June 28, 2024

Toads, Arks and Rocks

It's hot and humid. I'm hiking uphill getting close to large rocks left by glaciers when suddenly noticing this toad prompts a reflex of surprised levitation. Feet back on earth, I crouch down, zoom in, and snap away.

Guardian - An American Toad

I'm on a Trustees of Reservations property in Manchester-by-the-Sea, recently renamed The Monoliths, a change from Agassiz Rock. According to the Trustees, "There is no doubt that Agassiz’s theories about the rocks dotting New England’s landscape being shaped and deposited by glaciers and not the biblical flood that floated Noah’s Ark, as believed at the time, were groundbreaking. However, Agassiz also vehemently promoted the theory of polygenism—the view that humans of varying skin color are of different origins and non-white races are inherently inferior—to a degree that was considered extreme even for his time."  Click for their full explanation for the name change.

How Long
 Has This Been Going On?

I'm shooting Little Rock with a contemporary Nikon Mirrorless Z6 II DSLR camera, using my 50-year-old 50mm f1.4 Nikkor lens acquired as a teenager.  

Positively Pyramidal

Using a technique to create experimental images I learned when teaching at Hallmark Institute of Photography, I removed the lens from the camera and held it an angle a slight distance from the camera's sensor. 


When not experimenting, my vintage lens renders super sharp images.

Same Scene Seen Differently

Like my unexpected toad spotting, I love the surprises that emerge when using equipment in a fashion it was not designed for. Perhaps the dreaminess captures the location's mythical aspects.

Life from Rock

The very large (f1.4) maximum aperture of the lens allows me to isolate subjects using shallow depth of field.

Big Rock

Down the hill from Little Rock near a swamp is the 30-foot-tall Big Rock. Nestled in trees, it was hard to photographically capture the majesty of the edifice. The process became even more challenging as a swarm of mosquitos attacked me and sweat streamed down my face.

Fern Fractal

Despite not being satisfied with my photos of Big Rock, the adverse conditions caused me to surrender and retreat back to my car.

Rock my World
On my way out, the markings on this rock evoked the toad that welcomed me to the property.

Back to top and toad.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

May 20, 2024

Fostering a Creative Mindset - Finding Mindfulness

The last duties and tasks of the spring semester completed! So excited with the work my students created.  Take a look.

Got Satisfaction

A few hours later, leaving a semester's end reception and walking to my car I spied an interesting looking water tower.  It evoked the industrial era and subject matter favored for interpretation by two of my favorite artists, Lyonel Feininger and Charles Sheeler.

Jacob's Ladder

I drove a few blocks to get close and photograph. All the buildings were festooned with No Trespassing signs and surveillance cameras. Aware of possibly being watched, I did not linger, yet played the edge of confrontation. Well, you see, I am an artist...

The Three Sovereigns

When I got out a pen and piece of scrap paper to sketch my subject matter in order to understand it more clearly, I wondered if the process might enhance my chances of rousing security.  Now he's taking notes...?

I Can See Clearly Now

As the water tower excursion proved fruitful, I circled back to the spot I originally spotted the edifice and snapped an image to fully tell the story.

Fully Present

Rather than a day of completion and celebration, I speculate that I had I just left a curriculum planning meeting and was heading home to lesson plan for the next day, I might not have noticed the water tower in the distance as my thoughts and my feet would not have been in the same place.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

April 9, 2024

My Experimental Film Image Chosen for F-Stop Magazine's Group Exhibition on Cities, Plus: "What is the purpose of photographs?"

Delighted that my image Steam and Birds, Manhattan was included in F-Stop Magazine's Cities issue. You can find my image if you scroll halfway down the group exhibit. Thrilled to have my work nestled amongst fascinating and varied views of metropolises.

Steam and Birds, Manhattan
This image is from a series shot using a 120mm lo-fi plastic toy camera called a Holga,  

However, I modified the Holga so I could shoot using 35mm transparency film. This is why the image bleeds into the areas around the sprocket holes. These are actual transparencies. No Photoshop. The scans of the transparencies were worked on in Lightroom.

One frame of 35mm film is 24mm tall and 36 mm wide.  One frame of 120mm film is a 56mm  square. I researched how to actually make the modification. I learned at Lisa Shea's HolgaPhotography.com how to make these physical modifications, using foam and rubber bands. Nicolai Morrisson on his site PhotonDetector.com presented a chart of how many clicks of the knob you need to advance the film between exposures. As the thickness of the film on take up spool thickens, you need fewer and fewer clicks per advance. You can see my check marks after I advanced the proper number of clicks. I loved the absence of a visual indicator as the technique relied solely on audio 

Life Will Not Be Denied, Brooklyn

(At the end of my day photographing in Brooklyn, I dictated this narrative into my phone.)

Arriving Brooklyn, driving under the railroad tracks with my daughter, the light was so beautiful, it was sunny, I saw pictures everywhere. After dropping her off, I set out in search of the rail line. Some areas around churches, the people seemed a little funky. But I’m looking down the street in the right direction, and there is the elevated rail line. I see where it goes underground, and I take a picture of the tracks through the fence, thinking of the picture that friend/photographer/collaborator Jaypix Belmer and I saw taken by the teens in Boston. I’m starting to do the 42 clicks or whatever, so I’m focused on that, and suddenly this guy in my face and says, “can you give me a buck for some fried chicken”? I said “no” and looking at my glasses he said “how about those Ray-Ban’s”? I almost started to say, “well they are prescription, and they won’t help you much", but he moved away. A little unnerving. And I lost track of how many knob clicks advancing film on the camera I had done. After this dollar fried chicken experience, I took a dollar out of my wallet and put it in my pocket so I could easily make a transaction without the vulnerability of opening my wallet.

Right On Time, Brooklyn
I kept looking for pictures, and there’s such a premium on the fact I have only 21 pictures on the roll of film. Kept having my friend/photographer/mentor Lou Jones’s voice in my head about needing access to people and their lives, or Jaypix talking about the importance of talking to strangers to get intimate photos. I went up on the Long Island Railroad platform, thinking of the Bernice Abbott photos taken from a train in Brooklyn that Jaypix and I recently saw at the Boston Atheneum.

I felt so much like I have to take a picture this way or I have to take a picture that way. It can’t just be a scene, there has to be action and people and shadows and complexity. I became angry and discouraged. And then I thought, “If it’s easy, everyone could do it”.

Stop, Look and Listen, Brooklyn
I took a picture of the back of a youth with cool hair and a shiny coat. But felt like a wimp. I came to the end of one street and there was a huge statue of General Grant on horseback, that added some liveliness. I was crouched down, waiting for six bicycles and 10 pedestrians with strollers to come by simultaneously. No such luck. People were scooting by on scooters and there were pretty good shadows. I needed to get to my next appointment, so I just decided, when this next scooter comes by, I’m going to get down low and snap a picture with the scooter in the shadow of the sculpture. So, I did that, but missed the scooter.

Ulysses S. Grant in Brooklyn
It was great then visiting friend/artist/photographer Keris Salmon and meeting her daughter and talking about our both having been stuck in a creative rut and the struggle of getting out of a rut. Seeing all of her art and all her books on art and hearing about the new project she doing, I left inspired and the light was getting even more gorgeous. I saw a tall thin building that was amazing, so I kept walking towards it. Tried to get a fire escape and a tree with the building, but again the very frugal with film, I didn’t take it. But then, looking up at the tree with a sliver of building, I think I burned the frame. 

Light So Thick You Can Touch It, Brooklyn
Got closer to the tall building and it was kind of interesting, but there was a huge crane and the light on it was just fabulous. So, I think I took a picture of the tall building with the crane. I also remembered at one point, that I could do multiple exposures, so I think I did one at this point. Then I did a double exposure of the incredible crane overlapped wigs for sale. 

Heavy Lifting, Brooklyn
I loosened up, had more fun. This was good because I realized I was so wrapped in what I should be shooting and how I should be shooting. It’s great to have a mentor and friends who are photographers, but I gotta be me.

Walk This Way, Brooklyn
That evening, during a massage I imagined building little boxes and having the film transparencies with images with the sprockets showing mounted in the boxes and there would be lights in the boxes making them glow. I first thought that it would be a standalone image, but then I thought of a larger piece of driftwood with maybe six panoramas in it.

Just before the massage I had gone into a branch of the New York Public library. There was an Aperture Magazine with an essay titled, “What is the purpose of photographs?” Any photograph is simply a record, it postulated, but are they art, as well? After my exciting day taking pictures in Brooklyn, I realize that the purpose of photographs is for the photographer to derive enjoyment from the act. Also, on the massage table I had affirmed to myself: I am a photographer. I am an artist. I can do whatever the f*ck I want.

Oh my God, the voices in my head.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

April 4, 2024

"The Surveillance Camera at Plymouth Rock" featured in the 2024 MAEA Art Educators Exhibit

Delighted that my image makes its public debut at the Massachusetts Art Education Association Art Educators Exhibit that runs March 14 - April 16, 2024 at The Gallery at Villageworks, 525 Massachusetts Ave, West Acton, MA 01720

A couple of weeks ago I helped hang the show and my colleagues' artworks are seriously inspiring! 

Opening reception 7-8 pm on April 11th.  

The Surveillance Camera at Plymouth Rock, 2023

I have been making a series of digital in-camera multiple exposures called Reality-Based Abstractions since 2008. This image was made technically possible by using a Nikon Mirrorless Z6 II DSLR camera. I had programmed the camera to layer three consecutive shots into a single image file (see below). However, unlike earlier digital Nikons I have used, the Z6, along with combining the three images, also keeps each individual image file. Thus, instead of the flag image used above being solely embedded in an unalterable layered file, it was available to combine in Photoshop with a close-up shot of the surveillance camera.

Mayflower, Columns and Flag

Rock and Camera
The monument in Plymouth, Mass., which purportedly marks the spot where the Pilgrims arrived, was vandalized twice in 2020, 400 years after the landing.

Hence, the surveillance camera.

Legendary History

An in-camera multiple exposure of the edifice:

Time's Grid

So many legends and falsehoods swirl around the Pilgrims arrival. Perhaps abstraction constitutes a more accurate portrayal.

Landing of the Pilgrims, 1825, by Samuel Bartoli

I recently came across this powerful juxtaposition of paintings at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.  The label clarifies some of the myths.

History Through Art
Pilgrim Point, 1947, by Karl Knaths

Near Plymouth Rock, a replica of the Mayflower, one of crafts that conveyed the Pilgrims, bobs in the harbor waters.

The multiple exposure below might look like reality unless you understand how the ship's rigging for the sails actually works.

Life Lines

I layered three views of a raptor that soared above The Mayflower into a single image. 

Soaring Towards Clarity

Accurate history is elusive.  I am intrigued by the power of belief; that you can believe in an idea that my not be true, yet it can give you purpose, direction and meaning.

What's your Plymouth Rock?

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

March 2, 2024

Chasing Berenice Abbott's Light in Boston's South End

Planting inspirational seeds in advance of my students taking images on the topic of “Cities”, l showed them photographs of New York City, including “New York Stock Exchange, New York”, 1933, by Berenice Abbott.

Stepping Out - Or Was It In?
Today, l chased her light, taking pictures in Boston’s South End. These images are interspersed with photographs l shot in 1977, at age 18, living in the same South End, studying the city and its people.

Alley Tree
Back then I shot with a Nikomat, developed and printed the work myself, and then glued the images into a photo journal.

Contrails Can Suppress Daylight
Today, I used an iPhone from my pocket and posted here and on Instagram.

Shadowy Alley
It is so fun to still be exploring the world, chasing light and shadow, regardless of the capture device and method of presentation.

Echoes of Japan
They say the best way to learn is to teach.

Sunny Day
So glad that planting city seed images for my students reawakened an exploratory mindset for me.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

February 3, 2024

"Dynamic Legacy Ladder" Chosen for F-Stop Magazine's Group Exhibition on Color

So excited to be rubbing virtual shoulders with photographers from 33 countries as my image Dynamic Legacy Ladder was included in F-Stop Magazine's Color themed issue.

F-Stop Editor Christy Karpinski told me that there were probably 2500 images submitted from around 330 different photographers.

Dynamic Legacy Ladder

I strongly urge you to visit the exhibit and engage with the diverse approaches that employ a single medium to interpret the theme of color.  It is a honor to join this legion of creatives.

You can find my image if you scroll halfway down the exhibit.

View the Exhibit

I have been working on a series of digital in-camera multiple exposures since 2007.  See these Reality-Based Abstractions.

I broke new ground with Dynamic Legacy Ladder by choosing to make one exposure in color and the other in black and white.  This new direction can be traced directly to my recent collaborations with photographer Jaypix Belmer.  Big thanks to Jaypix for the inspiration!

Dynamic Legacy Ladder in F-Stop Magazine
Big thanks as well to F-Stop Magazine's Editor Christy Karpinski for providing a showcase that unifies humanity through art.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com. Instagram: create.look.enjoy

November 11, 2023

Moment of Focus Exhibit Curated by Jaypix Belmer - Celebrating the Past, Present and Future of Boston Hip-Hop

Pacey Foster from the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive at UMass Boston connected me with Jaypix Belmer, as Belmer was curating an exhibit on Boston Hip-Hop at Black Market Nubian in Roxbury, MA.

During our initial phone conversation, Belmer and I hit it off.  We discovered a mutual love of creating multiple exposure photographs.  We also both find inspiration in the work of photographer Eugene Richards.

I was honored to have my 1980s images of the Boston Hip-Hop scene on view along with Belmer's contemporary images.  The exhibit coincided with Hip-Hop's 50th anniversary.

Photo by Jaypix Belmer

The Boston Globe's James Sullivan attended Moment of Focus and wove vignettes from the event into his article:  In the early days of hip-hop, Boston made its own history.

He made mention of me and my work:

"His photos from various venues around the city were a prominent feature of the recent “Moment of Focus” exhibit, and they made up the bulk of “Hip-Hop: Seen/Unseen,” an exhibit that ran from August until mid-November in Dewey Square on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

“When I see my photos, it’s about the youth,” said Nordell, now a professor at American International College in Springfield. He recently donated his negatives to the Hip-Hop Archive."

My images were used to illustrate the article.

A history of Hip-Hop in Boston without acknowledging Rusti Pendleton, shown above scratching with his toes, would be woefully incomplete.

Photo by James Bynum

A scant few of my Boston Hip-Hop images were published in the 80s. The rest would still be unseen if record store owner and historian Brian Coleman had not tracked me down to find out if I had more.  Thanks again Brian!

A big thank you as well to Jaypix Belmer for including my work in the Moment of Focus Hip-Hop Exhibit.

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 CreateLookEnjoy.com and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.