Tuesday, August 7, 2012

LONG ONE! Salem MA Update - Peabody Essex Museum, Ansel Adams exhibit and more.

  It's going to be hard to concentrate right now as I feel like at lest 3 days have gone since this morning, but I'll try to put it all down in coherent enough form and hope that my readers will follow...

  Yesterday evening I left the wonderful Portland Maine, but before setting off on my way back to CA I had one thing to do - I brought this little rock from the shore of Solana Beach with an intent of delivering it to the Atlantic ocean as a gift of the Pacific.  

 So I walked the two blocks from The Photo Palace to the beach, made a wish, closed my eyes and hurled it into the welcoming waves.  I hope it has a good home there and does not disturb the environment in cataclysmic ways.  My wish was simple, but it will remain mine only as that is the superstition I grew up with - reveal your wishes to the world and kiss them good-bye... :)

 The drive to Salem was rather uneventful.  Oh, by the way, the reason I had to stop by here was a completely random one - a wonderfully kind witch in Bethel Maine sent me here telling me that I must come here and that it was imperative for my journey.  I think witches have something going for them as my experience here was simply amazing as you may find out from reading the following.

  I pulled into downtown just before midnight and parked Gilli right smack in the middle of downtown by the pedestrian promenade.  I took up two parking meters and was really really hoping that the authorities would overlook my presence.  I wandered over to the bar just a few houses down from that spot upon hearing live music coming from there and in dire need of a wind-down beer.  There I met a lad who appeared to be on the same wave-length with me as far as creativity and we got to talking.  He did alert me that the cops here are kinda harsh and he didn't think they'd stand for me being where I was.  I told him that I'll let things unfold as they may and, after dancing a bit to some pretty jammy beats, went to bed.

  For the past few nights I have been having some pretty interesting dreams and I will try to summarize the one I had last night here because I think it might have been the craziest yet:
 I remember trying to re-park Gilli and pull her off the curb, not by driving but by actually pulling and pushing her with my hands.  She moved easily, but somehow started swaying the rear and almost got out of control before I remembered about the emergency brake, jumped in the drivers seat and engaged it thereby stopping her from running into a fence.  While I was struggling with her there were some onlookers who taunted me, but after I succeeded in my task I got out and started flying around them in a show of force.  Then I though - 'this is Salem after all, maybe flying is not such a great idea as it is well-known what they do with witches here'. I stopped flying and went back to the bus.  To my surprise I found it FULL of lions - raging scary ones.  Luckily they were quieting down as they were trying to exit in an orderly fashion and I even remember one of them meowing at another one trying to hurry him up as he was blocking the exit. 
  At this point I was awoken by a kind, but serious police officer who did indeed tell me to move my rig out to the designated parking spaces for buses, which were just a few blocks away....  I think being woken up by cops actually makes me remember my dreams better - who would have thought that I would like that type of a wake-up call...

  I moved Gilli to the spot that was recommended to me by the peace officer.  It happened to be still about 6am and so I had plenty of time to take some pictures at the waterfront (parking spot was right in front of the historic district).  The sun was rising and I waited to go to the city hall in hopes of getting a one-day permit to park where I was in order to sell some prints and gas up Gilli.  At 8am sharp I was at City Hall (the second oldest city hall in US, by the way) and was promptly given a run-around from door to door only to be denied suck a permit... Spirits were low, but then I saw a poster about the Ansel Adams exhibit being held at the local museum and things started to look up.  I thought to myself - what a better venue to set up my traveling darkroom show than by such a show and what are the chances of me getting to see the show for free?  But how?  I just got into town, unannounced... Who would have me in this sudden manner?  Undeterred by doubts I marched into the lobby of the Peabody Essex Museum.

  After a short chat with a receptionist I was sent over to the offices of the museum (directly across the pedestrian promenade).  From there I was sent back to city hall as the director of facilities is actually on vacation for the week, went to the mayors office, a call was placed to the city parking chief, he called Peabody Museum offices, I went back there again...   I thought to myself that all this running about may lead to nothing when, lo and behold, I was met in the lobby by a wonderful lady named Whitney from the PR department.  She was a huge pleasure to converse with and promptly showed me inside the museum so I can review the their Ansel Adams exhibit for this blog.  Here is the Ansel Adams review:

  The show is FANTASTIC!  It runs until October 6th and if you are withing 200 mile radius of Salem I highly recommend taking a trip - you won't regret it!  I have seen at least 4 Ansel exhibits in the past, but this one really did stand out above the rest of them.  There is no photography allowed in the exhibit, so my review will have to rely solely upon my memory... Some of you may know that that's not the best of my personal qualities, but I'll do my best to recall it all.
  The show is made up is images borrowed from different private and public collections and takes up the entire third floor of the museum.  4-5 different rooms contain probably about 100 works all centering of Ansels love for water.  What a great theme! I really didn't realize until today how consistently he photographed H2O. 
  I would start viewing the exhibit starting with the room on the right of the entrance - that way it will be most sequential chronologically.  There you will see a few of his very first images including one taken with his first camera, a box Brownie.  The softly focused image is humbling to see knowing what a photographic giant that kid would grow up to be.  Also in that room are a few images from his days as a pictorialist photographer.  Some were taken with what seems to be a soft-focus lens, others are printed on matte papers and have a very different feel from his later work.  Also in that room (if my memory doesn't fail me) are a couple of arrangements of his sequential images that he intended to be displayed as a series.  I don't think I have seen any of them previously.  About 6 images of the Old Faithful from Yellowstone Park are displayed in a line and some 4-5 images of a shipwreck are scattered on a single movable wall.  There is a print that hung in his office - named 'Golden Gate Before The Bridge' it pictures the place where the famous bridge would be built just a year after the image was taken and, as stated by the curatorial notes on the wall next to it, reminded Ansel of the bay the way it was when he was growing up.  There is even a reproduction of a very rare early photograph the only print of which remains with his family.
 The next couple of rooms contain images from the 40s, 50s and 60s - most of them showing a full signature and the borders of he dry-mounted prints.  I admire this decision to dry mount most of his work for preservation purposes, plus that really does flatten the paper and gives it a bit more weight.  There is a B&W Polaroid (Ansel actually tested products for Mr. Land) - the perfectly preserved 60+ year old tiny print of a splashing wave really makes the viewer come close to the frame and peer into the window of his momentary vision.  Some images, like the one on the advertizing poster pictured above, are well-known, others are pretty rare. 
  The far left room was my personal favorite.  There I saw an amazing three-dimensional Japanese screen that is displayed standing free and folded slightly like it was originally intended to be.  It is a close-up image of reeds laying on water and one can see through the water a bit - the reeds under the water are the darkest areas of the print while the specular highlights on water cradling the delicate reeds are the highlights.  Apparently only a handful of these Japanese panels were made and they are extremely rare.  Also there are three of his ENORMOUS murals - these things gave me goosebumps.  Biggest one measures about 6x9 feet and the other two are not much smaller.  They apparently were printed on roll paper (probably 42in rolls) that were later dry-mounted together in a very seamless manner.  I had a very hard time finding the edges of each roll as it appears Ansel was very very careful in printing and matching them up.  They are also some of the very few images that I have seen of his that are toned in a brown sepia hue.  The toning really does add to these particular prints - I think the overwhelming scale of them would have felt too mechanical if they were straight black and white, but the brown tones makes them feel closer to the viewer.  I must have come back to stand in front of them at least three or four times and the amazement never lessened.  In one of the views, taken from a cliff it seems, the camera angle is tilted down rather far and it almost gives a feeling of falling if one walks up close enough to the image for it to fill the entire frame of vision.
  Here are a couple of images that the museum has made available for download and free publication:

  My memory tells me that the contrast is actually higher in the real prints than in these reproductions, but I can not be 100% certain on that...  In any case I was rather surprised at how contrasty some of his prints were.  It appears that he printed the same scenes at different times in his life and his printing style became bolder and stronger as he aged.  To him, an avid musician that he was, the negative was the score and the final print was the performance and these images illustrated quite clearly that he chose to print with higher contrast toward the later stages of his illustrious career.
  Again - the show is up for another 2 months and I highly recommend making your way to see it if you happen to be near Boston.  Here is a majestic and spacious lobby of this artistic establishment:

  Just as I was walking out of the show Whitney called me and informed me that she got a green light for The Photo Palace Bus to park right by the main entrance to the museum and do the darkroom presentation to the museum visitors and passers by.  I can not relate in typed text how elated I was to hear that.  My heart started beating faster as I sped my way back to Gilli - this was to be my first event in front of such an established museum!

 After driving around the unexpected construction zones and down some pretty narrow streets of old Salem I pulled in, like a king, onto the pedestrian part of Essex street and started unfolding my exhibit. Before I could pull out half of it I has a wave of visitors - it seemed like all of the staff of the museum offices came in right as they heard the roar of the Cat engine outside their windows.  They were all extremely kind, curious and welcoming.  I don't remember the last time I was greeted with such enthusiasm and it really warmed my heart.  Whitney's husband (also from the museum PR department) stopped by to take some pictures for their social media and a post was promptly put on the Facebook page about my presence.  After that the people kept coming in a steady stream and at some points I felt overwhelmed as I had to try to keep remembering who was on what part of the tour as more visitors boarded The Bus continually.  Here are two images of Gilli as she was resting during the rare moments of quietude (second one taken a bit after the museum closed and after I wrapped up the outside display):

  I set up my Kodak 2D 8x10 and some people were inspired to go into the museum after seeing the darkroom and a camera similar to the one used by Ansel. Others, who just came out of the show were glad to see the technology used to create the images that they just saw.  There were plenty of curious kids who have probably never seen a darkroom before as well as many old-timer photographer who seemed nostalgic upon entering the darkroom.  Tourists from various European countries were also aboard and made me really wish I spoke more than two languages fluently (that's the next mission - learn at least Spanish...). 
  One of the highlights was totally random chance meeting of yet another of our fans who has been following the progress of this project since it was first announced on Kickstarter.  She was in the area with her family and by chance saw the bus - I can not tell you how happy she was to see it in person and how overjoyed I was to meet one of Gilli's old-time fans.  She actually had with her two film cameras, one of which was a Smena 8 - a Russian camera that was actually one of my very first cameras when I was about 14 or so and was still living in Moscow.  That really brought back some memories...
  Another amazing thing was to hear people actually asking if I had prints for sale! As a sign of respect to the museum I did not put out any prices because that was not discussed during the negotiations concerning me being parked there.  A few people though did pick up on the fact that this is a rather expansive operation and that I'm financing it all by myself and wanted to help me on the way.  I was happy to show what I had that I could let go of to the interested public and ended up selling 5-6 prints for bargain prices - I was very touched by that simple fact.
  By the end of the day I must have given out about 50 cards, had about 150 people total come through The Bus, totally wore out my voice and smiled so hard that my cheeks are still hurting.

  After the show I thought of going over a few block away from Gilli to the Salem Commons to possibly sell some more prints because there was a crowd gathered there for an ice-cream bonanza.  Upon getting there I was happy that I brought some cameras with me as there were a lot of kids and a ton of activity.  I ended up shooting a lot of pictures with my Robot II and some with the Rolleiflex 2.8F and did not feel like hawking prints at all.  The mood was too festive for me to miss such a wonderful opportunity for image-making.

Well - did you get to the end of this novel?  Are my updates getting too long? Let me know please, or I'll keep writing and writing and.... well you get the idea.

Now I'm off to Cape Cod to spend some time with the only relatives (distant as they may be) that we have in in this country.  My grandmother happens to be visiting them there right now, so it's going to be really nice to see her too.  I don't expect there will be much more activity for the next few days, so I will give you, my kind reader, a break from my updates.

Have a great rest of the week!


  1. It was great to meet you, Anton and I'm glad you had such a fabulous experience in Salem. It's such a nice little town. Have a safe trip back to CA!

  2. Gotcha: http://ulocal.wcvb.com/_The-Photo-Palace-Bus/photo/17306753/61862.html?enlarge=true

  3. Thank You for posting about the exhibition. I'll have to try to get over there to visit!