Now more than ever, we are witnessing a surge in documentary photography. So much of our life changes so quickly, that without the visual document of transformation, we fail to notice what is happening around us. We are left to wonder when that change occurred and ask ourselves, what did we miss? Jeanne Widmer noticed the changes in her local village, and started documenting the change, resulting in her Atelier portfolio, Ode to a Town Village.
About the series –
Ode to a Town Village was inspired almost three years ago when I first started taking pictures of a sprawling three- and four story–development in a relatively small, mostly single-story village in Belmont. While the demolished area was in serious need of upgrading, the massive scale, snail-like progress, and disruption of the construction over four years and still unfinished has seriously hurt the many small businesses struggling to stay afloat in the area.
In 2005 a developer proposed to town officials that they level two blocks of underused storefronts in Cushing Square, one of Belmont’s three town villages, to construct four oversized buildings for 100 upscale apartments, office space, and commercial use, ironically called Belmont Village. By 2013 the Planning Board approved the final design of a development which has crowded neighborhood homes, blocked parking, sidewalks and streets, and driven out some of the area’s remaining intimate small businesses. Nearly three years ago I began photographing the snail-like progress of this construction. Stalled by lawsuits and finances as in a Dickens novel, the endless construction of these massive box-like buildings with their incongruous and pretentious architectural facades has forever altered the experience of most townspeople. This series is my attempt to capture the clash of history and cultures, the dimensions, textures and mood, and the simple poetic dignity and warmth of an intimate community, which might forever be lost.
The series was more difficult than I had originally anticipated. The construction is across the street from the stores, making the angle of contrasting sizes and architectural styles nearly impossible to capture without an aerial view. Finding the right lighting was another issue: the compelling photographic details of the small businesses were more visible in the evening, while the construction at the same hour was too hidden and appeared almost romantic, especially since it sat in near darkness. I settled on a single black and white photo of one of the three buildings taken at slightly after mid day to capture the vivid lighting highlighting the details of the building. In the exhibit it is significantly larger than the other photos
What do you hope we as viewers take away from viewing your work?
While development and change have been going on since the beginning of time, there is no question that some are steps forward and others less so. What I hope viewers can appreciate in this series is the simple dignity, warmth and beauty that such small businesses bring to a community even while relentless “progress”—sometimes harsh and colorless–continues its resolute push forward despite the consequences.
How the Atelier has helped you hone your vision as an artist?
The Atelier has given me an opportunity to explore subjects and themes not always comfortable or easy. Under the regular guidance of a skilled and talented photographer/instructor as well as the feedback from talented class members, I have been encouraged to grow and expand my repertoire, no matter how difficult.
Tell us what is next for you creatively.
While I was hoping to develop my interest in photographing people, with the virus I may now seek to stretch myself in other ways. I am deeply grateful to Griffin’s Atelier experience to continue this exploration, no matter where it takes me.
About Jeanne Widmer –
Growing up in Rhode Island shaped Jeanne Widmer’s attraction to worn urban locations and friendly, neighborhood businesses. An educator, counselor and writer, Widmer, from Belmont, Massachusetts, has studied photography at the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Griffin Museum and the New England School of Photography. Besides many group exhibits, she has had two solo exhibits, one which captured the vibrancy, color and dark expectancy of a single screen movie theater and another which highlighted the subtle drama and dignity of an historic, working class group of businesses. She exhibited with the Atelier 29th class at the Griffin Museum of Photography focusing on portraits.
Find her online on Instagram @WidmerJeanne