Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The State Hotel

My wife and I had a busy social life, including many wild nights at the State Hotel, a Maine Street sleaze joint for NASB and locals where few Bowdoin students dared go, but Peter and Eunice Cox, along with budding novelist Harris Dulaney and his wife Barry, did. 

Harris and Barry were another matching couple, through whom we got to know noted Berwick artist DeWitt Hardy and his wife Patty. We all took a trip to New York City, a pilgrimage to 15-cent beers at McSorley’s, and to attend an art opening for a Greek photographer. On our way we drove past a bar advertising the Velvet Underground, but Harris was not interested in “hippie bullshit.” His gritty novel Falling, about a Maine boxer, was finally published years later, but we read the MS first in the Brooklyn brownstone they moved into after we all left Brunswick. Recently I found a copy on eBay, but Harris does not Google.

The State Hotel, on the site of the present Northeast Bank, was considered a dangerous place by college students. Murders and whores. But Harris and Barry -- or was it the Coxes? -- overcame our hesitation. 

We were Pickett fans and there hadn’t been any murders lately. So we became regulars, and for the first time mixed socially with black people. We made our first black friends at the State Hotel.

The music was great, classic soul delivered by The Fat and The Cat, organist Paul and drummer Bob Eli, who became a casual buddy. 

The two of them sounded like Jimmy Smith and Gene Krupa. Close your eyes and you’d swear there was a bass player, but open them and there were Paul’s stockinged feet dancing on the foot pedals of his hulking Hammond B3. Sit-ins were welcome, frequent and sometimes famous, such as Maynard Ferguson’s trumpet player.

Al Everett was a frequent guest singer. No one was sitting when he punched out "Funky Broadway." Al also became a friend, my first black friend. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Of Sondry Folk

My first one-man show became national news. Unwilling to sacrifice photography time for a sophomore Chaucer course, I wrote Professor Reginald Hannaford a note informing him that I would be attending no further classes and was willing to accept an F in exchange for the time I would have to become the next Edward Weston. That night Reggie Hannaford came to McKeen Street and pulled the rug out from under me.

“First, David, you have an A in the course. That is not negotiable. However, if you would be interested, I would be very much interested to see how you could interpret Chaucer in photography.”

I wept. The man had reached into my soul. An authority figure had stripped away the numbing apparatus of academia in one bold stroke, at the same time offering me inspiration, redemption and a major challenge on the mountain of art. Gratefully accepting, I plunged into the project, my first photographic statement. 

The attic space across the hall became my first light stage. Experimenting with an omnivorous collection of objects, I settled on a consistent vertical composition using the 120 format, the 8 x 10 being an outdoor tool. For the text, I actually did read Chaucer carefully and selected a series of quotes to accompany the large 16x20 prints. The poster print was sent to Somerville, MA to be printed to 4x6 feet and wet mounted on masonite.The Brunswick Travel Agency, across the street from campus, offered to hang the show.

The opening was a gala event, the room packed to the walls with professors, students, and locals, including Peter Cox and John Cole. Noted artist and later friend George de Lyra gave a glowing review in the Record. 

I got a call from AP reporter Dan Neary, who was interested an an angle on my show. Interpreting Chaucer with pictures made me an “F-Stop Ftizgerald.” I’m not sure that was original even then, but it was enough to generate the wire-service item, which was duly picked up around the country as:
“Bowdoin Student Gets A Beating Chaucer’s Boredom.” 

Not all were amused. Some saw the story as a smear on Bowdoin’s high academic reputation, others as a cheap publicity stunt. The Bowdoin Quill ran a glossy section of the show, but I sold no prints. These handsome objects, made with such intense effort, did not survive the many moves of the sixties, but the negatives remain. The event appears fictionally in my novel Workshop: A Teaching Tale written in 1995 and to be published in the fall of 2010.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Harpswell Town Meeting 1966

John Cole gave me my first professional assignments as a photojournalist. My greater aspirations were already starting aim at the high art of Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro and Minor White, but I was also hungry for paying work. $25 per published photo did not always add up to much, but it paid for film and gas. OK, I also liked seeing John's expansive photo layouts with my credit line. Me, just a student.
This was before I learned that publications commonly hire fresh talent. Low rates and an eager eye.

Though I consciously pursued Art on the rocks and deserted sands, I made it unpretentiously for the local newspaper. Looking back on these images, which for me do stand the test of time and retain their interest, I can see how much an artist's priorities can be lost in a hall of mirrors. During my years at Ohio, when 200 photo majors were divided between the "social landscape" school and the "R & T" (Rocks and Trees), a.k.a. "WW & PP" (Water, Weeds and Peeling Paint) school. I was vociferously in the latter, though I had already done quite a lot of the social scene.

Journalism was a job to me, not a calling. The greatest moment was my year on staff at Maine Times during the height of the Ecology and Back to the Land movements, documenting the ferment as Maine took in 10,000 new citizens during the 70s.

The Maine Times negatives will be a separate project, perhaps another blog, possibly a book or documentary film.

Some of these images of the Harpswell town meeting in 1966 were originally published in the old Brunswick Record, but most appear here publicly for the first time. I will be pleased to add the names of any who are called to my attention. Please let me know if you can identify any of these Harpswell residents.