Today we feature the work of Bob Avakian. Bob was an award winner in the 2017 Rfotofolio Call for Entry. He is also one of the photographers in the 2018 Depth of Field.
Would you please tell a little us about yourself?
I grew up in Rhode Island went to school in Boston and New York, studying architectural engineering. In 1973 I moved to the island of Martha’s Vineyard with my wife Gail where we raised our two children. We now have two grandchildren as well. I’ve been involved in the building trades since college. On the Vineyard, I became a carpenter, eventually starting my own full-service construction company in which I now collaborate with my oldest son.
How did you get started in photography?
I took a photography class in 72 as an art elective while attending college in New York City. I hit the streets with my camera taking photos of people without giving it a second thought, but after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard I realized the small town atmosphere did not lend itself to this style of shooting. As I began working in the building trade and started a business and a family, I set my interest in photography aside until I took a workshop at Maine Media in the summer of 2011. Taking that workshop rekindled my passion for photography.
Would you share with us one image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?
Coney Island Teenagers, 1949 by Harold Feinstein. The woman in the photo reminds me of my mother. While I’m sure it’s not her, it was shot the year before my parents were married and my father used to travel to NY, so I think it created a fantasy for me. The idea that it could be my mother evoked a sense of mystery about the image and I believe that a sense of mystery permeates many of my own photographs today. Aside from all that, during my brief introduction to photography in NY, one of my favorite places to go was Coney Island.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
That’s a difficult question because I like so many, but I admire the work of Todd Hido, Michael Levin, David Fokos, Stephen Dirado, Richard Tushman and Lance Kemig, all of whom I’ve met and all have left a lasting impression on me. Among those I’d like to meet: Gregory Crewdson, Beth Moon and Lisa Tyson Ennis.
What has been your most memorable experience as far as your photographic work is concerned?
My most memorable experience was the 2011 Maine Media Workshop that I took after many years of photographic dormancy. At some point during that workshop I realized that I would continue shooting for the rest of my life. Having just turned sixty and approaching retirement age, it added a much-needed new dimension to my life. Now I look back and wonder how this all could have happened, it wasn’t meticulously planned; it was so magical. I feel very grateful.
Please tell us about the portfolio of work you submitted to our call.
I call it A Moment in Time Between Night and Day. It was serendipity that brought me to night photography, borne from a single photograph I shot in darkness on the ferry between Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. Long exposures allow me to peer into the night to create a vision that is not visible to the eye.
What Image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
It would have to be In My Backyard. Literally shot in my backyard, I was playing around with some light painting. It was sheer good fortune that the sky, clouds, and stars all gave me a helping hand that evening. But I learned two crucial lessons: I don’t have to go far afield to find photographic opportunities and that really looking at and seeing your surroundings is a critical part of the process.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
Regardless of what I am doing, I would have to say it is all about getting to that “Yes, I’ve got it” moment. It’s a stopping point, so when I do return to the project, it’s to begin another phase. With photography, any day or night I go out in search of capturing a shot is a good creative day for me. And when I am processing a photograph it would be when I realize I can stand up and say, “Print it.”
Do you have any favorite pieces of equipment that you find essential in the making of your work?
In both my favorite pastimes, photography and woodworking, I’m a tool guy at heart. In my print room, my favorite piece of equipment would be my printer. In my finishing room it would be my laminating machine and my spray rig. And when I am photographing it would be my tripod.
What is on the horizon?
I’ll undoubtedly continue to shoot at night. And I’d like to travel a bit more off-Island. This past winter, my wife and I went to Venice, Italy. I participated in and helped teach a photography workshop there. I found it took me a week to get the feel for how I wanted to shoot. So I’d like to return and photograph more of the off-the-beaten-path settings – the less-traveled canals and neighborhood streets. Aside from shooting, I am working on finding other methods of presentation – something hand-done, more unique than hitting the print button. Something to get me out of the office, away from the computer and into a right-brain state of mind.
To learn more about work of Bob Avakian please visit his site at, Bob Avakian.