August 16, 2019

Interacting with Art: Inspired by the Museum Milieu

Self-portrait with Younes Rahmoun’s video animation “Seed” at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA.




July 16, 2019

Manifold Histories - From Horse-Drawn Trams to Digital Cameras

"Gallery A3 is excited to announce its 6th Annual Juried Show, to be held August 1-31, 2019, with an opening reception on Thursday, August 1, from 5-8 pm."

I am excited that my image Manifold Histories was selected for the exhibition.  Hope to see you at the opening reception!  28 Amity Street, Amherst,  MA.

Manifold Histories

The digital image, an in-camera multiple exposure from my Reality-Based Abstraction series, melds multiple viewpoints simultaneously of the Summit House porches:

Porches and Pathways
This view from Mt. Holyoke has seen many changes, from industrial ascent and decline to the digital revolution.  According to MassMoments, "With the closest source of water halfway down the mountain, John French built a wooden railway to haul barrels of water up the track.  Power was provided by a horse hitched to a circling crank at the top.  French soon realized that, properly equipped, the tram could also transport people.  He installed the body of a sleigh, and passengers were soon being carried over 600 feet up the mountain.  Moving at a 38-degree angle, riders had the sensation of being pulled almost straight up."

The Covered Tramway, circa 1860.  Photo courtesy of MassMoments
In 2017, a Mt. Holyoke College graduate looked to creating her history:

Bring it On!

In the far distance, beyond the Connecticut River, is the Oxbow, a shape evocative of the apparatus placed over an ox's neck that connects the animal to a wagon.  You can see the Oxbow clearly in Thomas Cole's painting:

View From Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After a Thunderstorm - The Oxbow,
by Thomas Cole, 1836, The Met

In the same way Cole (bottom center of the painting) looks at the viewer, perhaps asking, "What do you think?",  I encourage my students to look closely at this painting.  They pick out the trees cut down for farming, the storm clouds, the broken tree.  "Might the cut trees and storm foretell the industrial revolution that severely polluted these waterways?" I ask.

One day riding my bike I happened upon the Oxbow Water Ski Show Team demonstrating their athletic waterborne artistry on the Oxbow.  My water ski lesson starts at the 56 second mark in the video.

I wonder what Thomas Cole would make of this activity.  You would need hundreds of horses attached to a circling crank to power one of the boats.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  Instagram: @john.nordell

June 24, 2019

On The Joy of Community - Mass Art Educators Hang a Show

The Merry Band - Photo by Casey Westerlind
I spent a recent Saturday with this group of art educators hanging a juried show at the State Transportation Building in downtown Boston.

Much to Do

The exhibit was organized by the Massachusetts Art Education Association (MAEA).  Art teachers from across the state submitted images for consideration.  Unwrapping the carefully packaged selected works I felt like a kid excitedly and gratefully opening gifts.


We hang an art show each semester where I teach: American International College in Springfield, Mass.  Over the years, my students and I have refined the process.  However, learning how to create a jig (or template), as shown above, by affixing a hook on a table (far right) to precisely calculate the desired length of the hanging string, was a time-saving revelation.

Teamwork - Photo by Casey Westerlind

Much of the time we worked in pairs.  Here, I collaborate with Carolann Tebbetts.  She was patient, kind and gave precise instructions.  Sounds like a quality art teacher, right?

Almost Done

As the hours passed, we became a little punchy.  However, due to steady progress, beautiful art and deepening group camaraderie, it felt like only a handful of minutes to complete the work.

Happy Camper - Photo by Laura Marotta

The exhibit runs through 9/13/19. We hope you will join us at the closing reception: 9/15/19 at 4:00 pm.  The State Transportation Building is located at 10 Park Plaza, Boston MA, and is open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday and is closed holidays and weekends.

Below are my images in the show.  Both are double exposures, taken with inexpensive plastic film cameras.  Please click here for the backstory.


East and West

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at

March 23, 2019

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

The Three Musketeers
It was a great experiment in summer 2018, shooting film as a way to limit living a digital life and to get back to my photographic roots.  Starting as a boy, and then later at a professional, I developed and printed hundreds of rolls film by hand.

I used these three cameras.  On top, my first Nikon, from the 1970s, a Nikomat (aka Nikkormat), purchased for me by my uncle in Hong Kong.  It had a roll of film in it that I started shooting in 2011.  I obtained a new battery for the light meter, but did not know if it would work.

In the middle is a medium format Holga.  I bought it used for $10 at the In-Sight Photography project in Brattleboro, VT.  I had no idea if it was functional.

At the bottom is a Diana Mini.  The complex and creative film photographer Beth Maciorowski spoke to my photography students and suggested they use this camera for their nascent film explorations.

Beth also explained how to create multiple exposures and incremental, overlapping panoramic images.  Thank you Beth for the inspiration.

I shot six rolls of film before sending them off for processing.  Bye-bye instant digital gratification.  The anticipation built as I waited to see the scanned film.

I cannot fully describe the thrill of seeing the scans of my film images.  On one hand, I see them as rough, imperfect and bursting with soul.  They  disrupt clinical digital perfection.

I vacillate though, wondering if I am making romantic excuses for sometimes messy, unsharp and grainy images.

Click on images to enlarge them.

For additional film explorations, I invite you to also visit Part 1: Shooting Film After All These Years - Process         
Holga - East and West

                                     Holga - From Concord to Rowe to Pittsfield, MA                               

Diana Mini - Boston Harbor

Diana Mini - Walden Pond

Diana Mini - Gettysburg 

Holga - Empire State Building 

Diana Mini - Long Point Light

Nikomat - Labor Rally, Greenfield, MA 2011

Nikomat - Self-Portrait, Same Roll of Film as Labor Rally, 2018

Nikomat - Shutter Click Heard 'Round the World

Nikomat - Dam

Nikomat - Black and White Sails

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at

March 22, 2019

Part 1: Shooting Film After All These Years - Process

In summer 2018, I visited friend and photographer Benjy Swett to use his scanner to digitize my negatives from documenting the mid-1980s rap scene in Boston.  (I invite you to also visit Part 2:  Shooting Film After All These Years - Pick Hits.)

New School Old School

I had a meeting scheduled with Boston historian and journalist Brian Coleman and UMass Professor Pacey Foster of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive to show them the images.  Big thanks to Brian and Pacey for encouraging me to dig into my 30 year old archive. Here is a sample:

Disco P and the Fresh MC

Benjy and I attended the same prep school and our creative writing teacher extolled the virtues of packing a small notebook for jotting down ideas and observations.

Not That Kind of Little Black Book

In my continuing explorations of questioning digital living, I decided to shoot film in summer 2018.  I found a notebook and jotted down ideas and observations about going back to my photographic roots, as, since 2001, I have used digital cameras for my professional work.  The following italic text is a transcription of my writing, which is sometimes just short phrases or hard to decipher words, denoted by (?).

Photographing in Times Square.  Trying too hard.  Need “bokeh.  Have the 1.4 lens.  What would Beth do? Keep trying for the US Flag but felt I should have some other element.  Silhouette - need to impose on a stranger.  I took a break.
Texting and Vaping

Ate some fruit.  Joked with some Asian girls - to get away, I went to the narrow flag side, working the out of focus lights.  I saw a perfect flag reflection in the windows of a yellow cab.  Thank you Shakti. After the fruit, I also did a wild panorama with the Diana.  Don’t like it as much since I need my glasses…  Felt I had to capture something.  For my film blog.

I don’t know if any of these film images will work.  The cameras are becoming much more familiar - the way the Nikomat back opens.  It is such a solid camera!  Seeing the billboard of Kayne and Beyonce - I thought that those kids in Boston paved the way for him.  And, the white kids who bought Run-DMC’s albums.

Times Square

I had wanted to shoot b/w in NYC - Benjy gave me a roll of Tmax100.  Not enough for night.  I put in a roll of 400 color thinking I can always covert to b/w.  However, just the nature of having film in the box made me see differently.  And, if the flag/cab photo is all that I hope, I am so glad that I was shooting color.

All That I Hope

I’m waiting in front of the red wall - the gal with flowered orange sneakers walks past.  I  go “click’, but the shutter is not cocked.   Just as I finish writing this, two boys in matching bluish shirts stride by.  I was thinking - it is weird to be writing (standing on the street).  Keeping me out of the moment?  PS I looked at some of Jay Maisel’s images last night - I am thinking with the red wall, “Where’s the light?” Color and gesture we have.

Light, Gesture, Color

The white light on white things, a man in a white t-shirt.  He pauses to be buzzed in and I have just enough time after gryeing(?) the exposure change for bright sun to snap a shot before he enters the building, making my canvas tableau no longer relevant.  Who cares?  Is this one of the four stages of narcissism?  A something(?) product, or, am I writing my blog in real time?

White Things

I was about to shoot a cherry/cheesy(?) reflection photo, but advance the film and was at the end of the roll.  Now, shit, back to b/w.  I was in a color groove.  ISO 100 no less.  I was just about to write 100 when I realized I had not changed the ASA on my Niko fucking mat, a stolid, solid camera that is over 30 years old. (Actually 40).  I was also thinking if I did not have this book, I would not be writing.  Just after I changed to b/w I saw some colorful fruit and thought, “That could look cool in b/w, maybe focus on the plastic windows!"  Needed my glasses to change the ASA - otherwise, blissfully, no need.  I did need to put my glasses on to write that.  I am not wearing them now.  Not wanting to use my phone, I asked a dog walking man with an Apple watch for the time.  It was a several step process for him.

Color in Black and White

Bill McKibben:  The quest…"by providing that American necessity, a goal."  I am shortly heading off to photograph in my old stomping (?) why stomping grounds?, Harvard Square.  Can I be goal-less, goal free?  Well… the light was not great and I only had ASA100 in the Nikomat.  Again the feeling, like at the Minuteman National Park, oh those mannequins backed with window reflections - Atget.  Waiting for someone to run through my carefully composed scene - Bresson.  I tried to capture John Harvard like Tommy Alcorn.

My Image - Harvard Square - Early 1970s

Amazingly, in break from my past, I did not take pictures of the endless parade of visitors posing with hands touching the lightened toned worn feet of John Harvard.  And I thought of working for Harvard, taking a portrait of a big donor backed by the statue, or something with my sister taking a picture of my mom by the statue, many years ago, on some assignment.  Later, in the rain, I did a quadruple exposure with the Holga, but I am not sure if in my excitement, I forgot to take the lens cap off.

John Harvard

Yesterday, with photographer friend Patrice Flesch, it was fun to shoot as she knew my process of framing a scene and hoping some late passengers would hurry down the gangway to animate my inanimate scene.

Spectacle Island Ferry
When we approached Boston, she could understand when I said, “I wanted to take a skyline picture, but the light is too flat.” However, as the ferry pulled in, I could twist to shoot the docks and reflections with beautiful light as the hazy humid buildings were now at my back.

Technically Crap and Out of Focus - Or Sublime?
I feel that I am writing with expertise and love about subjects I care about, just like the Bill McKibben I am reading right now.  I have shot multiple rolls of film so far this summer.  I do not know if my 40 + year old Nikomat works, or the $10 used Holga I bought works.  It will be exciting to get the film processed.  The shot of the memorial at the tip of Nahant and the one with the flag in the middle - we stopped because the dog was doing its business and I turned around and saw scenes I otherwise would not have.

Deep profound excitement looking at the scans.  The experiment worked!  That’s not my roll of film - what’s this demonstration - no, it is mine, the film had been in the camera for 7 years.  With a self portrait interlude.  Just love the feel of the images.  Wonder - are they actually technically crap and out of focus?  Or, are they sublime?  SUBLIME.  EARTHY.  ROOTSY.  REAL.  You can get only certain look with a f1.4 lens.  I almost wondered if I should dictate while I was looking at the images.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at

March 18, 2019

Tinkering & Hacking :: Transforming an Arts Education Convention Bag to Render it Both More and Less Functional

Researching the educational process at the 2019 National Art Education Association convention in Boston.  How might experimental and democratic experimental educational experiences lead to deeper creativity and meaning-making compared with structured learning based on a fixed intent, process, and final product to be assessed?

Thanks to presenters Tyson Lewis, James Thurman, and Peter Hyland.  Thanks also to volunteer videographers Jamie Andrade and Laura Reeder.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at

August 19, 2018

To iPhone, or not to iPhone: that is the Question

So I'm in the middle of my annual three-week Internet fast, walking through Northampton, MA, and I see in my mind this black-and-white photograph.  I reflexively extract my phone out of my pocket, compose, zoom in a little, and snap a shot.

And, after taking the picture, I feel hollow, shallow.  Since I've packed a smartphone, my real camera, my Nikon D200, has mostly been collecting dust. More and more I've come to to realize the multitude of functions that happen on my phone, the swarm of devices it embodies.  It's time to dismantle this paradigm. 

Paradigm Shift
So I decided to not take pictures with my phone.  I also used a clock to time my meditations, rather than the digital timer.  I used the phone book to look up a number.  I contemplated making the effort to find a flashlight rather than using the app.

For extreme contrast, I began using only film cameras.  Sometimes I took the trouble to carry a camera with me.  Other times not, and despite a phone in my pocket, I eschewed capturing visually entrancing scenes.  I recently sent 7 rolls of film off for processing and await the results.

Portal  (Yes, is is a porthole.)
However, last week, on the ferry across Lake Champlain from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT, the experience was so visually rich I strayed from my cell phone camera ban.

Escape Hatch - Keep Clean
For nine slightly panicked minutes, I prowled around the boat creating these images.  I had broken my cell phone rule! I was longer living in the moment, but mediating my experience with technology!

Adirondack Mountains
And, perhaps, speaking of paradigm shifts, this brief creative spasm may have brought me closer to being in the moment, as capturing the images necessitated accessing all my senses, including intuition.

Taking Care of Business
Since taking pictures brings me joy, perhaps the device does not matter.  However, as I have previously discussed, I believe it is vital to vigilantly question the role technology plays in our lives.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at