January 9 – February 14, 2021
Virtual reception January 14, 7 PM
Program - Sunday, January 31, 2021. 4 pm - Panel 1 - Lou Jones, Gary Samson, Jessica Roscio and Thom Adams
Program - Sunday, February 14, 2021 4 pm- Panel 2 with Szari Bourque, Jean Gibran, Pat Nelson, David Herwaldt and Thom Adams
The exhibition Return to Riverrun at the Griffin Museum of Photography currently on view is the first major exhibition of John Brook’s photographs since the 1970s.
Below you will find an essay by John Brook himself that describes his ideas behind his photography and book, A Long the Riverrun. In addition, two essays by Jessica Roscio, executive director and curator at the Danforth Museum at Framingham State University provide information on John Brook’s life and Roscio’s thoughts on John Brook’s photographs. Following is information on the portfolio of photographs and a single color photograph produced by the John Brook Archive for purchase.
Join us for two very special panel discussions about the life and work of John Brook.
January 31, 2021 at 4pm – Panel with Lou Jones, Gary Samson, Jessica Roscio and Thom Adams
February 14, 2021 at 4pm – Panel with Thom Adams, Szari Lewis Bourque, Jean Gilbran, David Herwaldt and Pat Nelson.
Preface to A Long the Riverrun by John Brook
Nature dooms us to lives of solitude. One body holds one mind – one set of fears, joys, wounds, needs – and no matter how we try we can never ache, laugh, shudder or yearn in exact unison with another being. We are alone.
But solitude is not loneliness. It is one of the terms on which we accept life. (Another is that our lives have limits in time as well as space.) Solitude is a fact, without emotional color except that which we give it. Some beings accept their oneness and guard against unwelcomed invaders, creating their own ambience, spending their solitude wisely and thriftily, choosing carefully those with whom solitude may be blissfully shared. Those who in terror try to flee from solitude are desperately lonely; they spend their lives in crowds.
It is in loving and in making love that we come as close as we ever can to joining one being with another’s. If we cannot quite achieve identity and unison with another solitude, we can extend the limits of our own. The mind receives another set of senses, the heart another cupful of sorrow and joy. In becoming a half, we become more than a whole. In living beyond ourselves we also live beyond time; each half becomes a third, and our being enters yet another body that will outlive the two halves that made it.
Fantasy is the difference between what we have and what we want. We all dream constantly and we try only a little less constantly to make our dreams a part of what we call reality. We usually succeed; reality is merely the sum of dreams that have been made to come true. (That many of the dreams were bad ones means that the world needs not fewer dreamers but better ones!) Few of us settle for less than we want, although sometimes we confuse what we want with what others have. Why does anyone want less than a world of love?
Coleridge asked: “If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he woke – Ay! – and what then?”
Here are some of the flowers I have gathered in twenty years of traveling between the world others have dreamt and the paradise of my own dreams.
John Brook, 1924-2016
John Brook was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on August 29, 1924. His interest in photography manifested early. Entirely self-taught, Brook began taking and developing photographs when he was twelve years old, encouraged by his father. His first portrait was published in Mademoiselle in 1940.
After graduating from Harvard, Brook officially started his photographic career, opening a portrait studio on Newbury Street in 1946, where he lived for the next 40-plus years. This was a significant step for photography in Boston, a medium that was steadily increasing its presence in museum and gallery exhibitions and collections. Brook began showing his work in Boston’s Sidney Kanegis Gallery in 1955, and exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States and Europe in the first decades of his career.
In 1966 Brook was one of several photographers, including Jules Aarons, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro, and Minor White, to exhibit work in a group show at the reopening of the Carl Siembab Gallery on Newbury Street, where Brook showed frequently.
Brook was the inaugural exhibition in a newly designed gallery at the George Eastman House in 1961 and one of twenty photographers shown at the Kodak Pavilion of the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.
He served as the staff photographer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and received numerous portrait commissions, including Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Igor Stravinsky, Walter Gropius, and Eleanor Roosevelt, among many others. His photography appeared in Art in America, Modern Photography, Newsweek, LIFE, Vita Fotografica, Camera, among others, and won awards, including the gold medal at the 3rd International Biennial in Milan.
In 1966, the thirtieth anniversary issue of LIFE magazine included the work of twenty of the world’s major photographers, including Brook. He published two books, A Long the Riverrun (1970) and Hold Me (1977), featuring his timeless, romantic, pictorialist views – many shot with lenses that he constructed himself.
Brook’s later years were spent in relative obscurity, full of colorful anecdotes that cannot be verified. However, by all accounts, he lost touch with friends and artists who had known him during his earlier years in Boston. He moved into a rehabilitation center in Brighton, Massachusetts, after an accident in the late 1980s, and died there on July 29, 2016, at the age of 91. – Jessica Roscio
Introduction to John Brook’s Photographs
Brook captured the era in photographs of friends and their families in a style that was independent of trends and distinctively his – soft-focused, with enhanced attention to light and shadow, an emotional connection to the subject, overt symbolism, and a profound consideration of human relationships – which all visually translated to a work of art. His attentiveness to the technical innovations of the photographic process is apparent across multiple series and subjects, in both personal works and commissions. A chance optical aberration in a portrait of a father and child led to his experimentation with lenses, which he would often construct himself. Commissioned portraits have a distinctive soft-focused flair to them, with props reminiscent of an earlier time.
Brook seemed to relish the idea of being of another time. In an anecdote regarding an exhibition at the Carl Siembab Gallery, Brook recalled that Siembab described him as a photographer who took “100-year-old pictures every day.” He often described his work in otherworldly terms, as illustrations of thoughts and fantasies, and not necessarily grounded in reality. In a 1969 exhibition statement, Siembab described Brook’s photographs as images that “confront us with a world that the photographer has dreamt and thereby willed into existence.” Brook wrote of seeking beauty in his works in a way that placed his philosophy in the realm of the social and cultural mores of the late nineteenth-century Aesthetic Movement, whose artists asserted the authority of beauty as the force behind all aspects of daily life.
Brook’s works, in both subject matter and style, are also closely aligned with the Pictorialist movement of the turn of the twentieth century. Pictorialists sought to establish photography as a fine art through carefully chosen and idealized subject matter, soft focus, and low tonal gradation. A pictorial landscape was a romantic pastoral escape, and figures symbolized ideals of beauty. Brook’s veneration of the human form closely aligns him with pictorial photography, and he is perhaps most known for his soft-focused representations of the nude. Works appearing in A Long the Riverrun include male and female figures, both alone and together, posed in sun-dappled natural settings. Brook unabashedly sought the beautiful in his work, describing a process where he “found beautiful people, places, and moments in a world that was getting uglier every day.”
In interviews, Brook stated that his work did not have any photographic influences, but it is difficult not to read some photographic history into his subjects, settings, and aesthetics. Besides the formal elements of Pictorialism, there is edginess in his subject matter, particularly in his treatment of the nude, which is immediately reminiscent of F. Holland Day. Brook’s work can be challenging, and he asks us to look beyond the subject that he often provocatively captured with the camera. His use of the symbolic and allegorical tenets of Pictorialism speak to his philosophy that subjects appear as they are found, and represent more than can be seen with the naked eye. He confirmed this for the Boston Review of Photography: “I use whatever optical technique seems best suited to what I happen to be doing, but the character of the image is determined at the moment of exposure and not altered later in the darkroom.” His interest in capturing the unseen places him among the science and mysticism that drove a number of artists working mid-century in Boston, as well as connecting him to a long photographic tradition espousing a desire to visualize the unseen. – Jessica Roscio
On the occasion of the exhibition Return to Riverrun, the first major exhibition of Brook’s work since the 1970s, the John Brook Archive assembled a portfolio of six of Brook’s photographs from his book A Long the Riverrun available for purchase. The portfolio of six archival pigment prints is accompanied by texts setting the work of John Brook in context. In addition a special color print by John Brook is offered for sale as well. Use the links below to see more info on John Brook, the John Brook Archive, the portfolio and the special John Brook color print available for purchase.