September 24, 2023

Creative Process: Striving to Enhance My Skills Photographing Soccer

I infuse teaching the creative process into my Arts, Media, and Design courses at American International College.  

As several of my students play on the men's soccer team, I set out to engage in the creative process myself, aiming to increase my chances of successfully capturing key moments from the game against New Haven. 

Vying for corner kick (or maybe a free kick).

I researched tips and techniques for photographing soccer to build on my expertise of fifty years working as a photographer. (I am only 64, but was first published as a teenager.)

I found 11 Tips for Breathtaking Soccer Photography from Digital Photography School somewhat helpful in guiding my approach to the challenge. However, Sports Illustrated photographer Peter Read Miller's video Tips for Shooting Soccer proved to be an invaluable resource.  His advice was clear, precise, encouraging and empowering.  I knew what lens, aperture and shutter speed to use, optimum vantage points and angles, as well as key game moments to anticipate.

Shot List: includes the jersey numbers of my students.

After deepening my knowledge, I generated a shot list of types of images to focus my shooting.  I also emailed Coordinator of Athletic Communications Seth Dussault, inquiring about the logistics of covering the game. He got back to me, "Basically, just don't cross the yellow lines. Other than that you're pretty free to do as you please."

A tackle.

I enjoyed the challenge of working to capture the types of images from my shot list.  

A header.

This is as close as I came with a header.  I wanted the moment of a head making contact with the ball.  In many shots, the ball was 10 or more away from the point of contact.


At one point I noticed a hawk soaring above the field.  I took a short break from the game and photographed in the majestic bird.  I marveled and the apparent confidence and freedom of the bird, took a deep breath, and tried to infuse these qualities to my photographic efforts.

Manuel Schwarz shoots to score his 3rd goal of the day.

Read Miller's suggestions from the video informed my actions as I adjusted my camera settings and shooting locations based on changing light and conditions.  Per Miller's advice, I shot mostly from a corner of the field. 

Often near me was the linesman/assistant referee. I heard her giving advice via a headset to the head referee, who seemed close to losing the respect of the players and thus command over them.

Schwarz's teammates swarm to celebrate with him.

Though I watched Miller's video only once, it was as if he was coaching me via a headset as his voiced explanations lingered in my head.

The Professor at Work - Photo by AIC student Jalen Jordan

In the video, Miller demonstrated photographing from a lower angle to enhance the perceived stature of the players.  I wish that I had the kneepads he was wearing!


I experimented with using a slow shutter to create an impressionistic rendering of the game.


Looking at the images later on my computer, I reveled in reaching the photographic goals outlined on my shot list.  Not all the images are perfect examples, but it was exhilarating capturing what I could. 

Ah... the power of the creative process.

Below is one of my first published images, shot when I was thirteen. 

From The Harvard Bulletin

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Arts, Media, and Design Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

September 3, 2023

From Roxbury to Revere - Shooting Film and Living in History: How My Image Selected for the 2023 Somerville Toy Camera Festival Came to Be

So excited that Fly Like a Tern, my image shot with a lo-fi plastic toy camera called a Holga, was selected for exhibition in the 10th Annual Somerville Toy Camera Festival. Culled from a pool of 500 submitted images, show juror Ann Jastrab chose 89 photos by 64 artists, who represent 18 US states, The Netherlands, and England. The work will be on display in three galleries across Somerville, MA from 9/7/23 to 10/7/23.

9/10/23 at 3pm marks the opening reception at The Nave Gallery where my image will be on view. Details for all the galleries here.

Fly Like a Tern

The Festival call for entries describes the toy camera aesthetic:  "Celebrate the flaws, the quirks, the accidental genius that lousy lenses can create! Images of any subject matter, made with a “toy” camera (or any low-tech camera with no or very limited exposure control, such as pinhole, Holga, Diana/Diana clones, Brownie, Ansco, disposable cameras) are eligible.  Key criteria are plastic lenses and lack of reliable exposure control."

My Holga 120 film camera, purchased used for 10 dollars and held together with tape.

With my college students, I constantly infuse teaching the creative process.  Here is the story that led to me capturing Fly Like a Tern.

One evening, while playing drums in my basement, I took breaks and randomly pulled books off of shelves. I am blessed with a bounty of art-related books, many bequeathed to me by my art loving and art collecting parents. One title was Route 22,  with photos and text by my friend Benjamin Swett.  The book includes his contemporary photographs of buildings paired with historical images of the same structures.  Another chanced upon tome was Drawn to Art, shown below. While I have not read much of this 1985 book, the images of historical buildings and scenes prompted me search out the contemporary locations.  I bet that stumbling across Route 22 inspired this approach.

Drawn to Art - A Nineteenth-Century American Dream by Diana Korzenik
Blackboard 1877 by Winslow Home

From the front flap:  "In this moving narrative, Diana Korzenik tells how a group of largely rural, working-class people, both men and women, aspired to become artists in nineteenth-century America. The author uses her discovery of a rich collection of documents, including letters, journals, sketchbooks, and artwork, to give a unique human dimension to the educational developments of that time. The three children of the Cross family of New Hampshire, all of whom became professional artists and engravers, just happened to be touched by leading educators, printmakers, and publishers at the critical moment when America was learning to draw with a fervor akin to today's movement toward computer literacy. Like many others, they experienced the illusion of promise which the art of drawing held out to students and also the sense of disappointment when almost overnight their skills became obsolete as technology changed."

A 2022 view of the Prang Printing Company building shown in 1867.
At left are educational American Drawing Cards printed by the Prang Company.
Prang also printed chromolithographed art reproductions,
revolutionizing the distribution of art to the masses. 
Location is Roxbury, a section of Boston, MA

l’m taking the above picture with my iPhone and a woman in the third-floor window of a building across from Prang, asked me if there’s a picture of the building in the book I am holding.  I say, "Yes, they used to do color printing there."  She says, "Oh yeah they used to do printing in this building.  The neighborhood is really interesting.  The old church up the street, Paul Revere rode his horse down here, and they built a mosque over there."  I pointed Roxbury Community College and say, "This is new."  And she says, "Yeah that’s all new since I’ve been here.  I've been here 20 years."

The Prang building at right. You can see the "P" at top right.
In the background is the minaret from the 
Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center's mosque.
Shot with my Holga. 
And then I see a Muslim woman covered head to toe. I’m trying to get a shot of her silhouetted against the Prang building. She moves off to the side.  And I realize she’s trying to get out of my picture.  All I could see were her eyes; they were heavily made up and expressive. Her clothes are all black, save for a stitched pattern along the sleeves. She has a large phone in one hand and a water bottle on the other. She was apologetic about getting in my picture.

I asked her if I can take her picture, and she says OK, and I’m just trying to get the settings right, trying to pose her, trying to get the framing and a man comes out of a restaurant.  They talk and then she says she doesn’t want her picture taken anymore. She says that she doesn't like being on the news and I say it won’t be on the news, just on my website, and she says no, she won’t do it. She doesn’t want to be out there. She said people will see her on the website and call her. I asked if we could just do something without showing her face, and I realize she’s uncomfortable, so I say don’t worry, don’t worry, and she says sorry, sorry, and I know there’s several people on the street watching and looking out for her.
Quadruple exposure of the Prang building taken with my Holga.

Normally while shooting film photography you want to avoid double or multiple exposures.  The design of the Holga is missing a safety stop thereby allowing one to easily take unintentional multiple exposures, or, as in the case above, easily take intentional multiple exposures.

My series of intentional multiple exposures taken with a digital camera is called Reality-Based Abstraction.

I recently experimented with a mirrorless digital camera: Deconstructing Digital Precision and Predictability to Achieve Analog Uncertainty and Variability.

"Future is Our Focus" states the upper left banner for Roxbury Community College.  You can see downtown Boston to the left of the minaret.  The red brick building at right is once again the Prang Building. Panorama shot with iPhone. Click image to enlarge.

On my way to the next location featured in the book, I stopped by the studio of friend and mentor, photographer Lou Jones.  I lamented "the one that got away" as I recounted just missing a photo of the Muslim woman.  After briefly commiserating with me, Lou explained the in and outs of photographing women at a mosque, noting the layers of cultural norms he had to navigate to capture the assigned imagery.  

Speaking of "the one that got away," I once photographed a fisherman with my Holga and we realized there are many connections between photography and fishing.  Read more about this.

Aiming to find the location of this beach shanty where one of artists featured in Drawn to Art lived, I plugged Point of Pines into Waze and up popped the Point of Pines Yacht Club.  The caption states the location as Point of Pines, Revere, MA. Probably mid 1870s.  iPhone image.

The front door of the yacht club was locked.  I walked around the side and found some workers on the pier waiting for access through a locked gate to work on a boat.  One of them saw me struggling in the strong wind trying to hold the book while taking a picture with Point of Pines in the background.  He volunteered to hold the book for me.

"The Pines Historian," self-proclaimed. 
Looking East towards the point. Shot with my Holga.
I am out on the beach about where I think the beach shanty was located and meet Chris and his dog. He said he lives in his grandmother's house, at Point of Pines. He says he collects any kind of maps he can find, but didn’t have anything as old as the drawing I had in the book.  I wondered if the shack had been right on the point, and he said a thing like that wouldn’t last long in a storm. I asked if those are the "pines" over there, as I saw a few pine trees, and he kind of laughed said something like, what’s left of them." We traded phone numbers.  As a parting comment, Chris quipped, "I'm the 'Pines' historian – self-proclaimed!"
Chris texted me some images from his historical collection.  He thinks we met just beyond the boat houses at top left.  Looking North toward the point.
Looking East towards the point.  Perhaps the location of the beach shanty.
 Panorama shot with iPhone. Click image to enlarge. 
"The Coney Island of The East" Another gem image from Chris's collection. 1890s.
We met at the point at the far right.  Looking West.

After Chris texted me these amazing images, I replied, "Thanks again Chris! Maybe you are more than self-proclaimed!  He replied, "Still self proclaimed. Just nice for someone to appreciate it."

Connecting to Spirit. Shot with my Holga.

After saying goodbye to Chris, I walk down the beach back to my car.  It is blustery with a hint of thunderstorm in the air.  I feel fully present in the moment, exhilaration coursing through my body.  

Fly Like a Tern

A few feet from me terns are diving into the ocean to catch fish.  I catch one of the terns flying in the sky with my Holga.  This image is later accepted for the 2023 Somerville Toy Camera Festival.


In the 80s and 90s, I shot film as a professional photographer.  These days, working as a professor, I shoot film to explore the intersection of art and technological change.  Thanks to The Darkroom for their excellent processing and scanning of my film.

Part 1: Shooting Film After All These Years - Process

Part 2: Shooting Film After All These Years - Pick Hits

Go back to top of blog.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Arts, Media, and Design Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

August 23, 2023

Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen - My Archival Images Included in Boston Outdoor Exhibit

Having my images from the 1980s included in the Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen exhibit is a highlight of my creative life.  I recently donated prints, negatives and writings to The Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archives at UMass Boston.  My hope was that the community and scholars could benefit from access to my work.  This Boston exhibit is near South Station, in Dewey Square Plaza on the Rose Kennedy GreenwayThe following images and curatorial statement are from the opening reception.  The exhibit runs through October.

The Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive at Mass Boston, the personal collection of Chico Silvera, and select photography by John Nordell, John Brewer, Gabriel Ortiz, and more.

Curated by: Liza QuiƱonez @streettheorygallery, Edo G @edogpics, Chico Silvera @chicosilvera77, and Pacey Foster @libraryofvinyl

Visitors examine my photographs on the left panel.

In honor of Hip-Hop's 50-year golden anniversary, Street Theory and The Greenway Conservancy are proud to present Hip Hop: Seen/Unseen, showcasing a carefully curated collection of early concert flyers and rare photographic archives from 1979 to the present. This mini-exhibition, nestled within the Dewey Square Plaza on The Greenway, is a tribute to the raw, captivating allure of Hip-Hop and its deeply embedded roots in Boston's social and cultural tapestry.

T. Nyne looks on as curator Chico Silvera points to T. Nyne's younger self in one of my images from The B-Town Rap Battle held in 1986 at The Institute of Contemporary Art.

Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen explores the rich cultural heritage, historical journey, and pervasive influence of Hip- Hop in Boston, thereby exposing the vibrant yet often hidden heartbeat of the City.

So thrilled to be part of this historic event.  Note the Boston Bruins logo manhole cover.

Illuminated by Problak's 2022 mural Breathe Life Together as the backdrop, the exhibition strives to create an authentic portrayal of Hip-Hop's far-reaching influence on Boston's culture. It aims to provoke conversations about music's role in everyday life, the power of grassroots art, and now such movements can redefine a city's identity.

A panel discussion was held at the base of Problack's mural: Breathe Life Together

The show flyers trace the roots of the movement by capturing the genesis of the New York and Boston Hip Hop scenes, while the photographs transcend mere portrayal of iconic figures. Instead, they spot daily life, jam sessions, and gatherings through the lens of the five core elements of Hip-Hop: MCing, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti, and knowledge.  These artifacts reveal how Hip-Hop has been intricately woven into the fabric of Boston's everyday life, profoundly influencing its language, fashion, and communal spaces.

The event featured vendors, break dancing, an expert panel discussion, free food, graffiti artists at work and giveaways.

The Greenway Public Art Program is exclusively funded through grants and private sources, Hip-Hop Seen/Unseen, 2023 was made possible through the generous support of The Barr Foundation, The Greenway Business Improvement District, Goulston & Storrs, and G. Ortiz Photography.

Trailblazing Rusti Pendelton stands between me and curator Pacey Foster.  He was known as Rusty the Toe Jammer as he scratched records with his feet.  A set of my images documenting him performing was in offered in Sotheby's first ever Hip-Hop Auction in 2020.  Click and scroll down to view.

The Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archives at UMass Boston -

Located across from Boston's train station on busy thoroughfare, the exhibition garnered attention from passersby.

I had a chance to meet and connect with another featured photographer John Brewer.  Of course, we were talking technique and cameras. Find him at @jbrewerphoto

Mad Mike of The Floor Lords poses with archival images (not mine). Curator Pacey Foster remarked, "It's magical seeing grown adults turning back to teenagers when they see themselves."  The Floor Lords, a Hip-Hop Breakin Crew since 1981, performed at the event and posted a wonderful video collage.  @floorlordsboston

Shawn Peete then and now.  He poses in the middle of the lower photo that I captured during Maurice Starr's 1986 Hollywood Talent Night.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Arts, Media, and Design Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

August 17, 2023

My Images Featured on One of the 4 X 5 Foot Panels at Outdoor Hip-Hop Exhibition

I am so excited that my photographs are included in this celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop.  My images documenting the 1980s Boston Hip-Hop scene are used on these two flyers and are showcased on one of the 4 by 5 foot panels at this outdoor exhibition.

Together with The Greenway Conservancy, Street Theory is proud to present Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen,  a mini-exhibition, nestled within Dewey Square Plaza on The Greenway. 

Opening on Saturday, August 19, the exhibition showcases a carefully curated collection of early concert flyers and rare photographic archives from 1979 to the present as a tribute to the raw, captivating allure of Hip-Hop and its deeply embedded roots in Boston's social and cultural tapestry.

Curated by: Liza QuiƱonez, Edo G, Chico Silvera, and Pacey Foster

Featuring: The Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive at UMass Boston, the personal collection of Chico Silvera, and select photography by John Nordell, John Brewer, Gabriel Ortiz, and more.

Please join us for the Exhibition Opening and Exclusive Curators' Walkthrough on Saturday, August 19th from 4pm - 5pm

Location: Dewey Square Plaza on The Greenway Atlantic Ave & Summer St. Boston, MA 02110 (South Station T stop)

Be Part of Hip-Hop's Golden Anniversary: The first 50 guests will receive a Special Edition Exhibition Zine of Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen.

The Curator's Walkthrough is followed by more Sound in the City events presented by @marleneboyette and hosted by @sidepresents on the Dewey Square lawn with panel talks, performances, food, and more until 8pm!

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Arts, Media and Design Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

May 9, 2023

Deconstructing Digital Precision and Predictability to Achieve Analog Uncertainty and Variability

Early in my post-photojournalist teaching career, Douglas Dubler came to speak at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, Dubler explained how he liked to sometimes overexpose digital images.  I gasped. 

Lunar Pond

Fast forward some 15 years.  I am at Walden Pond in Concord, MA, photographing with a Nikon Mirrorless Z6 II. When shooting in manual mode, I can see a real time preview of my exposures. I thought of Dubler's explorations and intentionally overexposed this image.

Essence of Woods, Fragility of Water and Sky

Along with intentionally overexposing the images, I deliberately shot images out of focus in order to abstract the forms into their essences.

I found these out of focus sun sparkles captivating:

However, the dark background of the sandy pond bottom detracted from the effect I was hoping for.

Going With the Flow

Striving to highlight the highlights, I shot an in-camera double exposure, combining the sun sparkles with a photo of trees, clouds and sky:

Sunny Skies

Hmm.  I liked this, but wanted to isolate the sparkles and avoid an edge-to-edge overlapping of images.

So, I held my hand in front of the lens to block off half the frame:

Masking by Hand

Another in-camera double exposure that overlaid the above image with one of trees and sky led to a subtle layering of images and the realization of my vision.  (I have written previously about that when shooting multiple exposures with the Z6, the camera combines the images, yet also retains each individual image file.)

From Precision to Uncertainty

For me, the muted and naturalistic colors of the image have the look of a double exposure created with a film camera. The orange glow at the bottom evokes a light leak.

Analog film experimenter and explorer, Beth "I shoot film" Machiorwoski, who sometimes runs a roll of undeveloped film through the dishwasher before processing it, taught me to find beauty and joy in the vicissitudes and vagaries of film photography.

I am always excited to deconstruct digital precision and predictability to achieve analog uncertainty and variability.  Thank you Beth and Douglas for guiding me on this journey!

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program that he created at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

April 25, 2023

Morning Rises - Three of My Images Selected for "Visions of the Connecticut River" Exhibition

Visions of The Connecticut River Exhibition, May 7 - June 30, at The Great Falls Discovery Center, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA. Opening Reception: May 7, 2 - 4 pm

For me, a key aspect of meditation is returning.  Returning back to a focus on the breath when finding myself lost in thoughts.

The concept of returning is also important for me as a photographer.

Frosty Sunrise

One of my early mentors Rick Stafford taught me that if you discover an interesting scene to photograph, but the light is not right, you can always, well, return.

For years, before my teaching day started at Hallmark Institute of Photography, in Turners Falls, MA, I captured early morning scenes along the Connecticut River.

I shot the above image on a single digit degree morning.  Click for more details about the experience.

Like Butter (Sunrise Over the Connecticut River)

More images from the above morning here.

Now a professor at American International College, I assign my Digital Photography 2 students to photograph the same place at two different times of day to learn about how light and activity change in a single day.

Morning Meditation

Even dawn on foggy morning carries for me a sense of peace and calm.  I wonder how these cormorants are experiencing such a daybreak.

Return again.  And again.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program that he created at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

February 11, 2023

On Mentors and Black & White Images Published in F-Stop Magazine

Two images I submitted for the F-Stop Magazine 2023 Black & White Group Exhibition were selected for the February-March publication.  Magazine Founder and Editor Christy Karpinski said that 530 people submitted a total of 3800 images.  She chose to exhibit 250.  I am thrilled and honored to be included in this stunning exhibition.  I highly recommend that you view the entire show.

Both images are from my Reality-Based Abstraction series, which are digital in-camera multiple exposures.

Bridge to Somewhere, 2022

I photographed Bridge to Somewhere on a frigid January morning in Boston.  View more images from this shoot.  

Bridge to Somewhere, published in F-Stop Magazine 

Black Sheep (Snow, Sun, Trees), 2021

You can learn more about the context of creating Black Sheep(Snow, Sun, Trees) in my blog post "The Glory of Mistakes". 

Black Sheep (Snow, Sun, Trees), published in F-Stop Magazine

Along with the above selected digital offerings, I submitted other black and white images, including some shot on 120 film using a cheap plastic toy camera called a Holga.  More on this camera and my explorations with shooting film.

Neither of these images were selected for publication.  I still love them.  And I am fond of the way the rough, soulful, earthy feel of film contrasts with controlled digital sharpness and precision.

Connecting to Spirit, 2022

Speaking of soulful, one of my early mentors, Jerry Berndt, encouraged me to use different kinds of cameras to struggle with adjusting back and forth between different gear with different controls to combat complacency and routine ways of capturing images.

Myles Standish Above the Sea, 2022

I miss you Jerry.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program that he created at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.