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

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.

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.


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

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.

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

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

July 2, 2015

Walking Home: A Yellow Focus Adds Delight

Walking home from leaving my car at Ozzie's Auto Body & Paint Shop, this scene started it all:

The yellow flower drew me close. The Taylor Rental building in the background completed the hue scheme.

Then, nearby.  Hey, look!

Seeing Red
Aside from these red outliers, yellow things kept me company on my walk.

Buried Berkshire Gas Line
In this age of smart phone cameras and zoom lenses, I enjoyed the discipline and simplicity of using a fixed focal length lens (60mm, f.2.8) on my Nikon D200.  This type of lens makes for wonderful out of focus backgrounds.

My camera set to a slow shutter speed, I twisted the machine during the exposure. 

What Are the Chances?

No way! The only other person I see is wearing a yellow shirt.

Twin Towers
Safety covers on utility pole guy-wires near Lundgren Honda.

$12 Dollar Cuts

Window neon at RMP Hair and Company.

Thanks to all the yellow things that made my walk extra enjoyable!

May 11, 2015

What You Look At, Affects What You See: Ode to Jay Maisel, Man Ray and Bernice Abbott

The machined pattern of the Gyroscope Playground workbench at the MIT Museum beckoned:

My Art Playground

Preparing to create a Reality-Based Abstraction, I got in close to photograph:

Right-side Up

Often when photographic legend Jay Maisel gives a talk, he shows the same picture right-side up and then upside down, to demonstrate how our eyes play tricks on us, because we assume light (the sun) is coming from above.

Right-side Down

I often combine multiple views of an object simultaneously, by layering images in the camera, to trick the eyes into seeing the full reality of a subject:

All Sides Together

My image above evokes (for me) Man Ray's 1930s work Larme (Tears), which portrays a woman crying glass tears.

Here is the same workbench, shot specifically and intentionally out of focus:

Ways of Seeing

Bernice Abbott, once a student of Man Ray, photographed in the 1950s at MIT, creating images to enhance the teaching of physics.

Her work, A Bouncing Ball in Diminishing Arcs, adorns the side of the MIT Museum, in Cambridge, MA:

It's All About Light

I like the repartee of physics and a nearby string of lights.

Big thanks to Jay Maisel, Man Ray and Bernice Abbott, for helping me to see below (and above) the surface of things.

January 12, 2015

From Observer to Participant: A Photojournalist Goes Tourist in Washington, DC

My day working as a photojournalist started at dawn to get set up to capture President Bush's noontime swearing in.

Family Affair

My day visiting Washington DC last summer as a tourist started at dawn as well, as the free bikes at my hotel were first come, first served. 

When covering President Bush's inauguration, I was loaded down with pounds of photographic gear and a laptop.  A plastic film camera and little digital camera fit in my fanny pack as I pedaled amongst the monuments.

All my prior visits to DC had been as a detached, somewhat cynical photojournalist, more concerned with finding out where the story was, taking dynamic images and meeting deadlines, than understanding my emotional landscape in the corridors of power.

Feeling from Stone
Therefore, years later, as a tourist, I was unprepared for the unbeckoned feeling of pride that swelled in my chest as I gazed upon the Washington Monument.

Muggy Morning

Or the powerful feelings of awe, anger and grief at the National World War II Memorial.

Moving Mountains

Further wheeled exploration led the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This other battle evoked similar feelings.

Echoes of Monticello

The view from a paddle boat midway between the MLK, Jr. Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.  As I began to consider Jefferson's "all men created equal" in light of his ownership of slaves, tarnishes on Dr. King's legacy came to mind.  I remember reading in the New York Times about the mixed feelings my Stanford African-American History Professor Clayborne Carson had when he discovered evidence of plagiarism in King's doctoral thesis.

Maybe these the flawed famous men can help me to accept my own human imperfections.

I hope this multiple exposure from my film camera symbolically conveys my searching:

Outside Looking In

After twenty years plying the photojournalistic trade I began teaching in 2006.  Popping out of class to cover reaction at a local community center to President Obama's first inauguration, I had nascent inklings of a desired shift from detached observer to participant in life.

Thus while continuing to shoot as a photojournalist, I also began experimenting photographically in a more artistic direction.

Inside Looking Out

Looking back, I realize I spent most of my DC photojournalistic days inside buildings like the White House, whether with National Security Council staff near the White House Situation Room, or in the Oval Office with President Regan.

Reagan: Actor Turned President
I loved what I did then.  And, I love what I am doing now.