Saturday, Feb 16 2008, George Eastman House hosted a members reception for the opening of new exhibits by Magnum photographers Eli Reed and Larry Towell. The following is an account I wrote up in an email to a friend.
I arrived about 5:45 and the place was already buzzing. The reception was scheduled for 5:30 - 8:00, so I was a bit surprised; fashionably late is not the thing with this crowd!
I grabbed a glass of chardonnay and moved into the crowd, toward the main exibit area. The first Towell photo I saw I was a VERY large print of this photo http://www.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR6/S/K/N/3/PAR136682.jpg , hung outside the main exhibit room. At that enlargement size (probably 40" longest), it is quite soft, which truly matches the moment captured.
I wandered around and encountered Eli Reed, whose "Black in America" exhibit is opening as well. A big, engaging man, he was sporting an Olympus E-3, chatting with a GEH staffer and two other folks. I watched for a break in the conversation, but not finding one I moved on to a woman I recopgnized as the person in charge of the artist lecture series, though I couldn't recall her name. We chatted a bit, and I asked her when Towell would be here again. I meant for another presentation, but she said, "He's here somewhere, I just saw him talking to some people over there." Cool, but I explained my real question, and she told me it is March 27. I'm hoping David, who is coming down for birthday dinner on the 29th, can come early and go with me.
Drifting into the main exhibit area, I was very surprised to see that ALL the prints (at least as far as I remember) are printed quite large. The sharpness and tonality held up so incredibly well, and the effect is marvelous. (On the technical side, this is great since I can now give PROOF that I need better lenses!) The exhibit is entitled "The World From My Front Porch", which encompasses a large body of his work, but the main focus is on his family life and the environs of his farm near Bothwell, Ontario. I guess I expected the prints to be smaller, say 8x or 11x sort of in keeping with the intimacy of the subject matter. So the size of the prints was surprising, but it works so well! My own interpretation of the "message" of having the prints so large is that it says "Hey, the record of family life, the rhythms of our home, the land that holds us, is just as big and 'important' as the intense images of conflict in Palestine, Guatemala. It is all of the same piece."
Often I find my senses overwhelmed in exhibits; this was the case of the Adams exhibit, but this time it seemed even more intense. Primarily it was the images and the design of the installation, but also of course the energy of the evening, of all the people.
Eventually I ran into Larry Towell, introduced myself again, though I'm not sure if he remembered me from the last time he was here. He asked if I was a photographer, and I sort of fumbled my response! I should have just said "Yes, though I'm not working on paying work right now", but I stumbled through something like "I used to be pro, but I didn't like the business side", etc. He said, "None of us do."
I wandered through the rest of the exhibit, though again not really studying images, just glancing, as it were. In the second room, the photos from Palestine, Guatemala and Mexico are mounted. This is where I was overwhelmed again. In the middle of the Palestine photos, a tall chain link fence with razor wire had been installed, with concrete blocks and other detritus from the conflict along the base of the fence. The effect is absolutely overwhelming. At this, I soon I "gave up" on the exhibit. It was just too much to absorb, and I felt happy I 'll be able to return several times to really be mindful and receptive.
Soon I met up again with the lecture events coordinator and a colleague and mentioned how much I was struck by the fence installation. It turns out the fence was the idea of this male colleague, but neither of them had seen it in its final form since the opening, so I thanked him and they went off to a look.
I went back to the main lobby area, and finally had a chance to chat with Eli Reed, who was talking with Ann Towell. I compared my ancient Olympus 35SP with his Olympus E-3 (about 40 years apart!), and he was delighted, and mentioned how much he had especially admired the even older Olympus Pen half-frame cameras. Eli moved on, and from there I introduced myself to Ann, who said, "Why does your name sound familiar?" I said the only thing I could think of was that I had written to Larry about Andrew Murphy, a Halifax photographer who had been in need of some career guidance.
As we chatted about my being from Stratford, we dug into places and times. I told her I had lived in London and was familiar with her area. When I mentioned that I had also briefly lived in Wallaceburg, she said she had been born there. Then when I had told her I had worked at Bluewater Camp while at Wallaceburg, her face lit up and she said she had attended weekend retreats there as a child! We tried to place the timeline, and she knew the name of the guy who had owned the camp when I worked there, so this was a really neat connection! She said I could stop their farm by if I'm in the area, which I thought was really gracious.
After Isaac Towell (one of the sons) and I talked Leafs for a bit (he's a fan, Larry isn't), I excused myself to head home. I arrived just as the puck was about to drop. I was already pumped from the evening, then my boys beat the Bruins in overtime.