Bob Avakian

While scrolling through Lenscratch’s 2014 favourite photographs I came across Bob Avakian’s work. I liked his work so much that I thought a short write up was in order. His body of work is all about how light creates mood and atmosphere.

Bob Avakian is a photographer from Martha’s Vineyard and he does his landscape photography there and on the neighbouring Chappaquiddick island and has won numerous awards and participated in exhibitions in New York and Massachusetts.

His body of work consists of images taken at night and at sunrise. Many of his images have an unknown light source in them. I especially like the one called Into the Light which is a photograph of a road sweeping around a curve with two houses alongside it. The house furthest from the camera is illuminated from within by indoor lighting and the brightly lit window immediately draws the eye to that part of the image. Another bigger light source from behind the house is illuminating the back side of the house and a little spillage around the side of the house illuminates the road and lawns and the barriers on the side of the road. Shadow beams radiate into the night sky from this golden light source, fading gradually into the surrounding darkness. There is so much mood and atmosphere to this image. Without this lighting the photograph would be rather mundane.

Another night image that is particularly poignant is Avakain’s Flower Moon Tree. It is an image taken at a very low perspective, probably belly on the ground height, of a farmhouse with a tree in the foreground. So the horizon line is low in the image. Only the side of the white farm house is visible, being illuminated by an outdoor light source which the viewer cannot see. The light is quite white and casts white-pink tinge on the approaching driveway. At the top of the frame we see a full moon illuminating the rest of the scene with its golden light. There must have been quite a bit of cold moisture in the upper atmosphere as the moon has atmospheric rings of light which are caused by the light refracting off ice crystals. The gnarly branches and foliage of the tree reach out as if to embrace the moon, leading the eye upwards. Again in this image the light creates the mood.

The mood in Avakian’s Morning Walk is soft and ethereal. This is one of the images from his Day series. It is an image of lone figure in the far off distance walking along the beach. The fact that the distant horizon is scarely visible and the golden haze of the early morning sunrise which envelopes the figure creates the effect that the person is going to disappear into another world. The surrounding light matches the tones of the sand while the blue tones of the sea are slightly darker than that of the overhead sky. This image works so well because it consists of the muted complementary tones of blue and orange. Tiny shadows from debris washed up on shore create a leading line of sorts directing the viewer to the lone figure on the beach.

In contrast with the Morning Walk image, Avakian’s photo of Chappaquiddick Ferry is almost monochromatic.  It is shot from within the photographer’s car which is on the ferry, approaching the dock. The sea is choppy and cold and on the approaching bank some cars and bicycles stand waiting. What made me do a double take on this image was the immediate foreground which is a silver curved shaped object reflecting the approaching dock. The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to this as this is the brightest object in the photograph.  I first thought that this was a canoe or kayak, but upon closer inspection I noticed the rain drops and surmised that it was the bonnet of the photographer’s car. The only colour in this image is from the yellow-brown tones from the grass and shrubbery and the few muted green trees flanking the approach to the dock. The waves and the raindrops provide movement to the image to the extent that I can almost feel the pontoon bobbling its approach to the dock. The dark vignette at the top of the frame also draws one into the frame. Again one can feel the mood in this image and there is something a little ominous about the mood in this photo. Perhaps it has to do with the historical fact that this ferry was close to the spot where Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge into the Poucha Pond causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

All of Bob Avakian’s work that is online is pretty amazing. They all have a certain amount of wow factor and I do like the general feeling of isolation that is evident in his images. After looking at an aerial map of Chappaquiddick Island it is very clear that there are only a few houses on the island and lots of wide open spaces between them. I imagine that Martha’s Vineyard is fairly similar, but probably a little more populated. The isolation depicted in his images is a positive one. It is more a sense of sereneness and tranquility. Oh that I had such open spaces close to home.

Reference List

Bob Avakian Photography [online]. Available from http://www.bobavakianphotography.com/ [Accessed 4 January, 2015]

Incident on Chappaquiddick Island, 18 July 1969 [online]. History.com. Available from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/incident-on-chappaquiddick-island [Accessed 4 January, 2015]

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