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 CreateLookEnjoy.com and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

December 31, 2022

Technology Research: Reviewing the Mirrorless Nikon Z6 II

Some end-of-year need-to-spend-budget money landed us at American International College with a Nikon Mirrorless Z6 II and I finally had a little spare time to create in the midst of my midsemester crush.  Grabbing the Z6, I had not even left my house when light forms on a window shade stopped me in my tracks.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” - George Eastman, Founder of Eastman Kodak Company
George Eastman revolutionized photography several times over and made it available to the masses. His quote maintains its juice in our digital age.

In 2007, I acquired an early Nikon DSLR, a D200.  This solid, trusty machine has served me well.  I discovered that I could program the camera to purposely create in-camera multiple exposures.  The process led to my Reality-Based Abstraction series.

The Creation of Triangles - 3 Individual Images Automatically Combined Into a Single Jpeg File Inside the Camera
Employing this multiple exposure technique I discovered with my D200, I used the mirrorless Z6 and shot three images of the light forms, angling my camera in different orientations.

When looking through the viewfinder of a mirrorless camera like the Z6, you view the scene you are photographing on a small digital screen. The scene comes through the lens and hits a sensor which sends information to the screen.  With pre-mirrorless cameras, the scene travels through the lens, bounces off a mirror and up into a corrective prism housed in the viewfinder before reaching your retina. 

When shooting multiple exposures, a digital screen embedded in the viewfinder like this allows to to see your prior shot images in the series and you can thus precisely align each successive image to complete your composition.  Looking through the viewfinder, as I aligned the right hand triangle to just touch the edge of the top shape, I felt like Michelangelo precisely spacing the hands in The Creation of Adam, one of his frescos gracing the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.

The Creation of Triangles - The Same Three Individual Images Combined by Hand After the Fact in Photoshop 
With the Z6, when set to create a multiple exposure, I discovered that the camera keeps each individual file and also combines the images into a single file. With the D200, you only ended up only with the single file of combined images. However, the combined file with the Z6 is the compressed, lower quality, Jpeg image file format, while with the D200, the combined file is a high quality, versatile, Raw format file.

I am baffled and disappointed that with this state-of-the-art camera the combined multiple exposure file is a lower quality Jpeg.  On the plus side, I do end up with each of the individual files. I experimented with bringing the individual images into Photoshop and manually combining the files to end up with a higher quality multiple exposure (see above).  I am vexed by this process, however, as I prefer spending my time creating images, rather than sitting in front of my computer. 

Equally baffling with the Z6, is that the combined Jpeg is in the middle of the sequence of images, rather than at the end, making it difficult to determine which files to combine in Photoshop. (1/5/23 Update: I use Lightroom to view and edit images.  If I sort the images by "File Name" rather than the default of "Capture Time," the combined Jpeg shows up at the end of the sequence of individual images.)

 Michelangelo and Me - Simulation of Aligning the Individual Images for The Creation of Triangles

Sketch for Seasons of Life - First of Three Images - Nahant, Mass.
Seasons of Life - 3 Images Combined in the Camera - Jpeg

I think I might prefer the overall solidity of the colors and details in the version below.  And I love the precision the Z6's viewfinder screen preview afforded me while photographing as I nestled the lampposts into the composition. However, I resent spending time in Photoshop combining the images to make the resulting higher quality file.

Seasons of Life -  The Same 3 Images Combined in Photoshop

Old School Construction Finery
Back to light and George Eastman. The late afternoon sun raking across the buildings in Northampton, Mass. was riveting.  Capturing the scene, aligning four successive exposures using the screen in the Z6's viewfinder, brought me into the joyous present moment.

Into the Infinite

While assessing the results of versions combined in-camera versus those combined by hand, I zoomed way in to ascertain the qualities, blowing the images up to 200 percent.  Even then, discerning sharp differences sometimes proved difficult. Perhaps my research was skewed by wanting to only find evidence that backed up preconceived ideas. 

Do you think the above image Into the Infinite was combined in camera, or later by hand in Photoshop?

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

December 13, 2022

Eschewing Conventional Art Tools: Block Printing Beach Plums Using Ocean Water Lands Me In the Present Moment

On a blustery day after Thanksgiving,  I wanted to make art in my sketchbook using only found materials at Duxbury (MA) beach.  I like the challenge of eschewing conventional art tools such as paints, inks, pencils, pens, glue and so on.  And I love the physicality of creating outdoors. The crashing waves of the incoming tide, the raindrops falling on my head, the irregular grittiness of natural objects, the taste of salt on the wind and the varied magnificent vistas all brought me into the present moment of encountering life itself.

Collecting Beach Plums in Varying Stages of Decay

Learning That Moisture is Key When Block Printing Beach Plums

Moistening Sketchbook Pages Before Printing Again

Finding Soft and Ripe Beach Plums

A 180 Pound Printing Press

Cover Art

Evoking a 19th Century Japanese Persimmon Painting

Reveling in the Sensory Moment

Buying a Frame at The Salvation Army

Framing Memories
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 CreateLookEnjoy.com and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.  

November 3, 2022

Newspaper Profile: "Helping Us See With New Eyes", plus Autumn Exhibitions

The Montague Reporter chronicled my artistic life and teaching experiences. (After the clicking the link scroll down to page B1.) 

The report mentions upcoming exhibitions of my art as well as my December online Zentangle drawing workshops.

My double exposure using a film camera, Now and Then, is in a juried group show at The Lava Center, 324 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301 On view: 11/5 - 12/17, Opening reception 11/5 11 am - 2 pm

Now and Then

Artist Statement: I shot film as an internationally travelled and published photojournalist in the 1980s and 1990s. As I shifted to teaching in the 2000s, standard camera gear shifted to digital. I discovered with my digital camera that I could purposefully create in-camera multiple exposures, layering images to abstract reality. In the late 2010s, I picked up film cameras again. Employing techniques refined using modern digital tech, I used old school tools in a new way. I currently teach visual and digital arts courses at American International College.

Speaking of digital in-camera multiple exposures, Sea, Sand, Sky, from my Reality-Based Abstraction series, will join the work of my teaching colleagues in the Massachusetts Art Education Association Members Exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum, Higgins Education Wing, 55 Salisbury St, Worcester, MA. Please use the entrance on Lancaster St (off Salisbury) On View, November 2, 2022 – December 2, 2022 Reception: Saturday, November 12 , 2022 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Sea, Sand, Sky

Artist Statement for my Reality-Based Abstraction series:

This set of images evokes in me the excitement I felt 5 decades ago watching my first photographs emerge in a developing tray.  Today I eagerly watch the screen on the back of my digital camera as the machine develops a series of exposures into these multilayered offerings.  As the image combining occurs in-camera, the spirit of my art is photographic rather than digital. 

 The raw files that emerge, however, are flat and gray looking, so I use a computer darkroom to reveal rich detail, texture and color. 


The art of the Cubist painters shimmers with life.  These painters have inspired me to utilize multiple views simultaneously to portray the essence of a subject.   


Engaging light and graphic beauty draw me to subject matter, which usually relates to the constructed environment.


The “zzt” sound of the camera’s shutter encourages me.  I joyfully bend, stretch and strain while photographing.  Heart, technology and technique combine to reflect the overlapping planes in which I see the world these days.


I have been working on this series since 2007.


A print of Art Museum Columns resides in the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops. Instagram: @john.nordell

September 21, 2022

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone Part 327

I contacted Anna Hepler about doing a collaborative project involving her creating art and me playing drums. Anna is a friend, mentor, brilliant artist and collaborator on previous projects.

My father played jazz drums, leading a combo.  I inherited his bare-bones drum set.

At a minimum he wore a coat and tie for gigs; for fancy events, he and his band wore tuxedoes.

Following my father’s lead, I suggested to Anna that we dress up for our art and music experience.

We had a brief planning phone call before getting together.

When I arrived at the former industrial building that houses her studio, Anna emerged on the loading dock and upon seeing each other we just burst into laughter.

I said, “If I ask my students to step out of their comfort zone, I have to do it myself!”

She replied, “Yes… but for some people stepping out of their comfort zone means using more yellow paint, not getting dressed up and doing this (entering unexplored territory).”

We decided to do one take with me as leader.  Then another take with her as leader. And then one with both of us leading.

We changed outfits for each experimentation.  I somehow thought the video camera angle of view would only capture my waist up coat and tie formality.

The first take was slightly stilted as we were like two individuals operating mostly independently.  By the second take, a synergistic, natural call and response type of thing emerged.

We hoped ultimately for cohesive improvisation. And found it.

It was a joyous experience.  We each brought our own strengths to table.

Reflecting on the collaboration, we at first discussed possible meanings and interpretations.   In the end, we wanted the performance to speak for itself.

As Anna concluded, “I want to treasure the experience as an experience.”

My dad performs at a gig:

Rod Nordell

August 4, 2022

What do photography and fishing have in common? Tales from a mill pond.

With time to spare before collaborating with photography teacher Jess Lazarus at Pembroke (Mass.) High School, I discovered a herring fish ladder at nearby Glover Mill Pond.  I packed a plastic Holga camera loaded with a fresh 12 exposure roll of film. (Click to learn about this camera.)  

I set out to tell the story of the fish ladder with the enabling constraint of only 12 shots.  Like a baseball pitcher waving off a proposed pitch from their catcher with a slight head shake, I moved on without pressing the shutter button when what I saw through my viewfinder did not measure up.

12 Images - The One Repeated View Was to Refine the Plane of Focus

Knowing I would soon be in a classroom of eager students prompted me to be mindful of my creative process and decision making.  What wisdom could I distill from this documentary experience to effectively teach about storytelling, framing, lighting and exposure choices?

Fish Ladder is at the Upper Right Rule of Thirds Crash Point

Herring are born in rivers, travel downstream, and then live in the ocean before returning to their birthplaces to spawn.  River dams built for industrial purposes, such as creating water power for 19th century mills, obstruct the upstream progress of the fish.  Fish ladders are thus built to facilitate the passage of herring up and over the dams.  

Imagine Swimming Up this Fish Ladder 

The day before this exploration I met with legendary photographer Lou Jones.  I knew him from the 1990's Boston commercial photo scene.  We reconnected a few years ago as he mentored a few of my students.  Subsequently, from my viewpoint, he has slid into the mentor seat for me.

"I feel like I keep taking the same picture over and over," I said to Lou, describing a creative photographic rut.

Protecting the Herring

Lou replied that while when you look through the viewfinder there are thousands of considerations in terms of camera settings, exposure, light, etc., and over time you can refine the speed with which you make these split second decisions.  However, none of that matters unless you have access to interesting subject matter.  (Lately Lou has been photographing in Kenya for his panAfricanproject: Redefining the Modern Image of Africa, and capturing IronWorkers walking across girders 53 stories above Boston.)

A Great Blue Heron Flew Across the Sky as I Photographed Gino Fellini

Fueled by Lou's urgings, when I saw this fisherman, I summoned the courage to ask if I could take his picture, thereby gaining access. In my photojournalist days, I went to the Soviet Union on a tourist visa, climbed over fences to photograph Super Fund sites and disobeyed Secret Service agents.  Lately, however, ensconced in the Ivory Tower, I have been timid with approaching strangers, let alone trespassing!

For My Students, Found in Their Syllabi

Gino Fellini, who has been Pembroke's Conservation Chair, explained the ins and outs of the herring restoration program.  Also, as he described his process of recreational fishing, I found parallels to the creative process that I strive to imbue into each cell of each student.

Seeking to deepen the connection, I asked Gino to write an explanation of his fishing process.  He graciously complied via email:

Hi John,

It was a pleasure meeting you. As far as fishing being a “process” I refer to the actions associated with the routine of rigging, tying knots, selecting a rod and reel, a variety of lures to experiment with, artificial or live bait, hook size and style, etc.. The process also includes location, time of day and season, weather and wind conditions, water temperature, water clarity and depth, hook set, retrieval speeds... Every day is different. I’ve had a variety of successes and failures. 

My happiness is not predicated by how many or how large a fish I catch. For example, at the pond where we met, Ive gone weeks without a substantial catch and then boom 10 large mouth bass of average size in an hour! The next day only 2 bass, but the first was over 4.5 lbs, number two was 3.5 lbs. then nothing again for a while. The process is not all about the fish. While fishing I am observing and contemplating the sights and sounds of nature that surrounds me. It has afforded me a myriad of experiences that can be as rewarding as outsmarting and landing a whopper! 

So that’s it. The process in a nutshell. 😎



From Water Power to Solar Power: This "Farm" is About 100 Yards from the Dam
"The process is not all about the fish." Amen, Gino!  Yes, I had a camera and took these images. However, I also connected with another human, enjoyed a brilliant summer's day, learned, reflected, had fun, experimented, took risks, made psychic connections to students and mentors, and delighted in the wonders of nature.

Like fisherman, we photographers also love to tell stories about "the one that got away."

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com   Instagram: @john.nordell

July 3, 2022

Plein Air: Watercolor Painting on the Water using Ocean Water

I recently passed my "sail check" so that I can rent sailboats from the Duxbury Bay Maritime School in Duxbury, Mass.  On this day, I brought my watercolor paint set and sketchbook.

Along the edge of the marsh, a tern splashed into the water, flying away with a fish.  Meanwhile, I splashed my brush into the ocean for water to paint with.

As I tacked back and forth working with the wind, I alternated between painting with my left and right hands.

The sights, the sounds, the sensations, the creating and the sailing all brought me into the precious now.

 Need I explain how much I love summer?

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell