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A Luce Scholarship Winner and a 2011 MCC Artist Fellow

June 11, 2011

Bessie Young photographs the lives of senior citizens.

Bessie Young is a 2011 graduate of Amherst College. Beginning with a course on The Psychology of Aging her freshman year, Bessie has been working with the “old people” of Amherst, MA. When I saw Bessie’s pictures, first online and later in exhibition, I was wowed by her fresh view. Almost every semester at HCC, I have a student who works with old people, or photographs a grandparent, or simply does portraits of elderly friends. My students have often made beautiful renderings and heart wrenching illustrations of the world of the elderly. Bessie’s pictures see that world through the eyes of the aged.

Bessie Young brings her camera and her heart into the world of the elderly.

I want to congratulate Bessie for getting a Henry Luce Foundation Scholarship Award to continue her work in Japan for the 2011-2012 school year.

Tultsi, Siberia, 2010, by Frank Ward

Last week I was selected as a 2011 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow. I have applied a dozen times over the years for this $7500 award bestowed upon Massachusetts photographers biannually. It is one of the few awards that have no entry fee and no strings attached. It is simply a recognition of work that the artist has created. I applied two years ago with work from the same series, my ongoing project photographing in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). I believe my good fortune this time round was in the editing. Applicants submit 5 numbered image files that are shown to the judges side-by-side on one screen. For years, I had sent what I thought were my five best pictures from whatever project I was working on at the time. This year I decided to consider my submission as one picture composed of 5 independent photographs from the past 3 years. I spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting hundreds of files deciding which combination adds up to more than the 5 chosen photographs.

Previously, I would compose a picture based on several compositional highlights. This is something I picked up from the work of Garry Winogrand, and the Italian Renaissance (where Garry’s influences originated).

Central Park, 1970 by Garry Winogrand

Giotto, 14 Century, Early Renaissance

You can see in the composition of both Winogrand’s 20th century and Giotto’s 14th century art that the structure is basically the same. Both present an assembly of people in the foreground that can be divided into smaller groupings of individual compositional importance, and a secondary ensemble in the background, or sky, that represent angels or other bystanders. The above two pictures illustrate the additive way that I have often structured photographs since Ben Lifson opened my eyes to the Renaissance and street photography during the MFA program at Bard College. Here is an example that can be viewed as a homage to Lifson and Winogrand .

Students, Tajikistan, 2009, by Frank Ward

In the past few years, I have been working with a subtractive approach to making pictures. See Tultsi above and Ice Fishing below.

Ice Fishing, Siberia, 2008, by Frank Ward

So much for Renaissance influence. The Renaissance is not known for its minimalism. It is known for filling the potential spaciousness of sky with as many angels as possible. For the MCC Artist Fellowship application, I incorporated emptiness, color, composition and line to suggest one panoramic composition balanced by a fulcrum.

Five pictures from the FSU by Frank Ward

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Arduser permalink
    June 11, 2011 5:25 pm

    Great post Frank. I particularly love the image “Platform, Tulsi, Siberia, 2010”. It has that sense of mystery and minimalism that I really like.
    As you know, I love this kind of analysis by an artist. All five of these MCC Arts Fellowship images are really nice. Would you consider going into more detail about why you ordered the images in this way? Why this specific order?

    Artists in general probably spend too much time worrying about why a jury or award committee selects some images while ignoring others (I know I have). Whatever the reason they picked you this time, the award seems well deserved. Congratulations!

  2. June 11, 2011 6:58 pm

    Thanks, Bill.

    At some point in the editing process, after experimenting with horizontals, repeated colors and compositional arcs, I simply back-off to see if it works for me. Knowing when to stop messing with a picture is as important as knowing where to place the camera and begin the whole picture making process.

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