December 29th, 2015

In Memoriam: John Chervinsky, Physics Engineer and Photographer, 54

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.

© John Chervinsky

An Experiment in Perspective, John Chervinsky’s self-published book. © John Chervinsky

April 17th, 2012

Fotofest Standouts

This year I attended the third of four, four-day portfolio review sessions at Fotofest’s Fourteenth International Biennial of Photography. Fotofest, organized by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, is the largest international portfolio review in the Untied States. Fotofest reviewers see 14 or more photographers per day, which makes it challenging for photographers to stand out.

I asked some of my fellow reviewers to share their thoughts on memorable work they saw. Here’s what they wrote:

Frazier King, ChairHouston Center for Photography

I would like to highlight the new work that is being done by Laurie Lambrecht.  Laurie’s new work is comprised of outtakes of the Chinese landscape—a kind of micro mundi. It is as if she was guided by ancient silk weavers to their points of inspiration. Each of the images compresses the landscape, sometimes in a trompe l’oeil fashion, so that the print looks like a silk weaving. Each image is not only beautiful but also very visually mysterious and intriguing.

Chantel Paul, Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Photographic Arts (San Diego)

On Thursday, the final day of reviews, I met with Mariela Sancari. Her series “El caballo de dos cabezas,” depicting the process of grieving and reconciliation Mariela and her identical twin sister experienced after their father committed suicide when the girls were 14 brought a well of emotional response for me. I am still thinking about the moment of clarity when I read her images and wonder if the intense emotion it brought stemmed from my own close relationship with my younger sister. Whatever the reason, these images touched me in a way that was incredible and not easily forgotten.

Hava Gurevich, Director, Art 2 Art

Lucia Herrero
Project: Tribes

I liked [Herrero’s] “anthropological” take on a typical family activity. The work has an immediate visual strength to it, but also a good conceptual base that resonates with me: she is looking at her own culture, and a very mundane activity, and very average people. But the images reveal something very profound to me, about our material culture, about subtle differences between generations, and ethnic groups… She uses the tools she has (lighting, lenses, direction) with great technical skill—which gives the images a heightened drama.

Artist: Paul Lange
Project: Fowl Portraits

The idea of implementing traditional portraiture standards to these birds is whimsical, theatrical, and majestic. These portraits really need to be seen printed large because the detail is gorgeous, and the character revealed in these beautiful birds is undeniable. The response to these images is direct and immediate… you either connect with them, or not.  I don’t think there is a big underlying concept, other than respect and awe for these creatures.

Artist: Lais Pontes
Project: Born Nowhere

Lais takes self-portraits that she skillfully manipulates digitally and then releases on a social media site for people to interact with. The project is collaborative and evolves over time, with input from friends and strangers…each girl’s background, personality and story is a collaborative collage of comments people leave on the posting. This project taps into issues of stereotypes, culture, class, race, age etc..  I think it is a smart use of social media. I also like the tension between the very controlled portraits and the unpredictable outcome of each piece.

Artist(s): Hillerbrand+Magsamen
Project: House/ Hold

There is so much humor, honesty, humanity, humility, playfulness, neurosis, and family dynamics in this work, taking the quirkiness that makes a family unique and turning up the dial to “11.”

Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director, Griffin Museum of Photography (Massachusetts)

Ellen O’Connell is a photographer I met at Fotofest this year from Zurich, Switzerland. She received her MFA from NYU. She turns her camera on her children. In a series called “Triptychs” she assembles a three-part image of her subject. For this purpose I have chosen to deconstruct her triptychs to focus on 3 portrait shots of her son; the clown, the lion tamer and the muscle man. Her prints utilize a carbon ink method that adds a richness that invokes a timeless quality. Her studies are cropped faceless, making the subject anonymous. The effect creates tension yet the images are very lighthearted.


Manfred Zollner, Editor, Fotomagazin (Hamburg, Germany)

In her project “Wait Watchers,“ American photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero is using photography for some kind of a social experiment that is mixing the conceptual approach of staged photography with social documentary photography. She is selecting public spaces to pose publicly in front of her camera. The chance encounters and reactions of those people passing her while the camera’s timer is exposing this situation, make her series special. Morris-Cafiero is a young woman, whose “overweight” body may not exactly fit the common ideas of beauty. Her posing is subtle, showing the casual behaviour of someone, who just happens to be at the place. The glances and reactions of those people passing by are telling, however. Aggressive staring, unrestrained mocking, subtle looks, belly-holding: as a result of her long random sessions in several cities and countries, Morris-Cafiero´s images reveal prejudices and a society´s tendency to outcast people for their appearance. This project is still in its early stages and in my eyes has a lot of potential for further development. Those images I’ve seen so far, certainly stick with me.


Clint Wilour, Curator, Galveston Arts Center

Of all the resources at my disposal for the discovery of new photography, I would have to say it has been for the last 28 years (including this one) Houston FotoFest. During those four weeks I reviewed 145 portfolios and visited over 70 exhibitions. Some of the most memorable discoveries this year were David Robinson’s sliced mushroom narratives, Judy Haberl‘s luminescent ink jet mural, Jamey Stilling‘s new project The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar, Jeff Deemie‘s West Texas photographs and Nicolas Fedak‘s new take on alternative processes.