Professors

Portraits of a history professor who brings working stiffs to life (especially early European artisans)

From the first e-mail I received from Sarah G. Ross, PhD, I knew I was fortunate enough to meet a kindred spirit. Sarah's delightful and wicked sense of humor, quirkiness, and warm humanity made her a joy to photograph, as well as an honor due to her impressive background as an academic and author in early European history at Boston College,

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Stokes Hall, Chestnut Hill, MA.

Given her background, Sarah was looking for an academic/author portrait that placed her in the Gothic architecture at Boston College; the more Gothic, the better, said Sarah. She also requested dramatic light, which I was happy to deliver. Much of her work follows the everyday life of past European artisans, and it was only fitting that the imagery, in a nod to her subjects, would be infused with art and beauty.

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Bapst Library, Chestnut Hill, MA.

With my assistant, Tim, we kept an eye out for archways, textured stone, and stained glass to frame Sarah's portraits, and Boston College's campus did not disappoint. Our only sadness was that unlike Oxford University, the inspiration for BC's architecture, there was a sad lack of gargoyles on campus. We joked that should we do another shoot, we would have to install stealth gargoyles somewhere - perhaps the BC version of a MIT-like "hack."

Who said that professors were formal? Sarah made my assistant, Tim, and I crack up during lighting tests. 

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Bapst Library, Chestnut Hill, MA.

My assistant, Tim, helping out Mother Nature with the lighting.

Despite our sad lack of gargoyles on campus, we found a surplus of beautiful locations to shoot, and as the sun and rain came and went, got some gorgeous moments, with some help, as needed, by strobes and our voice-activated light stand, Tim (who is a retired historian himself).

Sarah now has a collection of images to chose from to use for her professional needs, whether it be a speaker bio, author photo for an upcoming book, or for online professional use on her academic blog. All in all, this shoot was delightful from start to end, and I look forward to following Sarah's work in the future!

Portraits of Harvard's Adam Sandel, philosopher and scion, for Filosofie Magazine. Cambridge, MA.

A Netherlands-based publication, Filosofie, entirely dedicated to philosophers, recently contacted me to photograph Adam Sandel, PhD, a Harvard lecturer in social studies and rising star in the philosophy world. The art director of Filosofie was looking for portraits for an interview-based article for their November edition of the magazine, and gave me a lot of creative freedom to create a several images that highlighted this young professor whose new book was shortly to be released in Europe.

Sandel, son of noted philosopher Michael Sandel, also of Harvard, was a joy to photograph. Filosfie's interviewer was running a bit late, so I photographed a bit of the interview while I waited. 

Adam Sandel interview with Filosofie Magazine. Cambridge, MA.

Once the interview was complete, I shot Adam both indoors and outdoors on campus, using several different lighting techniques, first in the ambient light, and then shooting to create a virtual night in order to separate Adam from the background.

Adam was infinitely patient as I tinkered around with several lighting set-ups (my assistant's car sadly broke down in one of Boston's innumerable tunnels, so I was flying solo). Adam beautifully coped with me dragging him to different setups, turning and twisting him around, with a lovely personable sense of humor and a quiet thoughtfulness as he answered my questions and quickly adapted to each physical and lighting environment. A lovely afternoon all around, and I even finished on time for him to make a family dinner!

Shalon interview featuring author Robin Lippincott: part of the independent creatives series

A few months ago, I posted about the Shalon, a cross-collaborative professional creative group formed between myself, an author, an artist, and a filmmaker. Inspired by the concept of 18th century French salons, we decided to meet monthly to discuss our goals, be accountable to one another, and brainstorm ideas. The three menfolk of our group suggested the name based on the first three letters of my name. Being an independent creative professional can challenge the most stalwart of creative souls, and this group helps keep all of us focused and productive, both creatively and from the business standpoint. I hope that this, and future interviews with fellow independent creatives will inspire and support those of us making a living with our art. In that initial post, I mentioned that I'd be focusing on the Shalon-ers individually so you can learn a little more about them and their work. This week, I interviewed our resident writer, Robin Lippincott, the author of the novels "In the Meantime", "Our Arcadia", and "Mr. Dalloway", among many other published works.

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Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Sharona:

Hi Robin, and thanks so much for speaking to us about you and your work. Could you tell us a little bit about you and your work?

Robin: I am a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction. I have two books coming out: Blue Territory: A Mediation on the Life and Work of Joan Mitchell (November 2015), and Rufus + Syd, a young adult novel co-written with Julia Watts (Spring 2016). I am also the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, and the short story collection, The 'I' Rejected. My fiction/nonfiction has appeared in over 30 journals, including "The Paris Review," "American Short Fiction," "Fence," "Memorious," "The Literary Review," "The New York Times Book Review," and others. I teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University, and am also an avid film/museum/gallery goer, as well as a frequent walker in the city.

Sharona: How did you first venture into writing?

Robin: I first got into writing as a result of grief, not death but loss, as has been true for so many writers—one long, hot, long ago summer in Central Florida, where I grew up. Van Gogh's letters to his brother, collected in Dear Theo, and Anne Frank's Diary, were seminal aspects of my aesthetic and moral education that summer.

Sharona: 

What are the greatest challenges in your work, and what helps you overcome them?

Robin: The greatest challenge in the work itself is simply getting it right, and in creating something that's beautiful and true. And then there are the challenges that occur at the intersection of art and commerce, at which there's most always a collision: sometimes it's only a bump or a scratch or a dent; at other times the vehicle is totaled. In both cases, you've just got to keep at it, teeth (sometimes) gritted.

Sharona: Whose work do you admire or influences you?

Robin: The list is long. I consider Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence as my literary parents, with Emily Dickinson as a great aunt, and from there it's largely the great minds and/or stylists (the writer's writers), as well as a few Southern writers, whom I most admire. Here's a shortlist:  Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, John Berger, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin, Elizabeth Hardwick, James Salter, Grace Paley, James Schuyler, Toni Morrison, Renata Adler, Michael Ondaatje, W. G. Sebald, Anne Carson....

Sharona: 

How is the Shalon, or meeting in other creative professional groups, helpful to you?

Robin: The Shalon is invaluable to me for several reasons. First, I believe the artistic pursuit (and the life that goes with that) is best and perhaps only really understood by other artists; in my experience, non-artists just don't/can't fully get it. And so I receive meaningful emotional support, both generally and also specifically. And I also get ideas and inspiration, and stimulation, as well as direct, inside exposure to the work of artists working in other art forms.

Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Portraits of an Oxford professor in Boston, MA

Nicholas Cole and I first met in 1997 when we were both studying in England, and we immediately struck up a fast friendship. I joke that Nick never left school, as he is now a professor of American history at Pembroke College, Oxford University. I generally try to avoid discussing local politics with Nicholas because it gets a bit embarrassing to be regularly schooled on your own country's current politics and history by a foreigner :-).

Nicholas Cole of Pembroke College, Oxford
Nicholas Cole of Pembroke College, Oxford

Nicholas came to Boston this past week, and we were both delighted that we had time to work together in the studio. Photographing him was a joy on so many levels - good-humored banter alternating with gently poking fun of the other, as old friends do. Even though it had been almost a decade since I'd seen him last, we immediately relaxed into working together in the studio while amiably chatting away.

Boston MA academic portrait
Boston MA academic portrait

My goal with Nicholas' portraits was to capture his intelligence, warmth, kindness, and dry humor. In a few of the shots, I included his beautifully crafted titanium and leather crutches to create some environmental context. Yet front and center, I focused on Nick's expressive face and the intelligence and dry amusement that lights his eyes. As a photographer, capturing the life of the mind - and what a great mind I had to work with! - is a never-ending joy.

Jane Attanucci, poet

Jane recently came to me because her first book of poetry was about to be published by Finishing Line Press, and she was looking for a book jacket photo that represented both her and her work.

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She explained that she was looking for a quiet, contemplative image that would accurately represent her keen mind and curiosity, as well as the warmth of her personality. I learned that we both enjoy photographs that showcase honest, "in between" moments, conveying thoughtfulness and a investigative process, so her images needed to capture that sensibility. In addition to writing poetry, Jane has been a professor of psychology and department chair for many years, and meeting her and getting to chat with her was such a treat for me - I always relish the opportunity to chat with those who worked in psychology, as I did for several years.

To suit Jane, I shot against a lighter neutral background, and bounced light to create a delicacy and softness to her imagery. She has incredible green eyes, and we chose an outfit in a mossy green both to highlight her features, as well as to pull in the earthy quality of her new book, "First Mud."

Her book is available now through Finishing Line Press.

Olmstead's Paine + novelist + kid + portraits = one glorious day in Waltham, MA

Yesterday was an insanely beautiful day in the Boston area - warm, sunny, mid-seventies with a hint of breeze blowing in the smell of Spring! To take advantage of this very odd, but lovely Boston spring weather, I grabbed my kid, home for Spring vacation,  and drove to Stonehurst, the Robert Treat Paine Estate, where I met up with fiction writer Jon Papernick in his hometown of Waltham, MA.

 

Stonehurst was designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson and visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and it was completed in 1886 on behalf of Robert Treat Paine and Lydia Lyman Paine.

It is full of cavernous rooms full of beautiful mahogany carvings, eight-foot tall portraits of great detail, and furniture that looks as though the moment you'd turn around would surreptitiously slither away.

Of course Jon felt right at home among rooms full of books, and began chatting away with the caretaker as I clicked away, occasionally pulling a face and making me chuckle behind the camera.

 

Call me crazy, but when I visit old estates, I'm invariably curious about the bathrooms that were used back then. When I used to work at the George Eastman House, Mr. Eastman's bathroom hadn't been fully renovated for visitors, but as staff, we got to peek in. Here, my curiosity was assuaged by viewing an exquisite bathroom with a metal-lined tub with a carved wooden exterior.

Wandering the grounds and exploring the house, camera in hand, was the perfect way to enjoy the day.