January 12 – February 26, 2023
Artist Reception – 14 January, 2023 4 to 6pm
When I was invited to browse the digital archives of Arthur Griffin’s work at the Boston Public Library and juxtapose any six of his shots with six photos of my own in a “then and now” scenario, I didn’t anticipate how enjoyable, educational and creative the experience would be.
Arthur was a prolific chronicler of New England life (8,000+ photos have been digitized, with more to come); many of the scenes he recorded in the first half of the last century were almost unchanged when I encountered the region as a student in the 1960’s—and some remain so today. His subjects were a mix of the prosaic (churches in snow), bizarre (underwear-clad men playing cards on a beach in the dead of winter) and curious (actor Bette Davis at her birthday party in Littleton, NH), so editing was a challenge.
I started in a general way with over 300 screen grabs of photos judged to be compelling in terms of graphics and subject matter, and that might align with my own work. I sorted these into 30 categories: parades, markets, fishing boats, fairs, farmers, politicians, streets, etc. Then I revisited each category with an eye to pairing my photos with Arthur’s. Since I have a rather “casual” filing system, this required recalling specific photos by title, then reviewing dozens of contact sheets (I shoot black and white film) to make sure I didn’t miss anything that could be a good fit. An added benefit: I rediscovered several shots that I disregarded years ago and that now looked pretty good.
In culling the pairs down to six as requested, I found I could align my work with Arthur’s in one of two ways: as identical subjects (e.g., both of us capturing kissing lovers) or as similar subjects with an ironic, humorous twist (e.g., Arthur’s photo of kissing lovers versus my shot of a young couple exuding extreme boredom). I chose the latter, hence the theme “Point / Counterpoint.”
I discovered the Griffin Museum years ago when I attended an exhibition of Arthur’s energetic photos of kids swimming and diving at a quarry. As a street photographer, I came away wishing I had taken those shots; his eye for composition and ability to capture the moment in a humanistic way were impressive. I have long admired Arthur’s work and it was an honor to participate in illuminating his archive.
About James Lustenader –
In French, a flâneur is an observer, someone who ambles through a city seemingly without purpose yet attuned to the place and in search of personal experience. And a flâneur with a camera and an inquisitive eye can become a street photographer, as I have been for decades, seeking to capture some of the subtle, unguarded bits of theater that make up people’s daily lives. Street photography refers as much to a style as to a place: the photos are candid, unplanned and, ideally, reflective of stories that can be found in the everyday. I focus on moments that evoke the humor, beauty, irony or absurdity of being human; people’s expressions, dress, body language and relationships to surroundings, plus the contrast between darkness and brightness, are some of what I look for to create narratives that appeal to the viewer’s imagination. Having an element of drama in a shot adds interest, so I also seek a measure of visual tension that will stimulate engagement with the subject.