Of Weeds & Wildness at the Nott Memorial

"Of Weeds and Wildness", Nott Memorial

All Over Albany was kind enough to publish some photos and an interview of mine on the current exhibit at the Nott Memorial’s Mandeville Gallery (on the Union College campus in Schenectady).

Ever since I dove back into photography I’ve been looking at a lot of photos on a day to day basis; between photography blogs I follow, people I keep track of on flickr, and personal research (both online and in print), I go through hundreds of photos every week. One of the ways to learn in a visual medium is to look, so I do as much as I can — I probably spend more time looking than the whole making of photos thing. But I also find a lot to learn in arts beyond photography, and study as much painting, drawing, sculpture, etc., as I can too.

So, it was a great opportunity to have Kara Jefts, current interim director of the Mandeville Gallery, walk me through the show. I don’t have as deep a knowledge of other arts as I do of photography, and even there I’m still in the shallow end of the pool. Having someone knowledgeable about what they’re looking at as a guide, even when they’re not consciously guiding you, is a huge bonus. I have a much deeper understanding of the work on display, and I fully credit that to Kara pointing out many details I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.

The show itself is worth seeing, especially if you’ve never been to the Nott before. My photos don’t do the place justice, it’s an incredibly gorgeous building and the structure is perfect for showing art. The gallery is on the second floor, ringing the perimeter of the building, and this circular setup lends no clear beginning or end to the exhibit. You’re left to wander the pieces in your own way, at your own pace, which ends up being a pretty good way to look at art. The hanging fabric screenprints are awesome, and really have to be seen to be appreciated. They’re constantly in motion, drawing on the natural forms printed on them in an almost animistic way.

Shooting anything in this place, on the other hand, is pure hell. I’ve had experience with interiors that are flooded with exterior light before and my solution has been to use fill flash and ritual human sacrifice. But that was with plate glass windows, here you have a few narrow windows letting in all of the light, so the very lovely detailing in the glass is completely lost in the attempt to get any decent exposure on interior subjects. My flash wouldn’t be good for wide shots as the space is just too big, and I would have felt too intrusive doing that or setting up a tripod and bracketing. See, the third floor is a study lounge for students and the shutter noise was already disruptive enough that I limited my shots as much as possible. The only thing left is to let the windows blow out and be done with it, and considering I took all of these in natural light with a manual focus 28mm f/2.8, I’m reasonably happy. I’m sure I could do better, so I’m kicking myself a bit, but you know, I went in and got the job done, so there’s that. This was a huge learning experience and I can’t wait to do more.

I was also really happy that I got to check out the Echolilia exhibit in the Visual Arts building, along with two other photo shows. I’ve been following Timothy Archibald’s progress on this project for a while and really find it a touching, soulful series (his son’s blog is totally awesome too but I’ll leave it up to you to find it, more rewarding that way). As I said while we were visiting, he’s opened the viewer up to something extremely close and personal, and if that’s not art I don’t know what is.

Some more photos AOA didn’t use below. There is a panorama but I have to warn you, there are three Sebastiens in there. It’s little scary to get a glimpse of some Bollywood robot dystopia featuring my favorite Francophone, and I apologize for that. You can see the full slideshow, and a few photos from Sebastien of a different exhibit where he had a better agreement with the windows.

The Nott is really an amazing building. I could spend hours in there with a camera. Truly a local treasure, if you’ve never checked it out, do it.

"Of Weeds and Wildness", Nott Memorial

"Of Weeds and Wildness", Nott Memorial

"Of Weeds and Wildness", Nott Memorial

"Of Weeds and Wildness", Nott Memorial


2 thoughts on “Of Weeds & Wildness at the Nott Memorial

  1. Kara

    This is great Bennett – it was a pleasure to have you visit the show with me! p.s. The gallery is wondering about having a copy of the panorama, 3 Sebastiens and all.

  2. B

    Thanks again for the opportunity. Of course I can get a copy of the panorama to the gallery, let me do a little more work on that though — the one I made was pretty much for web use only. Ideally I would like to revisit and do a better job from the start but that can be done sometime in the future. I’ll get something to you soon.

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