Monthly Archives: June 2011

Street Photography

In the early nineties I took Marcia Lieberman’s class “Photographing People,” at U.C. Berkeley Extension (at Laguna and Market Streets, I hope the darkroom, classroom spaces and galleries are still there).  Through this class, I fell in love with photography in general and street photography in particular.  It was the assignments that sent us out into San Francisco’s streets that terrified and excited me and defined photography’s potential for me.  Soon, I had discovered the work of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Mary Ellen Mark, Helen Levitt and later, Sylvia Plachy whose images and approach influence every day of my own photography.  Before taking that class, it hadn’t occurred to me use my daily commute to work as source material for pictures.  Once I started really looking at what was going on (or not going on) between people on the sidewalks, I could not stop seeing pictures.  Even in this small town where I now live (sadly, most often without my camera in hand) the days offer an infinite mix of light and color and gesture and form right outside my door.

I love street photography’s demands – the photographer must be present and responsive. Street photography requires some assertiveness, many would say aggression, in quickly recording an observed action without an invitation.  It is an activity which certainly can be intrusive, but is one that, I believe, can capture our social connections to one another in a most candid way.  Street photography is viewed in some art world corners as retrograde, serendipitous, haphazard – just the opposite of concept-laden art photography.  I see it differently, street photography as conceptual photography’s first cousin.  Its best practitioners filter the world (real, found) through a visual acuity powerful enough to pierce the boundary between observation and idea.

Light Work in Syracuse is running an exhibit of Jeffery Henson Scales street photographs from 2009, the year he was recovering from prostate cancer treatment.  The exhibit is framed by a concept articulated by Jeffery Hoones:

“…they are still easily read as images that are about a transformation. In almost every image there is a central figure that emerges out of the crowd to claim their presence and define their personal place.”

Was Jeffery Henson Scales thinking about transformation when he pressed the shutter button?  Or was he just moving back out into the world to re-engage after a terrifying illness?  Does it matter if  it was the hierarchy of idea over observation or vice versa that created the beautiful black and white images?  Somehow, a photo seems less a work of “art” without a strong concept grounding its creation, or even better, a suite of accompanying images into which it can nestle as part of a series or project.  And yet, it may have been that Mr. Henson Scales, traveling into the street again, with his camera and his intellect, merely recorded scenes that interested him visually.  What is clearly transformed, for me, in these photographs is the tangle of the everyday into thoughtful, moving imagery.

My latest street photographs follow.  These I just shot in Owego, NY at the Strawberry Festival.  During the festival, the first annual Strawberry Festival Beauty Pageant was held and that is what I photographed.

One last thing:  Richard Renaldi’s hybrid street photography/conceptual photography project,  Touching Strangers, is as poignant and humorous a comment on modern society as I’ve seen.

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First Post/Introduction

I borrowed the title of this blog from Judith Thurman.  She writes arts-related features for The New Yorker and profiled the Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic in the March 2010 issue of the magazine.  The Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective of her work, and Ms. Thurman was writing about that, the artist and her methodology.  After reading the piece, I could not wait to see the exhibit, and it did not disappoint.  To me, performance art is the most powerful, brave and disturbing art form.  Conceiving of pieces in which one likely performs alone and exposed, a highly irrational act (sometimes even dangerous) outside the boundaries of normal behavior seems completely crazy and completely beautiful to me.  I had read about Marina Abramovic’s work but I had never seen it; I was captivated and moved by the MoMA show.

So what does Marina Abramovic have to do with a new blog about returning to graduate school?  Well…everything, and nothing.

I am.  In my 40’s.  I am about to embark on  earning an MFA in Art Photography from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY.  It is a three year program (wow, that long?!) and is full-time (60 credits, no exceptions).  I live with my husband, two children (15 and 11) and four pets about 1 hour south of Syracuse in Ithaca, NY.  My husband is on the faculty at Cornell, engineering, and will be on sabbatical during the 2011-2012 academic year.  The idea is that, during the upcoming year, he will fill in the gaps managing family life while I complete the first year of the program.  I don’t know how many days a week I will be working in Syracuse, but I did sign a lease with three other graduate students to share a house.  Syracuse winters are even more brutal than Ithaca winters,  sometimes doling out three times the snow.  It seemed prudent to invest in a crash-pad/ work space.

When I think that I’m nuts to have made the decision return to school – when I worry about the kids, my age, the length of the drive, meeting deadlines, making art – I think about Marina Abramovic.  I think about the length and breadth of her career and the trials that she has put herself through, not only in creating her performance pieces but in maintaining relevance in the art world.  I think of her, and I am humbled and inspired.

Best of all, birthdays are important to Marina Abramovic!

She lives in this world!

She shops for groceries…and birthday cards.

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