Dec 13, 2008

Broken Glass

Today was chuck full o' art. I kicked it off by attending a symposium regarding universal concerns of museums today. My wife spoke to the need for artist access to work in museum collections and the hoops an artist must jump through just to apply to copy work in a museum (ridiculous). I listened to about fifteen speeches given by grad students from City College of NY, & NYU ranging from community involvement in museum exhibitions to complexities of interaction between children and museum staff to the possibility of the MLK Jr Center being sold to very government which spied on him. Many interesting points were discussed and an open panel lent itself to questions from the audience.

After the symposium, I made my way over to the Broken Glass exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York in East Harlem. This exhibition is up until March 8th and I highly recommend visiting.

I was fortunate enough to speak at length with Ray Mortenson about his work: I wish I were there in the South Bronx in 1982. (Although I was only four years old at the time) Ray took about 8000 photographs of the desolate, abandoned buildings in this area over the course of two years. The buildings had been vacated by their owners during a big middle class suburban manifestation, after which a rash of insurance fires took place, totaling at one point 30 fires per day. Ray would take the 5 Train to the south Bronx and with his 35mm camera and normal (50mm) lens to photograph the remains, shooting anywhere from two to ten rolls of film a day. He initially took only exterior captures of the buildings from street corners and from a pretty much, straight on angle.

Later, when he felt more comfortable entering the buildings, he began spending much more time inside of them and brought his 4X5 camera and tripod shooting five to ten minute exposures. I asked Ray what he was doing for work at the time and he told me that he was an electrician and construction worker. He spent as much time as he could in the South Bronx and any other spare time he had was spent developing his prints. He also added that he had actually printed the five large (4' X 5') prints in this show back in 1984. They still look amazing.

These days Ray is shooting a lot of nature photography and has begun taking architectural photos in Manhattan; shooting film of course. His work is on display at the Janet Borden Gallery. When asked if he is shooting digital at all these days, he laughed and said he's never been interested in digital and doesn't even own a computer. Ha!

I bought a catalog of his work in the exhibition, got his autograph and made my way to the 2 Train feeling quite inspired (again). I love this city.

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