Saturday, August 31, 2013

Alter Ego Winners: Philomena Famulok

Alter Ego Director’s Choice Philomena Famulok is a German photographer whose intimate and macabre photographs are imbued with subconscious thoughts. Famulok creates personal self-portraits that arise out of her need to work through certain emotions or thoughts. “I think particularly darker emotions, dreams, thoughts, and memories are searching for an expression because often they are unwanted and repressed in our everyday life, even though they are an important part of life and identity.” Famulok’s allows these darker elements of her subconscious to emerge with the aid of dramatic lighting and digital manipulation.

Rough Sea

Famulok’s winning image, Ships on the High Sea, typifies her style. Devoid of context and accompanied by an enigmatic title, the viewer is confronted only with gesture, shadow, image grain, and blur.  When looking at these images, the viewer glimpses Famulok’s dark and inchoate inner thoughts. The minimalist backgrounds strip the images of context, freeing the viewer from any particular story that would detract or qualify the images’ emotive subject matter. The work has a cinematic style reminiscent of film stills and the German Expressionist movement. Unusual compositions and angles shrouded in extreme shadows make for a haunting, fragmented moments.

Ships on the High Sea

Famulok’s process is guided by her feelings, dreams, and thoughts, but she also finds her muse in music and the written word. Fittingly, short versus of poetry are a source of inspiration. With a book of Hilde Domin’s poetry always within reach and a travel companion, one can easily see the connection between the mechanics of poetry and Famulok’s work. Like Domin’s poetry, her images are sparse, leave room for interpretation, and say a great deal with a simple gesture or single prop. Famulok’s images are short poetic versus in themselves.

The Withered Twig

Though Famulok has yet to determine where her work fits into the current art scene, she looks at artistic success in separate ideas of creative and financial fulfillment.  Creatively, there is a strong sense of achievement and contentedness when a concept has been seen through to its execution and when another person is able to view one of her images and finds something of their own within her personal picture.

Beyond that I'm of course happy if one of my pictures makes a place in a competition or is exhibited, or if I can sell one of my pictures. After all it is validation of my work and it encourages me to continue to be creative. And to be creative is what I love to do most.
The Middle of a Dream
Alter Ego is on view through August 31, 2013.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alter Ego Winners: Gail Samuelson

Juror’s Choice winner Gail Samuelson’s love of photography arose from unexpected and non-artistic beginnings. In the 1970’s Samuelson landed her first post-graduate job as an electron microscopist. Photographing the cellular structures as 50,000 times magnification quickly became her favorite part of her job. It was not until she was studying at Massachusetts College of Art after work hours and immersing herself in the darkroom environment that she became hooked on photography. This was a natural shift, as photography was first a science, then an art form. Scientific imagery was abandoned for the lively scene of Boston’s North End in the 1970’s, full of Italian families going about their daily lives. Photographing in black and white, Samuelson honed her darkroom skills.

Veil #1

Her work evolved into a series of self-portraits, which give her the freedom to try out different expressions, colors, and nuances. “Self-portraits are a way to experiment with dress, gesture, mood, and style, and I often use my mother’s and aunt’s antique hats and costume jewelry as inspiration. It’s my own laboratory to experiment and to see what comes of it.” A different laboratory from the first, Samuelson continues to experiment. 

Window Light

Like many photographers, Samuelson finds the practice of picture making a cathartic experience, working through difficult moments in her life, whether it was a surgery or her father’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Life isn’t fair. Like everyone, I’ve had some rough patches. I made a book of photographs of my father’s decline with Alzheimer’s disease: my father counting and recounting his pills, my mother visiting friends on the phone rather than in person, her mattress lying on the floor when she could no longer be in bed with him but needed to be close. I never showed the book to my mother; I thought it might upset her. Now she also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so I probably never will.
Juror's Choice image, Mink Stole

When using self-portraiture as a means to cope or become someone else temporarily, Samuelson’s goal is not to capture the most flattering image of herself, as evidenced in her winning image, Mink Stole. Despite these trials, she finds plenty of joy in life, whether from her new grandson Jonah (a “toothless riot”), or her portrait and event photography business where she is often hired to capture smiles and happiness at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. These big production shoots are the complete opposite from her personal work, but she enjoys them in their own right.


Samuelson is delighted that Mink Stole was selected as the Juror’s Choice for Alter Ego, but her idea of success is much more tied to her own work than to exhibiting in galleries. “I feel successful when I see something new: I make a photograph that I get a bang out of. More important, since words are not particularly my thing, a successful photograph does a more effective job communicating my thoughts and feelings.” 

Alter Ego is on view through August 31, 2013.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Agnieszka Sosnowska

This month we are exhibiting the work of Agnieszka Sosnowska in conjunction with our current show, Alter Ego. We were first introduced to Sosnowska’s work when she showed in our exhibition, Both Sides of the Lens: Self-portraiture in 2012. We fell in love with her extradinary photographs and currated Realities, a solo exhibition. Writing from Iceland, her country of residence, Sosnowska shares some insight into her work and process.

Your self-portrait work spans decades and has a timeless quality to it. How has the series evolved over such a long period of time?

I began this series as a student in Laura Mcphee's class at Massachusetts College of Art in 1990. I've physically and emotionally matured in these self portraits. I started to do the self portraits when I was 19 years old, straight out of highschool. I was a kid. I am now 42 years old and am still taking them. You could say that they have grown from these very romantic vignettes to more mature stories of becoming a woman.
Years ago it was difficult for me to even include my face in an image. Now I don't have any problem removing all of my clothes for an image. I've become more accepting of my surroundings and comfortable as a woman in front of the camera. 

I have tried this series in color with some success but always return to keeping them  black and white. Since moving to Iceland, it's a lot faster to see the results if I  keep the images black and white. I do all of the processing and printing in my own darkroom. When I use color I have to send the film to the states to get processed and printed. That can take months!  I am too impatient and cannot wait to see if I got it! 

Self-portrait, Landsendi, Iceland, 2012

Describe your process for this work. How much pre-planning is involved, and what are the steps from the initial idea to the printing? 

As to the process, When I arrive at a picture I often have the “where” decided. It's the “if” that's not decided. What if I stood here, what if I looked this way, what if I held this... Am I believable in the moment? Because no matter how staged or surreal the image is I need the viewer to walk away believing this could actually happen. 

I would compare this process to that of a writer or an actor. I arrive to a place and the story is already written for me in the selection of the place. What  can I deliver to this place to finish the sentence? Often the clothing I wear and the objects  I choose to accompany me in the picture help complete these sentences. I find the most successful images are the ones in which I really listen to what the place that I've selected to photograph in is telling me. 

As to the printing, I have to order all of my film, paper, and most of my chemistry from the states and have it shipped to our farm in East Iceland. I live in an pretty rural part of Iceland. My husband built me both a darkroom and a studio where I print, store, matt and edit my work. I am a very lucky woman to call this man my friend.

Often the biggest obstacles I run into are from nature. Two years ago, the summer was unusually dry in Iceland. The water source on our land dried up. My husband had to find and construct a new water source on our land. No water meant no pictures for many months. That was tough! 

Also I have a small walk from our house to the barn where I have my darkroom . During winter months, when there's often allot of snow and wind and it's tough just to physically do the walk to and from. But seeing the northern lights on clear nights kind of makes you forget about all those obstacles pretty quickly.

Humpback Whale, Heradsandur, Iceland, 2012

Originally from Poland, you now reside in Iceland. How has this transition influenced your work? 

Well that varies allot depending on where I am taking the self portraits. I just got back from a visit to Poland this week and of course was taking self portraits there. I noticed that those images are often deeply influenced by the past. My family's personal history, stories of the war, family members childhood stories and so on. So in a sense Poland is place where I find myself recreating the past.

In Iceland I find myself reacting to the present. The environment in Iceland dictates whether or not I can take a picture any given day and I listen. Living in place where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are pretty much commonplace puts a whole new perspective on planning. Limited amounts of daylight for a good 6 months of the year, extreme wind, hazardous winter driving conditions are common here and influence my planning as an artist. I don't think I have ever been in more awe or humbled by nature since living in Iceland.

Culturally, women in Iceland have attained a high degree of gender equality and are incredibly supportive of one another, especially in the workplace.  As a result I see that I've started to embody strong female characters in my images since calling Iceland my home.

Breaking Piles, Heradsskogar, Iceland, 2012

Using a large format camera for self-portraiture is challenging. What made you choose this format? 

As a student at Mass Art I had to take a required view camera class with Nick Nixon. I remember feeling embarrassed by the view camera when I went out in public to use it by how much attention it got. People stop, stare, and ask questions. But I was quickly won over by the amount of detail I could get with a view camera. Seeing the beauty that a contact print delivers delivers was mesmerizing.

Strangely enough I find using a view camera pretty easy. I have been doing it for so long that I don't know anything else. My camera often feels like a third arm. The camera I use is  a 4 X 5 Graflex bed camera. It's small, light and can take a beating. It's designed like a Russian tank. I can hike with it, drop it, set it up in a river and not worry too much if it falls over. I have been using it since 1990 and have not used anything else. I think if I went digital I would worry too much about breaking some very expensive equipment because I tend to be a bit rough when I take pictures.

The only thing I really despise about large format is the tripod. I find tripods cumbersome and getting in way of when I am trying to set up a picture. Sometimes I use a self timer that gives me 30 seconds to get in the frame. Sometimes I rely on my husband or friends to accompany me for shoots. I'll set up the framing, have someone stand where I will stand, so that it's easier to focus. If I have to spend more time getting in the picture I will tell someone when to trip the shutter for me.

Self-portrait, Boston, Massachusetts, 1997

You were awarded a Fulbright grant, which allowed you to create a documentary project on folk artisans in Poland. How has your documentary work influenced your self-portraits and visa versa.

When I moved to Iceland I needed to take a break from the self portraits because I just didn't have anything else to say. I was driving home from work one day looking at all of the waterfalls, moss, mountains and could not come up with any ideas as to where my place was in all of this. 

So I took the pressure away from myself and stepped away from the self portraits for some time. I felt I had nothing else to say. So I challenged myself by photographing what I see everyday, which are my students. For the past five years I have been documenting the students at Bruarassk√≥li, it's a small school comprised of about 40 students. It feels more like a large family rather than a school. Many of the students reside on farms, so I'm able to visit them at home to take pictures as well. 

I enjoy the collaborative process of working in documentary, especially with young people. The ways kids express themselves through gestures and facial expressions is so genuine. I find that their honesty and spontaneity has greatly influenced my return and growth with the self portraits in the past few years.  

Also working with kids has made me a faster photographer. When using a view camera with young people you have to work fast otherwise you can tire them out of kill the moment pretty quickly.

For Rodin, Kleppjarnsstadir, Iceland

Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?

Doing something that I truly love is a success. I cannot imagine my life without photography. I never get tired of looking for a story. It still feels like I'm opening a very important present when I turn on the lights in my darkroom and flip through the sheets of film in the tray of fixer. Often it's the images that I expect the least from that are the portfolio pieces. 

Realities in on view at The Kiernan Gallery through August 31.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sharon Beals

The Kiernan Gallery is pleased to have photographer and author Sharon Beals as juror for our upcoming exhibition Botanicals. We have asked her a few questions about her work.

Your work is as much advocacy as it is art. What are your thoughts on balancing the artistic interpretation of natural subjects with their scientific and ecological significance?

This is a hard question to answer, Kat. As far as the nests go, they are scientifically accurate, down to using the eggs that were collected with the specimens whenever I could locate them in the science museums. I might have lit them in a way that enhanced the interest of the nest materials or the sculptural quality, but since the images were going to be used for a book and the nests were photographed in science collections, I didn't feel comfortable taking license with the nests. I had the responsibility of answering to the scientists who granted me access to those specimens always on my mind. 

My other landscape and beach plastic images, I take some license with, if not a lot. I want others to love the untidy wild that speaks to me, so if I have to turn them blue via faux cyanotype, or make duotones, to try to make the viewer notice what they might have overlooked, I think that is fine. With the beach plastic, the images are totally a manipulation. I think of them as advertising for a cause in a way, to make them attractively confrontational. 

What We Leave Behind

Your book Nests, Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them is a successful artistic and scientific exploration of the natural world. How did this series evolve into a book?
The photographs are the culmination of a trajectory that began after reading Scott Weidensaul’s wonderful book, Living on the Wind, Across the Hemispheres with Migrating Birds. Threaded through his essays about the amazing feat of migration are stories of the survival challenges that many species of birds face at either end of their journeys, and along the way—challenges which are most often created by humans. Galvanized, I began to look for a way to use my photographs to communicate what must be told about the lives of birds today. It wasn’t until I happened upon the wonder of these avian architectural feats that I felt I had found something that might speak for their creators, and which would speak to viewers who might never pick up a pair of binoculars or open a birding guide. I would make photographs and tell the stories of their builders.

I also put words to my photographs, adding essays about bird behavior, nesting habits, and when it was important, the conservation concerns that these builders might be facing. 

Tree Swallow

Were all of the nests for the book were photographed on location? If so, what was the process of photographing in the field? 

The photographs were all made on little sets I made in rooms full of cabinets that housed the nests and eggs of historic science collections in The California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. I just recently photographed about dozen more nests at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. All of this has been a great privilege. And I climbed no trees. Most were collected in the 1900s, if not earlier. 

Botanical photography is a vast and varied genre. How do you think will approach this process of jurying this exhibition?

Because it is so vast, and so varied, I will keep an open mind, and hope only that the images I get to see are of a quality and invention that honors their subjects. I hope that there are images that I haven't "seen" before, that surprise me, but I will also be pleased to be witness to well executed classical images. I look forward to the challenge of curating what I think will be a very exciting show. 

Claremont Diptych

Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?

Success in art, to me, means being seen and appreciated for the intent of your work. To have galleries and shows is another iteration of that same idea. I don't want to be glib, as I have had some success, but to be appreciated by people who know art photography is sometimes just enough. 
As if it Didn't Matter

The deadline to submit to Botanicals is August 22. Visit for more information.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Portfolio Showcase Artists: Bob Avakian

Bob Avakian admits that he discovered his passion for night photography by chance. Taking the ferry back to his home on Martha’s Vineyard, he began making long exposures of the moon-lit shorelines, relying on the ferry’s railing in place of a tripod. Pleasantly surprised by the results, he began to experiment with shooting at twilight. “I separate my photos by either day or night . . . . One day while looking at sunrise and moonset times, I discovered a day that they were the same time. Out of that came the title of my series,” A Moment in Time Between Night and Day

Into the Light

Avakian takes an organic approach to his nighttime explorations. Much like the sea captains on Martha’s Vineyard long ago, Avakian pays close attention to weather conditions. If the weather is promising, he packs up his gear and heads out for a night of photography. In the weeks surrounding the full moon, he keeps an eye out for drama in the night sky. Critic and Juror Vicki Goldberg commented on the magical qualities of his work:

Avakian photographs at these off hours, which always deliver to his camera something that his eye had not registered. He considers the camera’s lies a form of invention and happily adds a fillip of his own. The results are what ought to be ordinary landscapes, however nicely composed, but when cloaked in effulgent light and color they give birth to a parallel world. 

The Guard Shack

Finding inspiration from form and design, Avakian strives to find places and buildings that intrigue him. His love for architecture is evident by the strong horizons and leading lines in his compositions. He also takes inspiration and motivation from literature and writing, quoting George Elliot, “It is never too late to become what you could have been.”

Avakian has been trying to place where his work fits into the world of contemporary art. At a recent portfolio review one reviewer labeled his work “fine art” rather than “contemporary art.” When he asked the reviewer to explain the difference, he was told that his work had a consistent theme and that contemporary photography will have many themes. One could argue, as Vicki Goldberg does, that landscape and the night hours are not the only themes in this work, “Early and late day also confuse color film, throwing at it more, or less, of one of its three component colors it is calibrated for; digital is also affected. Add artificial light to the mix and a photograph will no longer even be posing as truthful.” While keeping the work visually consistent, Avakian explores ideas of truth and its relationship to technology, as well as landscape and solitude.

Katama Plains

While he may not be able to define his place in art just yet, his definition of success is unambiguous. “I think of success by how much I love what I am doing. To do something for the sake of just doing it, that’s when I am the most happy. You can try to define it monetarily, but in my experience trying to define it in those terms is just not the same.” 

Standing at Guard

A Moment in Time Between Night and Day is part of The Kiernan Gallery’s second annual Portfolio Showcase, and was on view July 3 to July 27, 2013.