Whenever I’m in Boston I make it a habit to check out the galleries on Harrison Ave. Near the Boston Herald head quarters, homeless shelter and methadone clinic there are a couple galleries that show photography. My favorite thing to do on a Saturday in Boston is to buy a Vietnamese sandwich in Chinatown ($3.25 and oh so delicious), get yelled at by junkies and check out some art. I think it was a year ago when Carrol and Sons had a show by my former teacher Nick Nixon. It was night architectural pictures shot with 11×14 inch view camera. Printed maybe 20×24, when you got up close to them you could look into windows and see ghostly images of people working late, or fiddling around in their apartments. To me, Nixon is the rock star of MassArts photo department, men (ME) want to be with him, and women want to fuck him (Even though he’s like 64!) He has this kind of quiet, intense menace about him, that scares and inspires me. He’s most famous for the Brown Sisters, photographs of his wife and her three sisters, shot once a year for about four decades. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I didn’t really understand, until one day, in my sophomore year, he laid out all the contact prints on a table in chronological order. You could walk forwards and see each one of the women age, or backwards and see them return to their youth. I don’t want to sound harsh about their looks, but it reminds me of time lapse photography you see in nature documentaries of dead animals, first bloating, growing thick grey moldy beards, then exploding with decay and flesh eating insects.
While the ‘Brown Sisters’ is the tag line he will probably always be known for, he’s done all sorts of stuff in the last 40 years, first gaining notoriety for his cool detached landscape pictures featured in the New Topographics show, or his simply (or terribly) titled People With Aids project. When I first met him he was taking photographs of people about to die in hospitals. The pictures are impeccable, beautiful B&W 8×10 contact prints, but to be honest, I personally found Nick Nixon the man more interesting than the work I’d seen, until I picked up a thin, ugly teal book of his at the Carrol and Sons show.
It was a revelation, Nixon was stalking the streets of Cambridge (And all over the country) in 1982 taking absolutely amazing pictures of people lounging on their porches, in the park, and in cramped apartments. All of life is out there on the front steps, fighting to get into his camera. I tried to buy the book, but the guy at the gallery said it was out of print and not for sale, I briefly considered knocking his ass down and just stealing it, but I didn’t think it would be a good career move. When I got home I found that there was (And actually still is) a bunch of copies for sale for less than $10 on Amazon’s used section. I ordered one, and ever since it has haunted me.
There are a lot of amazing pictures in this book that he so humbly reminds us he did all in just 12 months (The smug bastard!) but this one particular picture just drives me up the fucking wall. For a people photographer like me its just a cacophony of brilliance. I could have made like 8 pictures from this one frame and been pretty pleased with myself, but he has the audacity to show this whole whirlwind of human emotions revolving around one unpleased, tight lipped girl. One time in a early Monday morning class, he singled me out and asked me “Eddy whats the difference between you and me?” and I said with a sigh that “You have this whole mystical aura” everybody laughed and he just kind of stared at me with that calm vaguely menacing bespectacled face of his. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but now I like to think of it as a challenge. He had seen what I was doing with a 4×5 on some of his old stomping grounds and (I hope) saw some of the spark of genius that he had almost 30 years before. Photographs from One Year is the yard stick I measure my work by, and while I’m not there yet, he was 35 when he made the pictures for that incredible book, I’m turning 25 next week so I still have some time to beat the master at his own game.
Now I probably shouldn’t have showed you Hyde Park Avenue, Boston, 1982 and then followed it with my own lesser work, but in one way I got Nick Nixon beat (If only on my own blog) here are Photographs from one Day (Actually around 10 hours 4PM-2 AM)
In a not so subtle scheme to illicit a portfolio review and perhaps a (Pipe Dream) spot in a group show I’ve been photographing gallery owners and other people in the local art world. Its times like these I realize that the camera is my crutch for engaging people, I may not look terribly sophisticated but with a camera over my shoulder I feel like I have a foot in the door and a ice breaker with anyone, anywhere. I hope that a impromptu portrait sitting will lead to a pleasing picture emailed to them and be a memorable calling card. “Who took this brilliant photo of you Arlette? Oh Eddy Pula, and here’s his website very interesting… I should probably give him a bunch of money” is how it goes down in my dreams. It hasn’t worked so far but…
I’ve always wanted to try taking pictures of people at night, I tried it once or twice but last weekend I tried in earnest, and I got one great picture the woman with the lighting earrings from the last post, so this weekend I drove in to Boston very keen on doing it in Alston. I’ve never been much for night life, I hate going to crowded bars blasting shitty music and trying to talk to people over the din while sipping a $5 pabst, I’m more into drinking whiskey and chain smoking around the kitchen table with friends kind of guy, so it was very interesting to go out stone cold sober (photography is already hard enough without being intoxicated) and be among my blasted peers till closing time.