Visual Storytelling with David H. Wells
This is an exhibition of projects developed during the Fall 2021 Visual Storytelling and Photo Essay workshop with David H. Wells and features work from participants: Denise Bass, Jody Brown, Jeff Buttel, David DeMelim, Mark Dixon, John Femino, Danni Goulet and Carrie Usmar.
This exhibition presents a selection of work from projects started or refined during this two month long hybrid workshop with David H. Wells. The workshop was a mix of prerecorded material and weekly Zoom sessions designed to help participants both develop and market a personal project. The Zoom sessions focused on review and group feedback on the projects in development, while the pre-recorded material provided concepts and exercises to be viewed and reviewed independently between the weekly live Zoom sessions. The workshop was such a success that the group will continue to work together for another twelve week session starting in December. This extension program, open only to the previous participants, offers a safe space for participants to continue their project development or start on new ones. Over the course of the program we will also be working on making the transition from workshop to workgroup. A process of becoming a collaborative team and support network for the participating photographers, much like our re/vision group, started in 2020
I hope you enjoy this presentation of new work in progress and hope the different ways a selection of images have been assembled to present a more nuanced story inspires you. Sequence, editing, and storytelling across a series of images are all elements beyond the capture/image editing process that I encourage you all to explore and constantly re-examine. We are presenting here only a small selection from each project, many of which have turned into longer term projects that may end up on our gallery walls in the future.
If you are interested, we will be running the workshop again in January 2022. This is open to all photographers with an interest in advancing their practice while supporting others in their explorations. Class size is limited to ten. Additional information and registration is available here.
– David DeMelim,
RI Center for Photographic Arts
Projects from the Workshop with David H. Wells
With projects by: Denise Bass, Jody Brown, Jeff Buttel, David DeMelim, Mark Dixon, John Femino, Danni Goulet and Carrie Usmar developed during the Fall 2021 Visual Storytelling and Photo Essay workshop with David H. Wells
Instructor’s Statement: David H. Wells
The ‘storytelling workshop” is what I came to call this class. Photographic storytelling to be exact. The title is basic, even ironic, since storytelling is the essence of what we do as photographers. Storytelling is something that distinguishes humans from other creatures and is as old as humanity itself. And, like all storytelling, photographic storytelling can be approached in an infinite number of ways. This group of photographic storytellers each took a very different approach to the story they told in the work that you see here.
While my own professional background is in documentary-derived image-making, I’ve always worked with multiple image stories, whether as a newspaper photographer, magazine photographer, or most recently as a filmmaker. My schooling in photography, studying the history of photography in college, went far beyond documentary-derived image-making. Since then, I have built on the combination of my schooling and my working experiences, remaining open to all sorts of visual storytelling, embracing the wide diversity of genres/styles and approaches to photographic image-making/storytelling practiced today.
So, although the work you see here is very divergent in the topics being explored, it is unified by the strength of the photographic storytelling. All the work had a documentary starting point, but as the projects evolved they became more deeply personal, more overtly narrative or more explicitly autobiographical. If you were part of the class, you could see how each participant took their initial seed of an idea, experimented photographically, stylistically, narratively, etc., to complete a body of work. The group shared open, honest and nurturing feedback which enabled each person to complete work that tells the author’s own unique story using the appropriate mix of image content, presentation format, text and sequencing.
As a teacher, or in this case as more of a facilitator of the wide ranging exchange that was at the core of the class, the process itself was as rewarding as the final result.
– David H Wells
About David H. Wells www.davidhwells.com focuses on photo-essays for publication and exhibition, including magazines, brochures, and annual reports. He has produced images for local, national and international clientele. His work has been featured in one-person exhibits at Brown University, U.C. Berkeley and Harvard University. His work has been part of group exhibitions at the Houston FotoFest and the Visa pour l’Image Festival in Perpignan. Portfolios of his work have appeared in American Photography Four, Camera and Darkroom, Communication Arts Photography Annual, Graphics: The Human Condition, Photo District News, Photo Magazine, Photographers International and Zoom. His photo-essays have been funded by fellowships from Nikon/NPPA, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the MacArthur Foundation’s Program of Research and Writing on International Peace and Cooperation, the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation. He was featured in Photo District News as one of “The Best Workshop Instructors.”
Personal Projects from the Workshop:
Visual Storytelling Online Exhibition
This exhibition features a selection of work from the eight projects developed by workshop participants: Denise Bass, Jody Brown, Jeff Buttel, David DeMelim, Mark Dixon, John Femino, Danni Goulet and Carrie Usmar.
In Honor of…
by Denise Bass
Honoring the dead is a universal human tradition.
From Ancient Egyptian mummification to virtual funerals; from Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations to the jazz funerals of New Orleans, the rituals differ from culture to culture, but the premise is the same: when a person dies, we honor their life and mourn their loss.
We preserve their memory with tattoos and photographs; roadside memorials and park benches; museums and statues.
This photo essay explores the items left on graves in memory of those buried in one non-denominational cemetery in Rhode Island. There, in a small, almost hidden plot of land, personal tokens such as birthday balloons, pink flamingos and toy cars lay in tribute among angels, flags and flowers.
My interest in photographing cemeteries is an extension of my interest in genealogy. Researching my family history brought me to Find a Grave, a worldwide online memorial database populated with gravestone photos submitted by volunteers. I became a contributor, and with every cemetery visit developed a fascination with the decorated graves. I found myself trying to piece together stories about the people buried there and the items left for them.
Headstones provide facts about a person’s life: family names, dates, religious symbols and epitaphs. But it’s the mementos that celebrate the life; whether it’s fresh flowers from a recent visitor, coins left by a fellow military veteran, or baseball bat and ball on a grave where grass has yet to grow.
Out of respect to the sensitivities of the families of the deceased, the cemetery name and names of the dead are kept anonymous. My intention is to highlight the mementos and make us stop and think about honoring a life. Photographed through the intentionally blurry distortion of a Lensbaby, the effect draws viewers into a dream-like world where they can imagine for themselves the meanings of the tokens, and in a sense, honor a person they’ve never met.
– Denise BassDenise Bass bio/resume
For the Love of Prince Edward Island
By Jody Brown
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is Canada’s smallest province. It is an island, tucked into a curve made by the neighboring coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. With Newfoundland/ Labrador, these four comprise Canada’s ‘Atlantic Provinces’. Little PEI is world famous for a number of reasons. Perhaps most well known is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, that takes place in PEI, has been translated into more than 36 languages, and has sold over 50 million copies. The book has also generated movies and television series.
PEI’s economy is built on three legs — farming, fishing, and tourism. PEI’s largest crop is potatoes, and accounts for 30% of Canada’s potato production. PEI potatoes have also found their way to southern Rhode Island’s produce markets. PEI’s Malpeque Bay Oysters can be found in New York City’s Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, and PEI accounts for 80% of Canada’s mussel production, exporting them to the USA, Europe, Asia and the Pacific rim.
I learned of PEI when I was backpacking through Nova Scotia in the mid ‘70s, and found my way to the island not long after, becoming a part of the third leg of PEI’s economy, tourism. Several years later my husband and I bought 3 1/2 acres at the top of a hill looking out at the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A few years after that, we moved a 1901 abandoned farmhouse on to the land and began fixing it up, thus changing our status from tourists to ‘seasonal residents.’
The rolling farmland is beautiful, exhibiting myriad shades of green with red earth. And the small fishing villages are a wonderful mix of charming and practical. There are many lovely beaches that are not at all crowded; bike paths that criss-cross the Island; old growth forests, and in the Greenwich portion of the National Park, a parabolic dune that is rare in North America. The natural beauty of the island lures many artists who find their inspiration in PEI’s natural beauty.
The people who inhabit the island are welcoming and curious about the folks who come to their island. On returning to PEI you are often welcomed by a happy “you’ve come HOME!” Grocery store folks inquire about where you are from and where you are staying, acknowledging their relationship to the owners of the cottages where you put your head at night. They also share stories about their relatives who had migrated to various parts of New England. To a former ‘Navy brat,’ who moved every two years, it seemed like heaven. In fact, in that first visit, I seriously considered using my graduate student loan as a down payment on property.
But I waited, and now we are part of a small community that celebrates weddings, births, and other happy occasions together, as well as mourning the passing of those who have gone before us. For all of this, I am extremely grateful for having been welcomed into this small community that truly values the meaning of that word – community.
– Jody Brown
Holding onto the Past
by Jeff Buttel
There is a certain poignancy in people’s use of photographs to hold onto traces of the past. Roland Barthes, in Camera Lucida expresses it thus: “In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: She is going to die: I shudder… over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photo is this catastrophe.”
Nonetheless, when we are forced to flee our homes, the family photographs are at the top of the list of things to save. What else do we have to hold onto? Photographs, in their effortless accuracy, give us a way to feel the weight of time passing.
Having lost my brother, my wife, and my son, and watching my parents lose abilities, independence, and dignity on a daily basis, the subject of time passing towards an unhappy destiny rests heavily on me. I have, over the years, taken photos of people holding photos, sometimes of themselves years earlier, and sometimes of people who are no longer with us.
The photographs presented here derive from those explorations. The people are family, friends, and other people I have gotten to know. Each image has a story, which I have outlined in the notes at the end.
– Jeff ButtelJeff Buttel Bio
City Slices: Providence, a case study
by David DeMelim
This project looks at the history and growth of a city through the ever changing architectural styles with a focus on the varying scale and ornamentation as needs and usage change over time. My interest is in exploring the juxtaposition of old and new architectural details as cities evolve and grow over time.
As George Bernard Shaw observed, “Change is inevitable, progress is optional” With this thought as a starting point, I am interested in preserving photographically the architectural history and varied styles as Providence continues to transform from its founding in 1636. As new construction, renovation and the repurposing of existing structures continue to modify the skyline and sight lines, this portfolio will serve both to document this moment in time and celebrate the expanding architectural diversity of Providence.
– David DeMelimDavid DeMelim short bio
Building Character from the Keel Up
“Kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids”
Racial disparity, socio-economic status, and geography can all present substantial barriers to success. In the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx only one third of students graduate high school. Over 90 percent of the participants in programs at Rocking the Boat, a youth development program on the Bronx River in the heart of Hunts Point, graduate high school. Additionally, 80 percent go onto to attend college. COVID-19 restrictions have added additional challenges to everyone at Rocking the Boat and in the larger community.
Rocking the Boat is a multi-faceted, STEM-based program that provides “wrap-around” social services and uses boat building, sailing, and environmental science as tools of youth development. Over 200 students, and an impressive list of collaborators, are engaged in the program annually. The boat building program’s motto “Kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids” speaks volumes to the philosophy, actions, and aspirations of Rocking the Boat. The Boat Building Apprentice Program is an intensive program engaging students in all aspects of building a traditional wooden boat under the tutelage of mentors and with the support of social services.
“These experiences are life changing for them… it is an opportunity for them to discover strengths within themselves and possibilities in the world around them they never knew existed.”, Adam Green, Rocking the Boat founder and Executive Director.
We will meet, and get to know, three Boat Building Apprentices through a series of color photographs that will document a timeline and journey of personal growth and progress on building a traditional wood boat. In the process they are developing skills, gaining confidence and responsibility, emerging as integral members of a team, becoming leaders, gaining stewardship over something larger than themselves, and becoming adaptive and resilient in the face of the COVID-19 health crisis.
I had the privilege of working with students in the Environmental Science program, in my capacity as a professional marine scientist, and was impressed with every aspect of Rocking the Boat. As an avid rower, I was also drawn to, and intrigued by, the Boat Building program.
– Mark Dixonwww.markdixonphotography.com
Big Ted : Where Past and Present Intersect
By John Femino
I joined my friends at Big Ted Farm, a hippie commune, after college campuses closed during the Vietnam War protests. I photographed everyone in everyday situations – not an intentional documentary – just capturing what was happening in the moment. I developed the films but never printed any images.
When I retired 50 years later, I scanned the negatives and printed the images for the first time. It was like finding buried treasure. Big Ted was the family I was born out of, and moved away from. I reached out to friends who lived with me on the farm and an email stream started as we remembered what had been forgotten. Hundreds of emails later, stories appeared that were triggered by the long lost photos.
Much has been written about commune communities in the 60’s and the counterculture movement. Most were documentary in nature. This portfolio of images and words drawn from the cascade of emails represents the intersection of past and present. Text from present day emails overlays photos from Big Ted. This interplay views coming of age in the sixties through the lens of who we have become. I was not alone in realizing how important Big Ted Farm was in shaping our lives and careers.
This project is in two phases. The first is a photo exhibition of images and text intended for traditional gallery presentation. The second is a book that includes more photos and expands upon the text to reflect our past experiences and current insights. Big Ted Farm, named after a song by the Incredible String Band, did not die in our youth but reincarnated into our lives.
– John Femino
Hand of the Artist
By Danni Goulet
These images are the start of a long term project that will capture the portraits of artists who create innovative works of art using historic or handmade techniques. I have started with the artists working at the Steel Yard in Providence and will expand out with artists from the surrounding vibrant Rhode Island arts community.
The project utilizes the historic photographic technique from the mid 1833’s called wet plate collodion, sometimes called “tintypes”. This method was chosen not only for the aesthetic qualities of the images but because it is a very laborious handmade process. While I utilize a modern large format camera for the project, the lens that I use are a Dallmeyer No. 5 Stigmatic manufactured around 1890 and a 14″ Voigtlander Heliar manufactured around 1898. The images of the artists are created on hand coated aluminum plates that range in size from 4″x5″ to 8″x10″.
Posing for a tintype is a slow process with exposures ranging from 5 to 15 seconds during which time the sitter must remain still or the image may be ruined. The fact that no two images can be the same is a perfect allegory for the individuality of each of the artists and the handmade aspect of this photographic process from the late 1800’s.
– Danni Goulet
The Resume Of A Stay At Home Mom
by Carrie Usmar
In 2016, 28% of all moms in the U.S. did not work outside the home according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In January 2021, around 10 million U.S. mothers living with their own school-age children were not actively working, around 1/3 or all mothers. Of the women who quit their jobs to be home with their children full time, 70% eventually make their way back to the workforce, but only 40% come back full-time
In April 2021 LinkedIn added ‘stay at home parent’ to its’ job titles but research indicates people may not want to use this option. In one experiment by Correll, researchers found that employers were a whopping 2.1 times more likely to give a callback to a woman who was not a parent than to an equally qualified mother.
Recently, I wanted to apply for a grant and realized I needed a resume. I wondered what I would put down for the last 10 years as a stay-at-home mom. In my mind motherhood doesn’t qualify as work experience, but everything I’ve done over the years has been for my kids from learning the names of every character on Sesame Street to becoming a girl scout leader and president of the PTO. I’ve tended to them day in and day out. No payment, or paid time off. No benefits or perks. Just a 24/7 workweek with four demanding bosses.
I aim to show that the skills gained staying at home with my kids is exactly what employers are looking for from applicants and that stay-at-home moms are more than qualified to reenter the workforce. This series will be contemporary, fun, and funny with vivid colors and movement while capturing the reality of stay-at-home mom life.
I picture an exhibition organized like a resume with skills like team player, positive attitude, and adaptable in one area and job experience like laundry specialist, chauffeur, and referee in another area. Large colorful images display the various skills and jobs of a stay-at-home mom. I want it to be an immersive fun experience playing with complementary colors and analogous colors. The title of the image will be the job or skill I am capturing.
I want visitors to walk away realizing the depth of the stay-at-home mom role and see the dedication to family and skills acquired as an asset to the workforce.
– Carrie UsmarCarrie Usmar_Bio
The RI Center for Photographic Arts, RICPA 118 N. Main St. Providence, RI 02903
Located in the heart of Providence, RICPA was founded to inspire creative development and provide opportunities to engage with the community through exhibitions, education, publication, and mutual support.
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