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

December 2, 2017

Museum-Based Participation Strategies Nurture Innovation and Change Perspectives

I presented the following workshop at the Massachusetts Art Education Association 2017 Conference:  By creating museum labels for objects not labeled as artworks, students become co-creators of museum experiences.  Explore projects like this that generate effective student art encounters. Make your own label.

Below is my visual presentation from the workshop:

The idea for the faux museum label project originated during my graduate studies:

Here are my students from American International College on a field trip to the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA

My goal for student art encounters at museums is that they come to see the whole world as a museum, that art can be found everywhere!

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  

November 7, 2017

"Entrained" Makes Its Debut at the Mass Art Education Association's Members Exhibit

I was delighted that my recent work Entrained was selected by juror Alexis Kuhr, UMass Amherst, Art Department Chair, for the Mass Art Education Association Members Exhibit.

I hope you can join me at the Opening Reception: Saturday November 11, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm, Student Union Gallery, UMass Ahmerst,
41 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01002

Entrained, 2017

I have been creating these Reality-Based Abstractions since 2007.  Ms. Kuhr also selected this image from my series for the exhibition:

Whither Industrial America?, 2009
In other news, I donated a print of After Charles Sheeler to the In-Sight Photography Project (Brattleboro, VT), for the non-profit's annual benefit auction. The organization provides photography classes to youth on a sliding scale. I invite you to bid on my image and support a good cause. Bidding ends on November 26, 2017.

After Charles Sheeler, 2017
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 29, 2017

On the Joy, Necessity and Importance of Mistakes

Where would we be without mistakes?  Probably still living in trees:

After making some mistakes and accidentally discovering that hacking the pano function on my iPod Touch can lead to striking and dramatic images (as shown in the above video), I began to make this practice purposeful.

Riding the Wave

I am so glad to have discovered this approach.  Since anyone with a smart phone can document an inherently beautiful scene, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore, I am always on the lookout for ways to take capturing life to the next level.

Any Value Added?

Tranquility - Provincetown Harbor

Sailing is one of my favorite things - yet with a simple image it is hard to capture the plethora of sensory inputs.

Sailing, Sailing
The Cape Cod National Seashore is no doubt an incredible place.  I am so grateful to the visionary people that preserved this natural jewel.

The Cold Ocean Promotes Health

I am also grateful for the mistakes that led me to capture the beauty in this manner:

Shoreline and Stairs
Professor John Nordell directs the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  

June 25, 2017

From Chinese Scroll Paintings to Cubism - Making Spiritual Connections at Kripalu

A 24 hour visit to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health was a transformative journey.

Multi-Pointed Awareness
I arrived stressed and distracted and left relaxed and renewed with a deeper spiritual connection. This in-camera multiple exposure of Shiva strives to convey a cosmic realm, the place of connection beyond words.

The statue presides over the main hall.  During yoga class, the teacher said, "Thousands and thousands and thousands of yoga classes have been taught in this room."

Bread, Vegetables, Spices

The healthy food offerings contributed to the health of mind, body and spirit.

Accidental Orange

In a past part of this life, I worked as a photojournalist.  At many events, navigating around important people or protestors, I was rather obtrusive.  My photographic skin has become thinner, I guess, as while darting around the dining hall taking images I felt very self-conscious. Accidental Orange is a "mistake" due to my rushing.

Raw Material

Nestled in the Berkshires overlooking Lake Mahkeenac, the beauty of the grounds further fed my spirit.

Lake and Trees
I knew immediately that the misty day necessitated homage to Chinese scroll paintings. Pondering a title for this work, I searched for titles of scroll paintings and found that many where plainly descriptive, such as Bamboo and Rocks or Spring Landscape.

This sparse approach evokes that of Cubist painters:  Girl with Mandolin, for example, or Violin and Jug.  These pioneering painters not only inspired my way of photographically seeing the world in multiple planes, but also prompted the use of simple titles that clue viewers into the basis of my abstractions.

I want to go back.