July 10, 2016

On Internet Fasting and Unplugged Living: Blocking the Internet and Making Use of a Shattered Cell Phone


I am about to embark on a three week internet fast.  This unplugging has become a summer ritual for me.  In 2010, I chronicled my first experience with detaching from the web.

Scenes from last summer's fast:

Blocked Internet - Collage on Wood

I was looking for the Minuteman Bike Trial, a rail-trail that I thought led roughly from Lexington, Mass. into Cambridge, Mass.  I asked at the front desk where I was staying in Concord, Mass., and the older woman, though she had a computer in front of her, said she did not know where to find it.  She suggested inquiring at one of the local tourist spots.

Riding the Trails

In town, I inquired at the venerable Concord Inn and was given a map of Minute Man National Historic Park, that noted a bikeable section of the Revolutionary War Battle Road.  This was not the trail I was looking for.  However, loaded with history, wooded dirt paths, tourists from across the globe and planked boardwalks with banked turns through swamps, the route was a bike ride for the ages.

Had I solely searched the web and avoided interactions with not always precise humans, I would have simply found my original destination (the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway - America's Revolutionary Rail Trail) and missed out on an unknown treat.

Printed Information

This weather report from The Boston Globe served me well.  So I got a little wet enjoying pedaling up and down the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.  Might planning using an hourly forecast inhibit touching all of life?

Another day, as I arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I found a man struggling to take a selfie with a large sculpture behind him.  I asked if he wanted me to take his picture.  When I showed him the image, smiling broadly, he exclaimed, "Wow!"  I think that selfies may have become a culturally acceptable way to limit interactions with strangers.

However, you will have to take my word for this interaction, as I have no digital proof.  Unplugged from the web, I would be shamed in David Eggers' The Circle, a creepy fictionalized (?) world where "Privacy is Theft".

Pony Express

Back home, I wanted to send some postcards, but did not know the proper postal rate.  I asked my mail carrier, who called headquarters to find out.  They later called back: 35 cents.

"I guess you don't send postcards," I said.

"Jeez, no," he replied.  "I can't remember the last time I sent a postcard.  I guess I don't go on vacation to interesting places." He laughed.  "No one would want a postcard from where I live."

Have You Ever Gone to a Movie that You Knew Nothing About?

One day, I wanted to go to a movie.  At my library, the movie schedule was buried deep inside the third newspaper I searched.  "Self/less" was the only movie that fit into my time frame.  I experienced wonder as the movie began.  I knew nothing about the movie and had no idea what to expect.

Had I seen previews, a trailer or a review, I would likely not have chosen to see it, as I am not big on science fiction.  However, I appreciated the overall message that out of human frailty and violence, forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

Disclosure: During this internet fast, I went online to find the closest urgent care center.  I also occasionally asked family members to look up something for me.  And, one time in a hurry, I looked online for movie times.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood
Over the course of a couple of weeks last fall, I found three pieces of a shattered cell phone in the parking lot as I arrived to teach at American International College in Springfield, Mass.  I later inked the pieces and printed them on paper.  I added some background color using pastels.  I used Mod Podge to affix the paper to a piece of driftwood harvested from coastal waters off Nahant, Mass.

Some of the ink unexpectedly smeared when I applied the Mod Podge with a brush.  Also, I was not careful enough when attaching the paper to wood-that-could-have-been-smoother and ended up with distracting wrinkles in the paper

Life's Over, Or Just Beginning?
So I tried again.  Over the course of several weeks, after printing the cell phone parts, I worked the pastels, striving to have the colors blend and meld.  I needed a touch of Wite-Out to remove some stray ink fouling the integrity of the circular button shape.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood, Wite-Out
Whereas with my first try the ink accidentally smeared when I applied Mod Podge, the second time around I purposely used the technique with consistent directionality to enhance that falling feeling.  I also sanded the driftwood to a smoother surface and took more care when affixing the paper with Mod Podge to achieve a uniform smoothness.

Solid as a Block

Even the title was a work in progress.

I Wish You Could Feel the Heft
I am ready for my next internet fast.  I am ready to encounter life without knowing what is going to happen before it happens.  I invite you to join me for an hour, a day, a few weeks, or more!

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @professornordell

June 27, 2016

Visual Assessment of Teachers: How Best Teaching Practices Make This Photographer's Job Easier!


One of my photography clients is Stoneleigh-Burnham School, a college preparatory boarding and day school for girls, grades 7-12, located in Greenfield, MA. 

I realized that elements of best teaching practices (see photo captions) created a classroom environment favorable for me to capture lively and engaging images.

Student engagement 



It was a delight to photograph science teacher Andrea Carnes' class as the students fine-tuned rockets they had built from scratch.

Hands-on activities


They also went over paperwork for the mock rocket companies they created.

Real-world, collaborative, project-based learning





Then Carnes introduced how to use quadrant astrolabes.  

Teacher modeling of activity


The students will use these devices to calculate the altitude of their rockets' flights.

Visually rich classroom


 Active learning 






Peer to peer teaching



Appropriate challenge



In the moment formative assessment


Student focus




Learning enjoyment


The visual impact of these best practices deepens my understanding of their value and encourages me to refine their use in my classes.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @professornordell

May 27, 2016

Drawing in the Dark - Capturing Captain America with Pen and Pencil


Captain America's shield has how many rings?

Wanting to see more clearly, I brought my sketchbook, pens and pencils to the Hadley Cinemark.

Robert Downey Jr., Cap America - Ink on Paper
Drawing the action from Captain America: Civil War in a darkened theater, I could not see what I was doing.

Marvel - Pencil on Paper


When I bring my Cultivating Creativity students to the Springfield Museums, I invite them to draw the art in order to see the works deeply and to gain a richer understanding of artists' mindsets.  I ask students to do blind contour drawings.  This approach, designed to promote clarity of observation, involves keeping one's eyes on the subject matter while not looking at what the pencil is doing.  Sort of like drawing in the dark.

Red Star on Book of Russian Trigger Words (top left)
White Star on Captain America's Shield (bottom)
Hammer and Sickle (top right)

 Ink on Paper
The good guys and the bad guys both employed the symbolism of stars.  I threw in a hammer and sickle for good measure.

Captain America's Retro Helmet - Pencil on Paper 


2D Rubbing of 3D Glasses - Pencil on Paper


I had greater visibility during the closing credits, allowing for more precision as I did a rubbing of my 3D glasses.

There are three rings on Captain America's shield.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com

December 4, 2015

Undertaking His Own Assignment, A Professor Perseveres in the Face of Failure


I decided to carry out the following assignment that I give to my Digital Photography II class at American International College.

Create a Multiple Image Photo Story:

A. Choose a certain scene or location and make two visits at different times of day to photograph the activities.
 

B. I suggest that you spend between 45 minutes to 1 hour on each visit to fully document the situation.
 

C. Take a variety of types of images.  Establishing shot.  Medium shot.  Close up.  Portraits. Small details.  Extreme angles (ant & giraffe).

Saturday Farmers' Market - Greenfield, MA

I climbed atop an electrical box to capture this overview of the Greenfield Farmers' held at the edge of the Town Common.  As I photographed, an older grey haired woman passed by, pushing a cart containing fresh peaches.

"I thought out of the corner of my eye I saw someone climbing up on that thing," she told me.  "I am glad to see that you are actually up there!"

"I am glad I was able to confirm reality for you," I reply.  We both laugh.

Source of the Peaches
Seamus and Ben from Clarkdale Fruit Farms.

Rainbow
The lively and colorful scene offered a plethora of photographic possibilities.

Who is in Charge?

Though the morning sun occasionally dipped behind clouds, there were shadows to work with.  And I challenged myself to shoot beyond the ordinary from a unique variety of angles.

Connecting

I myself bought some baby bok choy.  Later, I slathered it in olive oil and Adobo and grilled it.

Actual Social Networking
Friends Matt and Kerrita.  She was gearing up for a barbecue.

Basis for a Novel

I returned to the same location late in the afternoon, hoping for golden sunlight and long shadows.   However, I was greeted with clouds and sprinkles.

The bustling market was over and the streets basically deserted.  There was nothing exciting to photograph!

I was grateful to encounter Heather, Liam, Seoul and McEwan, waiting for a shuttle bus to ferry them to the Franklin County Fair.

Family Ties
Photography is all about light.  The overcast grey afternoon and lack of activity stymied me.  How will I show my students that I can overcome a creative roadblock?  A feeling of desperation welled in my gut.  I am going to fail!  Is this terror what my students encounter when trying to complete an assignment?

However, nearby, I noticed a neon sign at Magpie Woodfired Pizza.

Light is Life

Wanting to add life to the sign's neon blue glow, I waited to snap this image, catching a car's brake lights.  Okay, I am making progress.  What other techniques can I employ?

Making Strides

Using the reflective properties of a store window to create some mystery, I framed this setting.  Before clicking the shutter, I waited for human activity to add life and story.  Creativity can be forged from struggle.

Book and Brew
I finally stuck gold at Seymour The Pub, across the Town Common from Farmers' Market site.  So many kinds of lights.  And Anika, reading and relaxing.

Never give up!

Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell, Assistant Professor of Communication at American International College in Springfield, Mass., blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com

November 6, 2015

The Art of Rugby: AIC Student-Athlete Kayla Hunkin-Clark


One of my students at American International College, Kayla Hunkin-Clark, asked me to photograph her rugby team in action.  It was my first time photographing the sport and I loved it.

Unlike the similarly rough sport of football, neither helmets nor facemasks obscure facial expressions:

Domo Hammock makes a tackle.
There were new-to-me types of plays to capture:

Fair Patton and Oriana Johnson lift Domo Hammock in a line-out.
And with 15 players on each team, the action was sometimes confusing:

Anne Harvey places the ball while in a ruck.
American International College dominated Sacred Heart University, 147 - 7.

Anne-Laurence Harvey makes steps and strides.
In my Visual and Digital Arts courses, Kayla works hard. 


At a full sprint, Kayla breaks through all defenders.

She consistently and creatively applies the knowledge she gains.


Assisted by Hilaria Lymas, Kayla makes a tackle.

I enjoy learning about my students' non-academic interests, to learn what makes them tick, to see them pursuing their passions.


Studying art and history, Kayla (second from left) and classmates, act out the roles of people in a painting. 
One day Kayla came into my office, proudly pointing out the stitches in her head, nochalantly saying something like, "I think I got cleated."

Badge of Honor - Ice Pack on Injury
A big thanks to Kayla for helping me write the photo captions, for teaching me rugby terminology.

Team
About this photo Kayla wrote:  A team to be proud of that shows respect, takes responsibility, has dedication and accountability, and is trustworthy.  We could not be the team we are today without our coach Dimitri Efthimiou.

Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell, Assistant Professor of Communication at American International College in Springfield, Mass., blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com

August 30, 2015

Beating Plowshares into Swords and Cannons into Statues


O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
from The End of Innocence, by Don Henley (lyrics) & Bruce Hornsby (music), 1989

Battlefield, Bridge and Statue


On this site, minute men and colonial militia fought against British soldiers on April 19, 1775, during one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.  The battlefield in Concord, MA is now Minute Man National Historical Park.  

The Minute Man Statue depicts a farmer with one hand on his plow, the other holding a musket.  According to the Park's website, "Minute Men were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and in the event of an alarm, be ready to march at a minute's warning - hence they were called 'minute men'."

Minute Man
Contemplating the statue, I thought of Don Henley's lyrics lamenting the Reagan era's expanded  militarization, and his twist on the Biblical plea for peace from Isaiah 2:4, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares..."  This verse urges transforming instruments of war into useful everyday items.  A plowshare is part of a plow, an agricultural implement used to prepare soil for planting.  

"When is the time to take up arms?" I wondered.  The Minute Men were heroes for putting down their plows and picking up their guns.

Statue, River, Sky

I often choose to make multiple exposures (see above), combining various elements simultaneously, as a method to abstractly portray the complexity of reality.  The results sometimes depict ambiguity, sometimes clarity.

The Sound of Revolution

The pedestal of the Minute Man Statue boasts this stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn", including the metaphorical gem, "Here the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world."

Shot Heard Round the World

Artist Daniel Chester French melted down Civil War cannons to create the bronze Minute Man Statue.  Beating swords into art!

Peace Symbol
Homer Gunn's sculpture, "Peace Symbol", located on Veterans Memorial Mall in Greenfield, Mass., gives form to the Biblical entreaty.

Could You Make Anything Out of a Drone?


Creating, making art, capturing images, and using my hands, all deepen my connection to my artistic predecessors and the issues and ideas I grapple with.  I invite you to take a look a this video, which portrays my creative process of block printing a Revolutionary War Minute Man:



When I create photographs, four plus decades of experience are distilled into fractions of a second.  I love to balance this approach with the hours of time spent to perfect a block print:

Minute Man
As I labored over carving the details of the Minute Man's clothes, boots, straps, plow, buckles and buttons, I marveled at the resourcefulness of individuals in this early industrial era.  Who made the boots?  Who made the plow handles?  How did this all get done?  Oh, and by the way, in our spare time, let's fight a War of Independence.  Amazing.  We have it so easy today, in some ways.

The Art of Making Weapons

How about this display of musket balls and the mold for making them at the Park's Museum?  These musket balls (bullets) were made by hand, one by one.

Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell, Assistant Professor of Communication at American International College in Springfield, Mass., blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com