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 

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

April 14, 2018

A (Satur) Day in the Life of Professor Nordell

Driving to Springfield, Massachusetts to watch some of my American International College students compete in the Women's Rugby 7s Invitational, I listened to Amisha Ghadiali on The is Future Beautiful podcast interview Charles Eisenstein about possible responses to serious environmental issues.  How does Eisenstein stay centered in tumultuous times?  "My practice is to ask, 'what is it like to be you'?  What it is like to be the people you judge the most."

See Ya Later
The first open parking space near the rugby field was close to a tree. What is it like to be you I wondered about the tree, and thusly chose to move my car rather than park atop the roots.

What is it Like to be You? 
After the tournament, I found that others had parked right next to the tree.  In homage to friend and master tree photographer, Benjy Swett, I photographed the specimen.  Benjy comes from a family of photographers.

I thought of his sister, Evelyn Swett, when I spied some of the first glorious spring colors and chose to photograph the dandelions in black and white.

Color Burst
Evelyn had recently posted a black and white image on Instagram of salad greens, and pondered, "Am I crazy to shoot a luscious local green salad in black and white or do the subtleties of shades of green deserve a quieter palette?"

I stuck with monochrome for these tanks, inspired by the way the photographs of industrial sites by Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher teach us to see beauty and majesty in large structures.

Using the vegan Happy Cow app I discovered Pita Pockets on Main Street in Northampton.  As I sat in front and throughly enjoyed my sandwich, @postaljeff walked by delivering mail.  We chatted.

Main Street Life
I kick myself for not taking a portrait of Jeff, but the mail carrier by day and photographer the rest of the time is one of the masterminds behind @igers413, a site that connects Instagrammers in Western Massachusetts.

Figure 1                                                                                Figure 2
Up from Main Street and heading towards the Smith College Museum of Art on Elm, shapes and shadows caught my eye (Figure 1).  I then shot a three image in-camera multiple exposure of the scene (Figure 2).

Figure 3 - Crystalline Solid
I later used a filter in Photoshop to manipulate Figure 2, and in the process, created Figure 3, one of my Reality-Based Abstractions.

Sons of Joeson: Squirt Water Not Bullets!
For my Art and Culture: A Global Look course, I was searching for material that addressed the issue of whether artists need to present/promote their personal ethnic heritages or might choose a more universal, less culturally specific approach.  So I was delighted to discover Modern Images of the Body from East Asia at the Smith College Museum of Art.

Above, South Korean born Mina Cheon presented this work, "painted" by her alter ego, North Korean socialist realist painter Kim Il Soon.

The Judgement of Paris, 1992
The issue of ethnic representation remains complicated.  Chinese born American Hung Liu created this work that mixes Greek myth (a motif of 18th century Chinese art made for export to western markets) with renderings of prostitutes to entice male customers (based on archival photographs from Beijing).   "The equation is always the same: woman [as] object," says Liu.

Bowl with Scene from the Judgement of Paris, Mid-18th Century, Unknown Artist, China
Liu's work asks us to examine the portrayal of women across time and space, making connections based on gender rather than ethnicity.  Ushio Shinohara's work below, for which he covered boxing gloves in paint and punched a canvas, presents little indication of his traditional Japanese heritage.  Therefore, he may be more universally connected to others by virtue of being an artist that pushes boundaries, rather than by creating Japanese art.

Boxing Painting
I tell my students that I love going to museums because the experience helps me see the whole world as a museum.  For example, I noticed this precious single sheet of toilet paper in the men's room.

I then headed up to the Dublin School in New Hampshire to watch the Putney School Ultimate Frisbee team compete.

Airborne Focus
On my way to dinner in Keene, New Hampshire, I spotted Life is Sweet cupcake shop.  I snapped this image to send to a student in my entrepreneurs class who was developing a business plan for her mock bakery named, "The Sweet Life."

What it is Like to be Me
A full day of creating art, looking at art and enjoying connection.  Life, indeed, is sweet.

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 10, 2018

InstaMeet: On Inspiration and Community

Big thanks to the folks at @igers413 for organizing the "Projection Portraits" InstaMeet at Eastworks in Easthampton, MA.   @igers413 connects Instagrammers in Western Massachusetts.

Lightness of Being

People, projectors and props.  It was a visual delight.

Paradise of Light

I was grateful to be in a room where everyone had a real camera slung around her or his neck.  Too often these days I go with the convenient iPhone in my pocket.

Art History

Although I accidentally came upon a method of bending reality into a variety of planes with my iPhone, I love using my trusty Nikon D200 to create in-camera multiple exposures like the one above.  I call these works Reality-Based Abstractions.

Self-Portrait with Wildlife

One of my current goals is to develop more of an in-person social network.  Interesting that an app helped me in this endeavor.

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