“Silent Scenes” by Stephen Albair is a body of work that tangibly describes Albair’s art-making process, utilizing the traditional tableau technique of staging models that remain motionless for an audience. Using a vintage 35mm camera, Albair uses natural sunlight and found materials to create a suggested dialogue between the objects, exploring themes of love, loss, and longing. Open on March 15th, Albair’s exhibition will run until June 5th at the Griffin. Join us on April 5th for a special evening online artist talk with Stephen in the Griffin Zoom Room about his work and Silent Scenes.
Wanting to find out more about Albair’s art-making process and inspiration behind “Silent Scenes” we asked him a few questions.
Tell us how you first connected to the Griffin Museum.
A few years ago my friend Ann Jastrab told me about the Griffin. I met Paula Tognarelli at the Griffin for a portfolio review.
How do you involve photography in your everyday life? Can you tell us about any images or artists that have caught your attention recently?
Photography and bookmaking are pretty much my life these days. I’ve always been interested in Art History, visiting Galleries, and Museums. I recently saw a show at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Two charcoal drawings caught my attention: Enrique Chagoya, 1989 to 1997, and Claudio Bravo, Mystic Package, 1967. The sheer scale of Chagoya’s work, with his intense use of color, inventive sense of movement, is overwhelming. The subject matter challenges notions of power. Claudio Bravo, Mystic Package 1967, looks photographic but is a pastel drawing. I love the idea of a mysterious package for the viewer to contemplate what’s in the package? The sheer skill to make a work of art like that is awe inspiring and requires perfection of technique. It tricks the eye with its realism as it fits tightly into the space of the frame.
Please tell us a little about your series “Silent Scenes” and how it was conceived.
“Silent Scenes” describes my working process. My photographs are based on the traditional tableau technique of staging models that remain motionless for an audience. It has a history dating back to the beginning of photography and is still used as a technique today. The camera simply records the scene. I’m drawn to narrative storytelling as a way of building photographs. In the context of the photos selected for this show the title “Silent Scenes” really describes my Images
Has there been a Griffin Museum exhibition that has particularly engaged or moved you?
It’s very difficult to pick a single show because there are so many that I have enjoyed. Recently, “Mantel & Home Views” comes to mind.
What is your favorite place to escape to?
I’ve become a homebody the last few years but certainly Thailand and Japan were my favorites. When I come home to Massachusetts and New Hampshire to visit my family I head to the small town of Atkinson, NH where I was raised with my twin sister, Jeanne. There is a one-room school there that we attended in first grade. The town wants to tear down this important historical building. I’m part of a group trying to save and preserve the site, raise awareness of its history, and generate funds to restore it to its original condition. There are reasons to believe that the the back of the property is a forgotten Slave Cemetery.
What is a book, song or visual obsession you have at the moment?
I’m in the process of publishing a book which has taken two years to complete. Writing and learning how to write has become an obsession. I’m a slow reader with dyslexia but read a little each night. I just finished, “The Wayfinders—Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World”, by Wade Davis. I enjoy studying ancient cultures.
If you could be in a room with anyone to have a conversation, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I’ve been teaching full and part-time college courses for over 35 years. I’d like to have a conversation with President Biden and First Lady, Jill Biden. The conversation would involve how the US could provide greater support for art programs, artists and photographers, exhibitions and museum support, while increasing the funding for art programs at the elementary and secondary level.
You’ve stated that Life’s ambiguities—love, loss, and longing—are subjects for your artworks. Can you tell us more about that and why you’ve focused on these themes?
I believe that life’s journey can be reduced to Luck and Love, and being at the right place at the right time. Life’s ambiguities refer to our ups and downs in the natural order of life’s events; the realities that we face day to day. Longing for something better, grieving for loss, are human traits that bind us together while pushing us to consider new possibilities and opportunities.
What does photography mean to you and why is it your chosen medium?
My first real success was printing Gum Bichromates in 1973-74. I learned through a hit and miss process that utilized a lot of serendipity. I am not a technical photographer. I used the same camera and a single lens for 42 years, shooting multiple shots in natural light, until Digital became more practical and less costly. The camera is just a recording device that became the best way for me to express a personal narrative.
What inspired you to take up photography (and when was this)?
After college, I began my career both as a Metalsmith and a self-taught photographer. Soon I was exhibiting in both mediums simultaneously. I never formally studied photography and gave up metalworking in 1989. My experience with the camera began as a way to record my metalwork. But the more I looked through the lens the more I viewed a world within a world. I was always obsessed with searching for found objects in antique shops that intrigued me and recording my finds.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment? If so, could you talk about them?
Yes. I started reassessing my work at the beginning of the pandemic and wanted to get involved with something that would keep me inside, besides writing. By archiving my work I discovered images that I had long forgotten. This led me to begin a new series of collages using xeroxes reproductions from parts and pieces from my older photographs. It became a way of revisiting familiar themes in an entirely new way.
How do you approach naming your exhibitions?
I worked with Paula Tognarelli. She is incredible for the quick take and coming up with ideas. I labored over producing a long list of possible titles that started with words that fit the images and my process of photographing. Paula worked in a similar direction but tightened up her list until nothing seemed better than “Silent Scenes.”
How do you know when a work is “finished”?
I’m a perfectionist. Basic design is the bedrock of each image. My work is finished when I can no longer improve on the design by shifting a single part. It’s very close to making a gold ring. The gold surface is worked and polished until there are no imperfections. The finished ring should glow and grab your attention by reflecting its inner light.