Bob Avakian and his wife Gail visited Martha’s Vineyard for the summer in 1973 and it has been home ever since. He is a fine art photographer who’s home on and Island, love of buildings as well as the nighttime hours has led his work to evolve as an exploration of the solitude of the night and the rural habitat. He has received numerous awards for his work, including: Photolucida Critical Mass 2013 Top 50 and awards in the Neutral Density Photography Awards and the International Photo Awards . This year he participated in Rfotofolio’s “Depth of Field” show at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel CA. . In 2013 he was awarded a solo show of his night photography at the South Shore Art center in Cohasset, Ma. Bob’s work is in the collections of the Boston Athenaeum, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s permanent art collection, the Danforth Art Museum and other notable institutions. His photographs have been featured in Lenswork’s Seeing in Sixes, Aline Smithson's, Lenscratch, Rfotofolio, Peta Pixel, and Dodho magazine among numerous others. Bob is a member of the Board of Directors for the Featherstone Center for the Arts where he is currently working on tranforming an older building into a photography studio and gallery. On Martha’s Vineyard, Bob’s images can be seen at Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.
I chose Bob Avakian's because I feel they successfully achieve what the artist articulates in his statement about seeing his surroundings with new eyes. The challenge of all art that depicts subjects from the tangible world is to go beyond a literal description of their chosen subject and present the recognizable in a context that is new. Night photography does this because it shows us something that we know exists but in a way that is impossible to view with our own eyes. The camera can "see" things that our eyes cannot. This often becomes a stumbling block for artists who try to paint or draw from photographs in that events happen within the mechanism of a camera and that are strictly phenomenon of the camera, not of our experience of seeing (halos around street lamps and car headlights is the most obvious example). But Avakian allows the camera to use the "real" world to present us something that doesn't really exist so that a new world becomes revealed. –
As dawn approaches or night creeps across the sky, the sun shines through thicker atmosphere than it does during the day, changing the palette overhead and nudging colors down on earth across the spectrum. Early and late day also confuse color film, throwing at it more, or less, of one of its three component colors it is calibrated for; digital is also affected. Add artificial light to the mix and a photograph will no longer even be posing as truthful. Avakian photographs at these off hours, which always deliver to his camera something that his eye had not registered. He considers the camera’s lies a form of invention and happily adds a fillip of his own. The results are what ought to be ordinary landscapes, however nicely composed, but when cloaked in effulgent light and color they give birth to a parallel world. Skies turn orange, tree trunks violet, clouds occasionally erupt in radiant explosions, the light insists on behaving improperly in a romantic and beautiful manner. Avakian, purposely exceeding the outer limits of photography’s faithfulness to nature, produces a vision of earth that is even lovelier than the landscape that we know.
I had the opportunity to spend time with Bob Avakian's glowing prints at PhotoNola. His mastery of light, of sense of place, and his ability to create one image narratives made for a wonderful portfolio. Bob's background in architecture and home building, and his years on Martha’s Vineyard have given him a particular sensibility to his environment.
If photography was ever a mixture of magic and science, Bob Avakian's images exemplify this well. His images are straight photography at dawn or sunset on Martha's Vineyard, but each one becomes magical. In the first image, White Pasture, the absolute whiteness of the snow is contrasted with the dark saturated sky. In other similar situations the snow would reflect some ambient color, but not here. The exact position of the horizon in the lower quartile of the image meanders from left to right, while the fence and tree line follow and all recede just ever so slightly to the barn, angular and rigid contrasting all else in the photo. The colors and tonality of the sky are for getting lost in. Each of his images use a similar template which just adds to the strength of his consistency of vision. It works over and over again, 16 times. Don't forget to look at picture 14, The Creek. Is this a digital image made on Martha's Vineyard, or a Thomas Gainsborough painting from 18th century England?
The final grouping of projects presents a wabi-sabi view of life by embracing imperfection. In his beautiful night photographs of unexceptional places, Bob Avakian does just that. Under the lustrous soft glow of fog and light, the world can be squarely composed into manageable doses.