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.

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