The Photography of Ansel Adams Is Coming to the MFA

Originally published on bostonmagazine.com

The work of legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams is set to go on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in a new exhibition titled Ansel Adams in Our Time. The exhibition will include around 100 Adams photographs alongside works by the 19th century photographers who influenced him and contemporary artists who followed in his footsteps.

The Adams photographs on display will include notable works spanning his entire career, from his beginnings capturing the dramatic landscapes of the West to his time in San Francisco documenting urban sprawl and the Depression. The famous snow-tipped peaks of 1942’s “The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming” will be featured prominently in the exhibition, as will “Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles,” which was made some 25 years later.

The MFA decided to expand upon a 2005 Adams show to celebrate the recent gift of over 450 of his photographs, this time bringing the iconic artist into the modern day and contextualizing the lasting impact he had on landscape photography.

“It’s roughly the same sized show, but the emphasis is very different,” says the show’s curator, Karen Haas, who currently serves as the Lane Curator of Photographs for the MFA. “He’s this phoenix-like character, and knowing where he was coming from and who he admired seemed so much more interesting than redoing the show we did earlier and just looking at his career in a thematic, chronological way.”

The exhibition will primarily be organized around Yosemite National Park and the American Southwest, which are the areas where Adams first picked up the camera and began his career in the 1920s. It places his early work in the context of 19th century government survey photographers like Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, who shot some of the same views as Adams and inspired him to expand upon their ideas.

As for the contemporary photographers on display, Haas wanted to focus on artists who took inspiration from Adams’ subject matter and technique, but added their own visual or emotional perspective. Some artists included in the exhibition are more clearly connected to Adams than others, but Haas stresses that they are all “in conversation” with his work somehow, whether thematically, aesthetically, or technically.

On the surface, these contemporary artists deal with many of the same issues as Adams: vast untouched wilderness, land rights, natural resources, urban sprawl, and the human impact on the land. But they all bring a unique perspective that isn’t found in the photography of Adams or his predecessors.

“The photographers I chose for that space were virtually all foreign-born,” says Haas. “I think that says something about the national park as a symbol of America. As Americans it’s something we take more for granted, but for foreign-born photographers it seems to have another layer of meaning.”

A good example of this is Binh Danh, a Vietnamese photographer who came to America from what was then Saigon with his family in the 1970s. Danh uses daguerreotypes, a 19th century process that produces images with silvery, reflective surfaces, to capture the national parks of the Southwest. The resulting images allow the viewer to see themselves reflected in the vast, otherwise empty landscape.

Another featured artist is Abelardo Morell, a Cuban-born contemporary photographer who taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for many years. Morell brought a massive tent into the wilderness to create a makeshift darkroom and fixed it with a high-quality digital camera, a periscope, and a mirror. This allowed him to capture some of the same views that Adams photographed and project them onto the ground under the tent, resulting in more impressionistic landscapes in which the cracks in the pavement and terrain under the tent are clearly visible in the photograph.

Haas also focused on including as many women in the exhibition as possible in order to debunk the longstanding belief in the photography world that the Western landscape was the domain of the white male photographer. She highlighted in particular the work of Laura McPhee and Victoria Sambunaris, both of whom capture stark, beautiful landscapes in their work.

McPhee is an environmental photographer who looks at the aftermath of human-caused forest fires and the plant life that begins to take hold after they pass. Sambunaris revisits many of the same sites that Adams shot and captures them in massive, high-definition color prints, some of which stretch up to eight feet across.

Haas also hopes to include a live stream of Yosemite National Park from the viewpoints that Adams documented in his work. Visitors to the exhibition will see the national park as it is at that very moment, and if they stay long enough, they’ll see the light change and move across the valley.

“When we say ‘In Our Time,’ we literally mean the day you’re there,” she says.

The exhibition attempts to impress upon the viewer not just the singular nature of Adams’ work, but also the astounding visual legacy that he left on the collective consciousness of the country, often without us even realizing it.

“For many of us who might never go to some of these places… when we conjure up Yellowstone National Park, the view we conjure up is actually an Ansel Adams photograph,” said Haas.

City of Boston Presents Artist Fellowship to Five Local Artists

It is a good year to be an emerging artist in Boston. As part of its ongoing Boston Creates program, the city has started an annual Artist Fellowship that awards $10,000 per person to five local artists working in a variety of media. The winners were chosen by a jury of local arts leaders from a pool of 304 applications submitted from all across the city.

This year’s recipients were announced on October 11 and included Roslindale trumpeter and composer Jason Palmer, documentary filmmaker and Boston University professor Mary Jane Doherty, Roxbury artist Michelle Fornabai, performance artist Marilyn Arsem, and Dariel Suarez, a Brighton-based author who is currently working on his second novel.

Suarez, age 34, thinks he heard about the Artist Fellowship from one of his fellow staff members at GrubStreet, a creative writing center located in downtown Boston. Suarez works there full-time planning writing courses and often picks up teaching gigs on the side to make ends meet and continue writing his own work. He is hoping that this award will allow him to take a step back from teaching and focus on his novel, which will deal with the intersection of political dissidence and art in his native Cuba.

“It’s a huge help because I’m a writer with a full-time job,” Suarez said. “This really reduces the amount of extra work that I would have to take on in order to focus on the actual writing. Otherwise I would have to claw and scrape to find time to write.”

One of the biggest goals of the Artist Fellowship was to make it accessible to as many people as possible, no matter their specific discipline or background. According to Julie Burros, Boston’s Chief of Arts and Culture and the main organizer of the fellowship, the application process was specifically designed to place each distinct genre of art on a level playing field and designate at least one grant for each discipline. In an effort to make the process more inclusive, applicants were only required to have lived in Boston for three years in order to be eligible for the award. The city also accepted applications in six different languages and allowed applicants who were not fluent in English to submit a video of themselves describing their work in their native language in place of a resumé.

Suarez, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1997, is excited that the city is recognizing the talents of all of its inhabitants.

“I noticed there were different language options and there was a lot of focus on different neighborhoods in the city, and I think that’s really important moving forward because Boston has a lot more diversity than people think,” he said. “I’m really glad they’re putting the tools out there for people to get access to this kind of support.”

Unlike many grants of its kind, the Artist Fellowship is not specific to any particular project, but rather leaves it up to the artist to decide how they spend the money. Mary Jane Doherty, another recipient of the fellowship, is planning on using the funding to get a professional sound mix on a film she is working on about the Boston Children’s Choir. She feels that getting a professional sound mix is one of the largest barriers of entry for independent filmmakers, and the higher production value would allow her to get more exposure at festivals than she has for most of her thirty year career.

“No filmmaker can afford the equipment that you need for a mix, and most filmmakers are not engineers, so there are a lot of arcane things you have to deal with,” Doherty said. “I’m excited to use this for a project where sound is the storyteller.”

The framework of the fellowship is the result of years of careful planning by the city’s Office of Arts and Culture.

“We looked at the structures of several different kinds of fellowship grant programs and decided that we wanted to have as few strings attached as possible,” Chief Burros said. “In the end we’re not funding a project, we’re funding a person.”

The award’s only stipulation is that each artist is responsible for collaborating with the city on bringing their work to the people of Boston in some way.

“The idea for Boston is, ‘How can we support our artists, and how can they support us?’” Doherty said. “So there’s an expectation that you’ll take your work and find ways to engage with the public, particularly kids and young people.”

Dariel Suarez feels that the city’s loose approach to the award is a huge vote of confidence for struggling artists starting out in Boston. For many, this kind of fellowship program is a welcome change of pace from the typical world of arts funding that is so dominated by museums or big foundations like the National Endowment for the Arts. There are very few opportunities for emerging artists who are independent from those organizations to get funding. According to Burros, one of the foremost goals of the Artist Fellowship was to combat this problem and make funding accessible to talented creators in the city who are not necessarily attached to a big name foundation or museum.

“If you can prove your dedication to your art, I think it’s important for the city to say, ‘We want you to stay here, we want you to produce work here, and we want you to succeed as an artist,’” said Suarez. “And the way that we pay that back is by representing the city in our work.”

“There is almost no funding for individuals, and that’s often where the really cool things come from,” Mary Jane Doherty said. “The fact that you don’t have to prove your connection with another organization is a very rare gift.”

Burros says they have the funding to continue the fellowship for the foreseeable future, and they have no plans to stop. She hopes that the Artist Fellowship and other programs like it can encourage new artists to develop their craft here and show them that Boston will continue to support them for as long as they are making art.

 

 

 

Jamaica Plain Artists Fight to Save Their Studios

 

Testimonials from artists working on Brookside Avenue in Jamaica Plain.

 

It was a bright afternoon in late September and Jamaica Plain’s Brookside Avenue was alive with activity. Birds were chirping, bubbles floated through the air from a humming machine on the sidewalk, and a small crowd had gathered for the 120 Brookside Farewell Fest, an open gallery event with live music, food, and drink. The event was a celebration of the building that housed a group of artists’ studio spaces for decades but is now being torn down by the city in favor of a luxury condo development. But it was also the launch of a new advocacy group called Brookside Artists that is hoping to raise awareness about the need to preserve spaces like theirs in Jamaica Plain.

The condo development on Brookside Avenue is part of a large-scale redevelopment effort being carried out by the city in this area. One of the goals of the project is to convert light industrial sections of the neighborhood where artists have traditionally lived and worked into residential areas.  As a result, many artists have already been priced out of their studios or forced to move to make way for entirely new structures.

“Artists came down here to Jamaica Plain back when nobody else would and sort of colonized the place, and we’re the first ones on the chopping block based on the fact that we  don’t historically have any real power economically. It’s just a case of the bottom line being the bottom line,” said Brendan Killian, one of the leaders of Brookside Artists. “So we’ve decided to rally our forces and try to stop it from happening.”

Killian is an oil painter who has worked at 128 Brookside Avenue for over 25 years. When he heard that 120 Brookside, the collection of studio spaces and galleries just next door, had been bought and scheduled for demolition, he knew he had to do something. The artists who worked in the two buildings formed their own little community, often collaborating and helping to promote each other’s work, and from that community came Brookside Artists.

“For us it’s about artists having a right to live and work in Jamaica Plain. Local politicians and the mayor talk about having neighborhoods in Boston with large cultural zones and artist galleries. But at the same time, the current policies and the market are pushing us out,” said Clive Moloney, a sculptor based at 120 Brookside. “Since the building has been sold, we’ve kind of pulled together. Before that it was just about making art, that’s all that really matters to us.”

However, when the proposal came before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Zoning Committee this summer, almost every attendee at the crowded July 19 meeting was in favor of it.

“Part of what happened in this case is the developer came in with a Memorandum of Understanding about things like putting in a privacy fence and whether or not they were going to keep the trees on the property,” Zoning Committee Chairman Dave Baron said. A Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, is a document signifying the developer’s intent to heed some of the community’s demands about a project. “Typically, if there are things a developer can do to satisfy the neighborhood, they will.”

This left the majority of attendees convinced in favor of the project from the outset. In an attempt to win over the remaining holdouts, most of whom were artists, the developer also suggested allocating some of the proposed residential units as live-work spaces that are zoned to function as both workspaces and housing. However, these spaces failed to meet the needs of the artists who have worked on Brookside Avenue for years.

“The space that we’re in now is a workspace only. A lot of artists in this building can’t make the kind of work that they’re making in live-work spaces. When you talk to the greater Boston community, when you talk to government officials, they all offer live-work spaces and say, ‘This is what we can do,’” Brian Wilson said. Wilson is a photographer who uses pinhole cameras to capture light field images and then mounts them on patterned sculptures, something he needs the wide-open space of his studio on the second floor of 128 Brookside to do properly.

When met with opposition on the live-work spaces, the developer finally settled on building three small commercial spaces on the property in addition to the residential units. These proposed commercial spaces would be vastly more expensive than the current rent at 120 Brookside, and despite the developers offering to hold a lottery to allow a potential tenant to occupy one of the spaces at reduced rent, the artists displaced by the project would be unable to afford them.

“At that point the artists who showed up at the meeting were somewhat resigned to it. They saw it as the best they were going to get,” Baron said. “If we had been more alert about the preservation of artist spaces then maybe there could have been a better result here.”

Beyond any hope of saving their building, the displaced artists of 120 Brookside have begun to search for new locations to work from. Unfortunately, the city’s ongoing redevelopment efforts have made it almost impossible to find space with affordable rent in the area. According to Moloney, many of them are even considering relocating to Hyde Park, the next suburb past Jamaica Plain, for its relatively untapped housing market. But abandoning Jamaica Plain is their last resort, and those who have been displaced are still working tirelessly with their neighbors at 128 Brookside to raise awareness about their situation and salvage what is left of the artist community in the neighborhood they love.

“Ultimately what we’re talking about is the death of the art culture in Jamaica Plain. It’s really that critical in my mind,” Killian said. “If we are able to rally ourselves to the point where we relocate or find some stability, some stable place to work, I would absolutely include in that a space where younger artists can come, either at very low cost or for free. Otherwise, there won’t be anyone to take our place, and that’s essential.”

“This space is like a second home to most of the artists here,” said Wilson. “It’s a community outside of our home. It’s a place where we can come and create our work, but also think and visualize what’s next. And without spaces like this, I don’t know where we’re going to be.”

 

 

 

 

 

Live Review: LVL UP are the boyband America needs in the 21st Century

Originally published on Vanyaland

 

LVL UP are the great American boyband.

Or, at least, that’s how they jokingly described themselves at the start of their set at the Middle East Upstairs on Thursday (October 5). After a few doses of their distinctive brand of fuzz rock, not one member of the spirited crowd would disagree.

Bolstered by a pair of phenomenal sets from openers Littlefoot and Loone, LVL UP kicked things off at the Cambridge club with “Hidden Driver,” the breakout hit from their most recent album that recalls the frantic strums and vocals of Neutral Milk Hotel. The band started the song with a slow, deliberate build-up, exchanging cheeky glances and withholding any melodies that could reveal which song they were about to play. When they finally exploded into the verse and guitarist Dave Benton started singing, all four members broke out into uncontrollable grins, as if they had reached the punchline of a joke that only they were in on.

Even after more than six years as a band, it makes sense that LVL UP would be this excited to play. After all, they have had a pretty fortunate run since their formation while attending college at SUNY Purchase. Exhausted from years spent grinding away in New York’s DIY scene, LVL UP was on the verge of calling it quits when representatives of the indie giant Sub Pop caught a few tour dates following their beloved 2014 album Hoodwink’d. Charmed, the Seattle label offered to release their follow-up, the critically-acclaimed 2016 full-length Return to Love.

Now when LVL UP perform, it’s as if they’ve been given a hall pass, a second chance to keep going and just have fun with it. This translates to a looseness on stage that energizes the crowd and lends a fun, imaginative flair to established hits like “I Feel Extra-Natural” and the all-out freneticism of “Blur.” But even at their most boisterous, the band’s underlying musicianship comes through to bring everything back together. This became especially evident on Return to Love standout “Pain,” when vocalist Mike Caridi stealthily replaced the bridge with a few lines from Elliott Smith’s “Roman Candle” before descending into a cacophony of pounding drums and squealing guitars.

When the four members of LVL UP looked up from their instruments to proclaim that the next song would be the last of the night, they seemed to share in the groan that rose from the audience, wishing they could keep playing forever. LVL UP have found themselves part of a long tradition of American guitar bands trying to forge a place for themselves among their ’90s heroes while they wait for their big break. But when they finally launched into “The Closing Door” and the crowd began to move again, it was easy to believe that they could be the band to carry that torch to great new heights.

You’re My Favorite Customer: the Coolidge Grapples with Midnight Screenings of The Room

Originally published on Vanyaland

 

The lights go off, the crowd roars, and the Wiseau Films logo appears on the screen. What follows is a 90 minute onslaught of gratuitous sex scenes, intoxicated 20-somethings yelling their favorite quotes in unison, and the offbeat delivery of eccentric star and director Tommy Wiseau. This is what happens when you attend a midnight showing of The Room, the 2003 cult classic that has been called “the best worst movie ever made.”

Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre has been hosting these screenings since 2007. In those 10 years, the screenings have grown from tiny audiences to sold-out theaters packed with rowdy diehards. These days they seem to be more about the experience of viewing the film in a packed room than the actual film itself, with the most rabid followers often drowning out the dialogue with their call-and-response references and inside jokes. Audiences have also started a tradition of throwing hundreds of plastic spoons at the screen whenever a particular framed picture of a spoon appears in the background.

“The rowdiness is part of the charm. That’s why you go to The Room, for the craziness of it,” says Brookline resident Garrett Stevens, who attended the most recent screening of The Room last month. “It’s a communal thing I think more than any other moviegoing experience.”

But that fun, communal environment often causes problems for the Coolidge staff.

“I’ve always had to do introductions to let people know they’re watching a bad film, and also to set up our expectations for the audience’s behavior,” Coolidge After Midnite curator Mark Anastasio says.

According to Anastasio, it is not uncommon for the staff to be picking up plastic spoons and popcorn until 3:30 a.m. They have also had problems with people throwing footballs in the crowd, yelling inappropriate or sexist things during the film, and bringing drugs and alcohol into the theater.

“As a film programmer I shouldn’t be complaining about a film that reliably brings sold-out audiences,” Anastasio adds. “One sold-out screening of The Room can fund two or three weeks of films that only bring in 30 to 50 people.”

However, almost 10 years of increasingly raucous screenings combined with a deteriorating relationship with Wiseau led the Coolidge to stop showing the film last year. But the film suddenly began making headlines again when it was announced that James Franco and Seth Rogen would be releasing a screen adaptation of The Disaster Artist in December, based on a novel written by Room co-star Greg Sestero about the making of the film and his friendship with Wiseau.

Sestero is a longtime patron of the Coolidge and even witnessed his first midnight screening of the film at the Brookline cinema many years ago, so the theater decided to support him by resuming monthly screenings of The Room this summer. They also hope to host a full script read through of The Room with Sestero in December and have members of the audience read characters’ parts.

While the newfound attention brought by The Disaster Artist will only expand the film’s audience, the future of The Room at Coolidge Corner Theatre is uncertain. According to Anastasio, they will continue the screenings for at least a few months after the new film is released, but beyond that, they will need to have a serious discussion about how they can continue to accommodate the crowds that it brings. One thing is certain though: As long as The Room is showing, there will be hundreds of eager fans lining up outside the theater to throw spoons during the best worst movie ever made.

Crumb deliver woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock on standout Locket EP

Originally published on Vanyaland: http://www.vanyaland.com/2017/07/10/new-sounds-crumb-deliver-woozy-jazz-inflected-indie-rock-on-standout-locket-ep/

After two years of traveling back and forth between New York and Boston to meet up and record, Crumb will finally be settling in Brooklyn this summer. But not before the quartet, which met and formed at Tuft University in Somerville a few years back, delivers one excellent parting gift in a new EP titled Locket.

On the surface, Crumb craft woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock that defies simple genre categorization. And Locket — their second EP in under a year and follow-up to 2016’s Crumb EP — marks the band’s most refined and consistent work to date.

Opening track “Plants” opens Locket with a shimmering guitar line and singer Lila Ramani’s description of a flimsy and somewhat saccharine relationship. That’s followed by “Recently Played,” which recalls Crumb’s earlier work with syrupy synths and jazzy percussion courtesy of drummer Jonathan Gilad. The bulk of the progression that Crumb achieves on Locket can be found in the final two tracks, with “Thirty-Nine” channeling the melodic psychedelia of early Tame Impala and the constant shifts of the title track and closer demonstrating the band’s rare combination of inventiveness and cohesion.

With the move to Brooklyn comes the promise of more consistent output and national touring, making Crumb a band to watch not only for us in the Northeast, but the rest of the country as well. Listen to the Locket EP via Soundcloud below.

Review: Pinegrove articulates youth, introspection, and experience on “Everything So Far”

everything so far

Everything So Far, the recently reissued debut from the ragged Montclair, New Jersey rock outfit Pinegrove, is more of a compilation than an album. Its whopping 21 songs account for over five years of work that was previously spread over multiple small releases until Boston label Run For Cover Records compiled and released it online in 2015. But despite its chronologically and thematically disparate nature, Everything So Far comes together to paint a beautifully cohesive picture of youth, introspection, and experience, and serves as a fitting precursor to Pinegrove’s critically acclaimed sophomore album Cardinal.

The album opens with “New Friends”, a track that was later repurposed as Cardinal’s closer. “New Friends” describes the feeling of isolation after letting old friendships fade and represents one of Pinegrove’s most anthemic songs to date. It also serves as a perfect introduction to the unassumingly brilliant lyricism of songwriter and bandleader Evan Stephens Hall. “New Friends” is followed by “Angelina”, a simple but affecting rock ballad that finds Hall’s rootsy twang musing about nostalgia and a codependent relationship. Some of the album’s most subtle instrumentation and introspective lyrics can be found two tracks later on “Need”, in which sparkling guitar notes rise out of the ether around impassioned acoustic strumming and uncertain vocals. On “Namesake”, Hall sings about self-doubt and the fear of being unable to express yourself with the lines “I’ve been trying to say, but these awful letters rearrange my name, my namesake”.

This is an example of what makes Pinegrove songs so effective; each one takes a specific thought or emotion, often those that are particularly rich and complex, and expresses them with concision and strikingly literate grace. On “Morningtime”, one of the album’s highlights, Hall manages to express the ethos of the project he has embarked upon with Pinegrove in the lines, “I’ve been trying to capture both ends of the splinter: the visible part between my fingernails and the part still in my finger,” and later, “Ever since I can remember, since the day before they split, I’ve been trying to capture some realm I don’t know yet”. The songs on this album are vastly different in tone, duration, and lyrical content, but each one allows the audience to occupy a particular emotional space, whether it be conversational or introspective, see that space the way Pinegrove does, and perhaps come to better understand how we engage with those emotions ourselves. Each piece in this 21-song missive of self-discovery contributes to a rich and explorative tapestry of human experience. Everything So Far follows Pinegrove on a journey to find their voice, one where every stop is meaningful and perfectly in place.

“Play Me, I’m Yours” Brings Music to the Streets of Boston

BOSTON — If you were strolling through the city of Boston this weekend chances are you stumbled upon one of the sixty street pianos that local artists individually painted and placed throughout the city. The pianos are part of an internationally touring artwork called “Play Me, I’m Yours” by British artist Luke Jerram that has come to over 50 cities worldwide.

The project first came to the city in 2013 and Celebrity Series Boston, a presenting organization that produces over 100 performance art pieces annually, has brought it back this fall. The street pianos opened on September 23 and will continue until October 10. Every piano is inscribed “Play Me, I’m Yours” and the artist’s signature.

“The first time we did the street pianos it was really one of the first public art installations of its kind to come to Boston,” said Gary Dunning, the President and Executive Director of Celebrity Series Boston. Dunning has devoted his life to facilitating the connection between artist and audience. He first saw “Play Me, I’m Yours” in London, and was so inspired by it that he decided to bring it to Boston. “It was such a success that we decided to bring it back again this year.”

Dennis Carr’s lively, multi-song performance at the piano at City Hall Plaza could be heard from a block away and attracted a small crowd Sunday afternoon.

“I’m glad they brought it back because it was really fun last time,” the 27-year-old Carr said. “It really builds a sense of community and allows people passing by to experience music in a way that wouldn’t normally be possible.”

On the same bright, breezy afternoon Carr performed at City Hall Plaza, Liam Morley, 36, could be found playing a soft, lilting ballad on the street piano at Old North Church. This particular piano was tucked away in a small square on the side of the church, off the beaten path of Boston’s touristy North End neighborhood.

“Each piano has its own artwork, its own sound, its own location,” Morley said. “I’ve played probably around 12 to 15 of them so far, and I’m going to try to play all of them if I can.”

As Morley played, the few people who passed by stopped for a moment and listened. But for the most part it was just him and the piano. He has been playing off and on for 25 years.

“It’s an art installation where the audience is the artist,” Morley said. “A lot of art installations are good to look at but it’s ‘look but don’t touch,’ whereas this invites everybody… to come and be a kid again or be an artist again.”

Dunning encourages everyone who is inspired by the street pianos to make art a daily experience, “because it really does make for a better life.”