Photo Nights Boston & The NEPR Showcase

(Shooting in the Dark, Phillip Jones)

My friends over at Photo Nights Boston have asked me to contribute to their PNB blog as the team starts ramping up for the launch of their public Arts initiative in 2013. I was given loose instructions to share things with PNB readers that interest me about photography(ers) in the Boston area–those are definitely parameters I think I can work with.

Admittedly, I am somewhat of a photography novice and my technical skills are as far-reaching as choosing the best Instagram filter to capture the right ‘mood’ of my breakfast omelette. Valencia? or Hefe? Hefe. But, I hope to compensate for my inexperience in the field with an insatiable curiosity, countless questions, and a desire to uncover their answers with readers. I plan on interviewing photographers who inspire me, reflecting on do-not-miss exhibitions in the area, and demystifying a few of the many photographic techniques that leave me bewildered.

For my inaugural post on PNB I wrote about my experience at the NEPR Showcase at Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center. Definitely a must-see for the image conscious crowd. Read more after the jump!


(Rail Lines, Shaun O’Boyle)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening reception for the New England Portfolio Review(NEPR) Showcase at Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center(PRC). The exhibit highlights the work of six local photographers whose pieces were selected by the PRC Staff for their excellence in craftsmanship and artistic voice. Featured artists included Beth HankesPhillip JonesAnita Licis-RibakShaun O’BoyleDavid Ricci, and David Torcoletti.

This was my first visit to the PRC and I was immediately taken by the Center’s layout and how conducive it was to showcasing the photographic medium. Carefully considered lighting and strategic partitions invite the exhibition of large format photos as well as carefully curated clusters(C³) of smaller grouped works. As you make your way through the galleries and shifting vantage points, it’s almost as if behind every corner a new surface comes into focus –suddenly springing to life.

(Soldiers, David Torcoletti)

While this particular event boasted the work of six artists, I spoke with Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, the Program & Exhibition Manager of the PRC who explained how the Center is accustomed to curating larger shows in the space as well, like 100+ pieces larger.

“The PRC hosts its annual Student Exhibition every spring, during which we feature the photography programs from all of our Institutional Members, approximately 20 schools in the Boston metro area. This past spring our gallery held 129 pieces of work for the 2012 PRC Student Exhibition, which is pretty intense considering our average solo shows only contain 20-40 pieces. It’s obviously a huge undertaking to present a show of this magnitude in our small gallery, but the exhibit contacts from each school make the process so much smoother. We work very closely with our Institutional Members throughout the year, and all the students at these schools really look forward to having the opportunity to display their work in a real, professional gallery.”

(Time Still and Letters Between the (Coast) Lines, Anita Licis-Ribak)

In chatting with Erin and some of the featured artists at the reception, I learned more about the background and logistics behind an event like the NEPR Showcase.  I never realized just how intense and potentially career-defining the portfolio review process truly was.

FLUX. Portfolio Review Process Cliffs Notes:

1.) Photographers submit their works (for a fee) to be reviewed by an esteemed member(or 2+) of the image industry.

2.) Applicants read over the list of reviewers, and select a few different individuals(1st, 2nd,..10th choice) they would like to present their work to.

2.5) ..and pray their favorites aren’t booked up.

3.) Set up a time to meet and select a few pieces to show-carefully considering their audience.

4.) Photographers showcase their work and sell themselves during a 30 minute session with reviewers, while still allowing enough time during this brief window for feedback.

No pressure. It sounds stressful, but I soon discovered how the portfolio review is a crucial opportunity for photographers:

“The NEPR is an opportunity for emerging and established photographers to meet with curators, educators, gallerists, and other image professionals to receive feedback on work presented. It assists individuals who are just embarking on their careers and those who have several years of experience and are hoping to reach new audiences by initiating connections with leading figures in the vibrant New England photography world. “

I imagine the potential of launching your career or improving your craft is an allure that keeps masochistic photographers coming back for more.

Out of the six selected artists, the standout of the evening for me was Cambridge artist Beth Hankes, who created Unrelenting Silence, an imposing yet graceful installation comprised of 24 separate panels whose grandeur commanded a prominent corner of the main gallery.

(Unrelenting Silence, installation shot by Beth Hankes)

“This installation documents what is felt during the arc of passionate experience, that which is only visceral, but still familiar. What begins as something unruly and beautifully consuming turns into disillusion. The connection dissolves—not in an instant, but many—affection segments and shatters, joy recedes, pain surges. After the fallout, looking back, the memories become hazy. Some disappear, but others remain, still blurred but insistent, obsessive, and silent.”

The tension between forms in Unrelenting Silence, accentuated by plays on light and shadow across musculature, helped create a fervently carnal yet ethereal composition.

“My visual inspiration come from sculptors like Rodin and Bernini, though the emotional inspiration is always far more personal. I am fascinated by how pervasive memory and fantasy are, and I try to visualize the aspects of lust, ecstasy, and despair that often accompany both memory and fantasy. The physical form is both actor and stage in my mind.”

One thing I found laudable about Beth’s work aside from it’s aesthetic qualities, was her decision to transform the piece into a site-specific installation, a format that enhanced the narrative and sentiment behind her original photograph.

(Original photo used in Unrelenting Silence installation, Beth Hankes)

“I find that I have a hard time expressing the emotions that inspire this work in a single image. This installation is a reflection on experience, and experience doesn’t occur in single moments – it’s a stretch of time. So why not convey that through multiple photos that echo the piecemeal, yet continuous nature of memory?”

I learned a great deal from my experience at the NEPR Showcase. Having access to, and speaking with the participating photographers gave me the same feeling I often derive from attending an Open Studios event. For me, learning about a craft from artists firsthand is like reliving that moment when you realized you could Google off-the-cuff questions instead of having to crawl into your parent’s basement and blow the dust off an old encyclopedia Britannica–a time when laziness left so many things unanswered. I don’t care about the eating habits of Coatimundi THAT much.

(Edge of Chaos, David Ricci)

It was nice to spend an evening amongst the self-proclaimed “photo geeks”. There were many new faces, a few old ones, and very little esoteric “F-Stop” and “favorite aperture setting” chatter. Everyone was warm and welcoming and I think many of the attendees, including myself, could have waxed poetically all night, but as the get-the-hell-out-of-here lights began to flicker, I knew it was time to make my graceful exit.

Fortunately for those who missed the opening night, the NEPR Showcase will be on view through August 25th at the PRC, a few steps away from BU’s 808 Gallery. So get your local art fix at Boston University’s Campus this summer before the throngs of doe-eyed students equipped with iEverything descend upon the city to clog the Green line receive a top-notch education. ♥


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