(Please revisit these pages from time to time. There are more artists to come and more photos of those already here. Also, links to the artists’ own web pages will be added.)
How Many Artists does it take to Screw in a Light bulb?
In October, 2006, I began working on a new photographic project called, "How Many Artists does it take to Screw in a Light bulb: Portraits from the Saranac Lake Area Creative Community."
First, a bit of geography. Saranac Lake is a village in the northern Adirondack Mountains of New York State. With a census of just over 5,000 souls, it is the largest population center in a mostly forested region the size of the state of Massachusetts. This is a land where you can drive a dozen miles without seeing a house; rich in natural beauty, challenging of climate, a magnet for artists from Winslow Homer to Rockwell Kent to Harold Weston.
My goal has been to develop a body of work that documents a vibrant and dynamic component of our community at this particular time in its history -- a yearbook, as it were, of our community's artists and artisans -- while providing the individuals portrayed with images that please them. There are too many creative people in the Saranac Lake area for me to be able to photograph every artist and artisan and still have a life, so my intent has been to concentrate on those who I know personally. The strategy has been to divide my master list of over sixty names into small groups and contact each person individually – and, even then, I may never finish; but my time frame is indeterminate, so….
Part of my plan is to mount a portion of the work as an exhibition at Bluseed Studios in Saranac Lake in August of 2009 and to archive copies of all the final prints in the William Chapman White Adirondack Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library. The photos will also be viewable at my web site ( http://philgallos.zenfolio.com ).
Portraiture is a collaborative endeavor. I am more inclined to the Arnold Newman school of portraiture than to the Richard Avedon school. I prefer to photograph the sitter in his or her milieu under natural lighting conditions rather than in front of a white sheet in a flood-lit studio. So that's what I endeavor to control. The rest of it is up to my subjects, to whatever degree they wish to assume that responsibility -- indoors, outdoors, day, night, still or moving, special costume or everyday garb or no garb at all, spring/summer/autumn/winter, among the tools of their trade or not, alone or with others (human or animal). The idea is to create images that reflect who they are as much as how they look, to capture -- to the extent possible -- the spirit that animates the body upon which the camera is focused.
A word about smiling (well, actually, several words). Smiles are beautiful -- so beautiful that they have become a photographic cliché. I tend to discourage the full-toothed grin so emblematic of casual and commercial photography, but there are many other levels or flavors of smile which can be much more evocative of the person behind the face. Finally, sometimes the dreaded grin is so spectacular, so spontaneously genuine, it quite transcends the banal and can be ignored only at the cost of slighting an essential facet of the subject’s personality.
What about the light bulb? At first I thought of it as a sort of leitmotif that would carry through all the pictures -- somewhere in the composition there would be a light bulb. But that now seems a little rigid, not to say contrived. I think now there may be a light bulb or there may not, depending on what the sitter wants and what seems to work. Maybe the light bulb is in their heads (or conceptually hovering over their heads).
What constitutes the “Saranac Lake area?” For the purpose of this project, I define it as the area encompassed by the Saranac Lake Central School District. This is a large and irregular space, ranging in distances from Saranac Lake anywhere from 25 miles to Inman in the northeast and 22 miles to the Duane town line in the north to fourteen miles to Coreys in the southwest and five miles to Ray Brook in the southeast. And I don't jetison people simply because they've moved away. If you've been here once, you're here forever. As with most creative endeavors, there are (or will be) exceptions. I may photograph an artist from Wilmington, NY, or Wadhams, or even Lake Placid. Generally, I will make these exceptions because the artist has some compelling connection with the Saranac Lake area creative community; but I may make exceptions even from that rule, so watch these pages for a few surprises.
I have deliberately kept the written information about the artists very brief, as opposed to including detailed biographical notes. My motivation was to keep attention focused on the images. Still, this does a disservice to the people portrayed here in that there is no way an image can inform the viewer of the richness of the lives these people live and the myriad ways they strive to enrich their community – both the creative community and the larger network of villages and hamlets and countryside that is its matrix. The photos do not show the ways in which each of these people are not only ambassadors of the arts but are examples of good citizenship beyond their creative pursuits; nor do the photos show how cooperation and mutual support is the rule here and cutthroat competitiveness is the rare exception.
Lastly, here is a little bit of technical stuff. Almost all of the photos were made digital cameras -- most with the Leica V-Lux 1, some with a Fuji F30, and a few with a Nikon Coolpix 5700, operating at ISO 100 or 200 and, rarely, 400. At least one was made using the marvelously retro, all-plastic (including the lens) Diana camera loaded with Fujicolor Pro 400H 120 film.
Saranac Lake, NY
© Phil Gallos