John Chervinsky, an engineer whose photographs exploring the nature of time were exhibited around the U.S., died December 21 at the age of 54. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, according to the Griffin Museum of Photography, which administers a scholarship in his name.
Chervinsky balanced his loves of art and science while pursuing two careers. He ran a particle accelerator at Harvard University for 18 years, and then went to work for Harvard’s Rowland Institute for Science. Long interested in photography, he primarily shot street photos until 2001. In that year, a series of tragedies inspired him to spend more time in a studio he set up in his attic, as he told Lenscratch in a 2011 article. In 2003, he enrolled in Photography Atelier, a program for emerging to advanced photographers then offered through Lesley University in Boston. He began fashioning images that explored and expanded the camera’s ability to freeze a moment time. His images have been exhibited at CordenPotts Gallery, Blue Sky Gallery, PhotoEye Project Gallery, the Griffin Museum of Photography and other exhibition spaces.
In a 2013 interview with photographer Barbara Davidson for Framework, the photo blog of the Los Angeles Times, Chervinsky explained the method he used to create the still-life images in his “Studio Physics” series.
“My process is as follows:
1) Compose and photograph a still life. 2) Crop a subset of the image and send it to a painting factory in China. 3) Wait for an anonymous artist in China to complete an actual oil painting of the cropped section, and send it to me in the mail. 4) Reinsert the painting into the original setup and re-photograph.”
By the time he re-photographed the set up, the elements of his still life—an arrangement of fruit or bundles of flowers—would have begun to rot and fade. In his series “An Experiment in Perspective,” he used an overhead projector to project shapes onto a wall that he would then trace with chalk. “If I stood at just the right spot with my camera, it appeared to be hovering in a different plane out from the surfaces of the walls,” he explained. He then combined his markings of circles, squares and cylinders with real, three-dimensional objects.
As he told Aline Smithson of Lenscratch, “Conceptually, the work deals with the divide between rational or scientific explanations of existence and man’s need to explain the world around him with various systems of belief.”
(This week, Lenscratch published reminiscences of Chervinsky by colleagues and friends, “John Chervinsky, Celebrating a Life.”)
Chervinsky’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Portland Museum of Art in Oregon, List Visual Art Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Santa Barbara Museum of Art and other public and private collections.
The Griffin Museum administers the John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Award, which each year provides a photographer tuition-free enrollment in Photography Atelier, an exhibition at the Griffin Museum, and a photo book selected from Chervinsky’s personal library.