Documentary photography shines at New England Biennial exhibit

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the talented documentary photographers at the New England Photography Biennial have written a book. This highly selective juried exhibit is currently in full swing at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Mass. Held every two years, the show features innovative works by some of New England’s finest photographic artists. While there are many first-rate entries, the documentary works are the most captivating of the collection.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Danforth Art Museum and its associated studio art school. It is the only independent museum of its kind in the Metrowest region of Massachusetts, and features American painting and sculpture from the 19th century to the present.

Jill Brody's "Cleaning the Stairs" (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Jill Brody’s “Cleaning the Stairs” (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

There are several parallels between painters and photographers. Both select their mediums carefully, according to the subject and theme of their work. Just as a painter chooses between oils, watercolors, pastels, and brushes, so too does a photographer choose between cameras, lenses, and lighting to produce desired effects. Canvas options are also important; a painter might select a cotton, linen, or wood format, while a photographer might favor a gelatin-silver or cyanotype development process.

Marta Fodor's "Bride's family before the wedding, Szek, Romania" (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Marta Fodor’s “Bride’s family before the wedding, Szek, Romania” (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Twentieth-century masters such as Ansel Adams, Yousuf Karsh, Dorothea Lange, and Annie Leibovitz helped elevate photography into a bonafide art form. Their iconic images ranged from landscapes and portraits to photojournalism, and became well-known to the general public.

Speaking about the New England Photography Biennial, Curator Jessica Roscio explains, “the collection is good for its historical depth, whether it be documentary or personal.” Roscio also noted, “the portraiture in particular gives insight into everyday life. Each piece has a deeper narrative.”

Roscio went on the describe how the photos were chosen by the exhibit’s juror, Susan Nalband, the founder and director of the 555 Gallery in Boston: “Susan had a visceral, emotional reaction to the paintings she viewed. She connected personally with the works she was choosing.” Nalband wrote that her selection criteria included photos that “cause a conversation to erupt” and demonstrate “the ‘I have to look at that again’ factor.”

Daniel Clapp's "Maverick Square #2" (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Daniel Clapp’s “Maverick Square #2” (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Several photos in the exhibit do just that: Michael Joseph’s trio of runaway youths captured harrowing, wounded eyes behind tough-kid exteriors. Daniel Clapp’s haunting images of forlorn street men were especially arresting in their display of the human dignity of the subjects.

Tiziana Rozzo's "Connection" (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Tiziana Rozzo’s “Connection” (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Tiziana Rozzo was one of the documentary photographers selected for the exhibit. She discussed her “Connection” image of a woman she saw in Boston. Rozzo said that when the woman saw her through the window, she nodded in assent when she saw the camera. Rozzo said that they didn’t exchange any words, but knew what each other was thinking. She also explained how the incident exemplified her view of the art form:  “We are not just taking a photograph, we’re pouring our soul and sharing the moment. It’s a spiritual experience because you’re connecting with a person, and it also has a universality about it, since the photo shows how a person reflects what is typically human. The artist puts something of himself into the photo, and thus the final product will in some way reflect him.”

Dirk Ahlgrim's "Snow Farm" (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

Dirk Ahlgrim’s “Snow Farm” (Courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art)

One of the more popular photos was Dirk Ahlgrim’s “Snow Farm.” Although few Bostonians will ever forget the mountains of snow during last winter’s historic season, the image is an amazing, if not amusing, memento for future generations.

The New England Photography Biennial exhibit continues through Dec. 6, 2015 at the Danforth Art Museum, located at 123 Union Avenue, Framingham, Mass., 01702. Call 508-620-0050 for more information or visit

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected].