In 2010, my efforts at photography blossomed, with three exhibits underway in the fall, another the previous spring, a photograph of mine published in Edwina Sandys’ retrospective on her art through the years and a new exhibit planned. Since then, I have had photographs in three more exhibits.
How do I explain this?
In some ways it started in 2008, with the urging of a friend to enter an amateur exhibit in New York City with “Georgica Estates Picnic Table,” “Amagansett Sunset,” “Annapolis Evening Lightning Bolt” and “Early Morning Annapolis Sunrise.” That year, I also printed greeting cards using my photograph of Class of 1960 alumnus Jack Dowd’s “Happy Birthday Andy” sculpture on campus, and several other pictures that were sold in the campus store to raise funds for student scholarships.
“Amagansett Sunset” became a wine label, created by our staff for alumni and the celebration of my 10th year as president of Adelphi. It also became the focus of a statement on photography and decision making in Adelphi University Magazine, in which I commented on composition, content, focus, illumination and emotion as the essential ingredients for both photographs and decisions.
In March 2010, I walked on campus after a snowstorm when classes were cancelled, and took a picture of Edwina Sandys’ “Guardian Angel” from an angle not seen by most. I made a print and sent it to her, and used the image to make greeting cards. Ms. Sandys loved it, and asked for the image to be included in her retrospective published in 2011; I readily agreed.
During one of her visits to campus, I met her friend, Regina Keller Gil, M.A. ’82, founder and director of the Great Neck Art Center, who, in my office, told me about her proposed film festival. She saw my photographs and asked if I would loan a dozen or so for a show she wanted to create entitled “Secret Artists.”
By this time, my wife and I had traveled to South Africa. I photographed animals and scenery there, which in some ways complemented the photographs of scenery and sculptures I had taken on Long Island. I was delighted by Ms. Gil’s suggestion, and asked our curator, Eliz Alahverdian, for advice about which of my pictures to include in the Great Neck show.
Ms. Alahverdian suggested a combination of images to be sent to the “Secret Artists” exhibit. She also asked if I would loan a selection of South African animal photographs to our Manhattan Center Gallery, and submit a picture of graffiti in Soweto, South Africa, to a faculty and staff exhibit. (While I was skeptical about her motivation, I certainly was pleased. I did not want my pictures to be included anywhere simply because of my job title. Ms. Alahverdian and her colleagues convinced me that my pictures had merit. Was I too easily convinced?)
The pictures were mounted at the Manhattan Center, the Swirbul Library Gallery and the Great Neck Arts Center, and openings were scheduled. When I was asked to speak about the photographs and photography, I began to think more deeply about the evolution in my forms of expression.
When I was a youth, I lived on the south side of Mount Vernon, New York, but knew people in all four quadrants. As I walked the city alone to visit friends, starting when I was 8 or 9, I had opportunities to practice debate, narrative, dialogue and other forms of rhetoric, with me as my audience. These were my first experiences as a speaker. When I walked the streets in these neighborhoods of rich, poor, black, white, Catholic, Jew, Protestant and other I became more confident in my ability to express thoughts. These excursions became experiences on which to draw when I became president of the Westchester County Baptist Youth Fellowship and was obliged to speak, not only at churches in the county, but also in Brooklyn and the Bronx. These occasions prepared me for speaking in college and beyond.
My evolution as a writer started while listening to my mother read her poetry. Although an amateur, she wanted to be a professional and was paid for a number of her poems. I listened at her knee and read her verse years later after her death. It might be her memory that inspired me to write in high school; I remember the first paper I wrote and its title. My college courses with Mildred Martin, my adviser—and, earlier, adviser to Philip Roth—as well as other professors, and my experience as a newspaper reporter in the United States Navy in the Philippines, all contributed to my work with words. I recall returning from a vacation in a sunny climate in 1968, sitting at the airport and deciding that I wanted to be a writer. I composed an essay and was paid for its submission. So inspired, I became a book review editor, read hundreds of books and wrote even more essays.
During this time, I also developed a form of oral essay, composing poems and verse and offering speeches on campuses and in churches that were often more narrative than rhetoric, always visual, and based in my philosophy of writing as sculpture, in which I would create a mass of text and shape its ultimate form.
Perhaps it was logical that my next phase would include another form of visual expression—photography. Writing as sculpture had already reinforced my interest in visual shapes. I had taken pictures over the years, but not with artistic intent until more recently. Then I took photography more seriously, sought advice and created those that are on exhibit in multiple places. I never took a picture for an exhibit, but always thought about the aesthetic value of the picture: its composition, focus, story, illumination and emotion. While most often I send the results to my children and other relatives, my major objective is not for memory books, but to find a singular expression of some human value, which is seen to be timeless.
Good photographs, like good decisions, require timing; proper lighting; color and texture; design; and a willingness to experiment and experience failure. The more I have considered design and composition for photographing flowers, faces, lightening, sunsets and sculptures, the more I have reinforced these abilities, skills and values in all that I do, and vice versa. And the more people know about my hobby, the more they will know that I am a multi-dimensional individual willing to be evaluated by others. A good photograph, like a good decision, is not an isolated event, but part of an unfolding story. It evokes a larger context, while drawing attention to a particular moment—just like a good decision.
My photography is part of an evolution of expression from speech through the written word to the visual image. Each phase required leaving a comfortable place, trying something new and facing failure, an opportunity for growth through challenge. This is my continuing goal.