Ross School - Senior Project 2007-08
Mentor: Alexis Martino
Title: Ways of Being
Environments change, as do the people who live in them from generation to generation. I have photographed a small group of people who's lives are intertwined with the landscape of the east end. In particular, the ocean and farmland. As inhabitants of Long Island their professions define our home. My photo essay is a portrait of a way of life that looks at the relationship between the past, present and future and what defines our community in this age of globalization and changing environments. What I found most fascinating was how a sense of place created my subjects identity. My final body of work looks at the connection between land and people.
In creating this body of work I focused on doing traditional documentary photography. I photographed local icons, such as the ferry that transports people and cars daily from Shelter Island to North Haven, a family of local boat builders, a 4th generation fisherman, and a father and son who are 5th generation Shelter Islanders scalloping. As well as a local organic farmer. I used a 35mm camera and a medium format camera. I chose to use a medium format camera for the portraits. I also used a separate back drop to compare their identity when working with the land, verses being in a blank space. I aimed at capturing their defining features. I used tri-x film and I traditionally processed and printed my images. My final images are 16”x20” and 11”x14” silver gelatin prints. I dry-mounted and framed my images. These 18 photographs are selected from a larger body of work.
From the beginning I knew I wanted to do photography and I initially proposed a project in the spring focused on the question of, what do you want to be when you grow up, and looking at the relationship between kids and adults. I didn't do any shooting over the summer and when I started in the fall everything I did at first wasn't very good at all. There was no real feeling or direction behind what I was shooting. And after a couple of unsuccessful shoots I began to look at what it really means to be a documentary photographer.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” - Elliott Erwit
When I began to dig for the meaning of documentary photography it was quotes like these that helped me understand what it is that I wanted to do and how I might achieve it. So much of the work that I find moving and inspirational come from the work of photographers who are spending a lot of their time in war torn third world countries, places that are not easily accessible. And that going somewhere like that wasn't very realistic. So Erwitts quote helps me realize that there are always interesting things going on around us, its just matter of weather or not we choose to see them. I began to look at other photographers and began to realize that I had to challenge myself if I wanted to come out with something good.
For inspiration I spent a of of time looking at many different photographers like Gary Night and Eugene Richards and the galleries on photoeye.com. But through out this process three photographers really stuck out at me. James Nachtwey, Jon Edwards and Ellen Susan.
In Jon Edwards photography I began to really see potential for myself and the opportunities that I had around me. Jon Edwards has done a lot of work on an Island off the coast of Maine. He was intrigued by the men who continue to live simples lives of increasingly difficult traditional lifestyles. He says that the images demonstrate the, “Once organic, symbiotic relationship between human communities and natural conditions.” He also wants his images to be a celebration of the human life and the connection that still exists between some people and the natural world. And the title of one of his photo essays, "A Way of Being" stuck with me.
Another photographer that I came across was Ellen Susan. She did a series of photographs entitled Soldier Portraits. She was interested in creating an identity for the soldiers within in their uniforms but beyond what we see in the newspapers and television. She really wanted to make them the individuals that they are and to have the world see that. Her images portray so much emotion and I knew that after seeing these that I had to include portraiture in whatever I was going to do.
Brian is a local 3rd generation fisherman that I photographed, he was my first shoot. I did a lot of shooting on the South Ferry, more then anywhere else. There was so much to shoot and so many different people to shoot. But that was also a challenge because I didn't want to shoot all the different people doing the same thing which was really easy to do because the ferry is only so big. But shooting at the ferry so much really allowed me to develop my story there. I Spent the second most amount of time with the Langeland's in their Greenport boat yard. The first time I went there to shoot I was afraid of getting in their way and was almost uncomfortable in front of the camera. It was like I was staring over every time I went to shoot someone new. Everyones comfort level in front of the camera is different, and in some cases I felt like didn't know what the boundaries were but everyone always got used to it, including myself. So that was interesting in terms of learning how to respect people space but also allowing myself to get the images I wanted. Joey and Sawyer Clark were a lot of fun to shoot. Joey is the father of three who is very adamant about passing on his love and family tradition of being in the outdoors but he also seemed to almost feel bad that he was passing something on that isn't a sustainable life style anymore. We were out on the boats for about three hours and in that time he and his son, who were on their two separate boats only caught two scallops. I spent the least amount of time shooting Scott Chaskey. He was someone form the beginning that I wanted to shoot, but like with most of the people I was shooting they did their work during the daylight hours which were mostly the hours I was in school. So trying to schedule in shooting time for all the of the people was hard.
The portraiture aspect didn't come into play until a short while after I started shooting. I had to figure out what I was going to use as a backdrop. So I went to the five and ten in sag harbor and looked at all their different fabrics and eventually decided on a dark denim. Being unfamiliar with portraiture I had no idea how it was going to turn out. So then I had to figure out how I was going to travel with it. I decided to attach one side of the fabric to long piece of wood and then roll the rest of the fabric around it when I was traveling with it.
Also for shooting the portraits I decided to use a medium format camera as apposed to the 35mm one I was using for the action shots.
A serious issue that Ikea posed for me was the frame size. When I had started printing I decided that to save some money by not matting all of my images and that for the action shots I would print to the image to the frames size and use that black border. But I soon realized that the smaller frames size was 11”3/4x15”3/4, some bizarre size like that. They don't make paper that size and the 11”x14” paper was to small to fill it out. So I had to hand cut using the rodatrim in the darkroom pretty much half of the paper I used for the entire project. It was very time consuming and ate up a lot of my time.
Taking a persons portrait is completely different then moving around and taking the action shots. It was two completely different skills to learn. Its a different kind of patience and also a different kind of interaction between the person in the picture and the person taking the picture.
When coming up with a title for my my project the title of one of Jon Edwards Photo essays kept coming back to me... a way of being. I really liked that title but I didn't just want to take it like that, and then Ms. Lichtenstein and a couple of other people helped me realize that “A Way of Being” wasn't an appropriate title for my project, because its not about only one way of being, but many ways of being. And it was very satisfying to finally seeing everything up on all the wall all together on the show night.
Throughout the entire time I have been doing this project I have had trouble really defining what my project is about. The most obvious connection is that they all have to do with being outdoors. And a lot of them look at this idea of passing on these traditions of manual labor, but not all of them. What I think it comes down to is the connection between the land and people and the effect of the environment on what they do. It also has to do with an appreciation for the relationship that still exists.
Bank, Susan. Campo Adentro series. 2003. Viewed Oct
Calhoun, Paul. Georgian Photographs. 2003. Viewed 10 Oct 2007. < .
Cambon, Claudio. Shipbreak: A Biology of Steel. 1998. Viewed 10 Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/index.cfm?image=1&id=55259&imagePosition=>.
Chaskey, Scott. In person interview. 15 Jan. 2008.
Coles, Robert. Doing Documentary Work. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Dilbeck, Prerry. The Last Harvest. 1998. Viewed Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/index.cfm?image=1&id=36382&imagePosition=>.
Edwards, Jon. A Life. 2006. Viewed 10 Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/index.cfm?image=1&id=196361&imagePosition>.
Edwards, Jon. A Way of Being. 2003. Viewed 10 Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/index.cfm?image=1&id=196361&imagePosition>
Gearon, Tierney. Daddy, Where Are You? Steidldangin publishing, 2006.
Gorman, Jennifer. In person conversation. 29 Nov. 2007.
Hilliard, David. Photographs. New York: Aperture Foundation publishing, 2005.
Johnson, Stella. Caribbean Coast, Nicaragua. 2003. Viewed
10 Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/
Lichtenstein, Therese. In person conversation. 26 Nov. 2007.
Lichtenstein, Therese. In person conversation. 10 Jan. 2008.
McLaughlin, Kathleen L. The Color of Hay: Maramures,
Romania. 2000. Viewed 10 Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/
Morehead, Nicholas. Recorded in person interview. 9 Jan. 2008.
Soldier Portraits. 2003. Viewed Oct 2007. <http://photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/
War Photographer. Christian Frei. DVD. Christian Frei Filmproductions, 2001.
Community Member (Details)
Jenny Gorman is a local photographer who works at Applied Arts in Amagansett. Jenny made some helpful suggestions and looked over my work throughout the project. She looked over a lot of my contact sheets and pointed out some images I would not have otherwise printed.