As it is, I may make the Lowell weekend, even if PHSNE isn’t footing the bill. It somehow seems more fitting than the possibility of me embarrassing PHSNE and myself trying to dance to European Tech music and drinking fluorescent cocktails.

Still…