For many years I have had these two tattered boxes of negatives, contact sheets, and black and white prints from my adolescent and teenage years. And for many years I have thought that one day I might do something with them. I have carted these boxes as I moved to various apartments, homes, offices, and studios until they finally ended up in basement storage in my current office in Lowell, Massachusetts. In the summer of 2008 the storage space flooded, but fortunately these records were up high and were not damaged.
The period of these images span only five years—eighth through twelfth grade—but a formidable time for us. Eighth grade for me was the time that I ventured into the world to make my own friends, explore my own curiosities, and begin making some sense of the world. (I am still working on that one.) And fortunate for me there was a ready group of other eighth graders looking to do the same thing.
So it is not surprising that the core grouping of these images are of my closest friends at the time—Peter Goldman, Paul Werbin, and Neil Besser. Although our friends of the other gender were just as much part of our group, for some reason I have less photos of Barbara Wood, Leslie Gershman, and Lisa Schlosser. (Although on of my favorite photos from that period is of Lisa.) And then there were all our other friends, some of whom figure prominently here. Some who figured prominently in my childhood and are not represented here. And some whom did not figure prominently in my childhood and are represented here! Some came later and some left early. But allow me now to say how much you all meant to me back then.
I can’t tell if this project is therapy, art, documentary, or perhaps some combination of all the above. I can say that it has caused me to think very deeply about that period and to view it from the perspective of a fifty-two-year-old man. From that vantage point I can see how truly curious, self conscious, and privileged we all were. But what does that mean to any fifteen year old? We grew up in the shadow of Vietnam and were too young to know what that meant. Our cohort was the only age group since Vietnam that did not have to register for the draft. I remember well the day in 1975 when the US finally evacuated the US Embassy in Saigon. I could not understand why there were no parties celebrating the end of the war.
But we also lived the fallout of the 1960s with a permissiveness unknown to earlier generations. It was both frightening and liberating. The most joyous moments of my life were those early spring days in the South Mountain Reservation when the days were becoming warm and long, the snow melting, and we were just all seeing and being seen at Hemlock Falls. But it was also frightening. What thirteen year old could truly embrace sex, drugs and rock and rolls without some trepidation.
Of all these photos, I am probably most drawn to the series of Peter Goldman at fourteen climbing at the Gunks. Peter eventually became an accomplished mountaineer that included an expedition on Mt. Everest. The last time I saw Peter was just before my 50th birthday climbing in the Cascades in Washington in some of the most miserable weather and hardest hiking I have ever experienced. Peter lives in Seattle with his wife Martha and three boys and is a lawyer with a public interest law firm working on environment issues.
Paul Werbin and I still keep in touch. Paul still has a bit of a crazy streak, infinitely smart, and challenging our notions of right and wrong and up and down. In another day and time he could have been a merry prankster. He lives in Virginia Beach with his airplane and good friends. The last I saw Paul was at the Newport Jazz Festival about two years ago but we threaten to get together more often.
Sue Kern (now Gelinas) lives just an hour north of me in New Hampshire with her husband Ken and two kids. We keep in touch and get together one in a while. The last time I saw her was in the early fall when Barbara Wood (now Uslan) and her husband Rich were visiting with Sue. I came up from Mass for dinner and had some interesting political discussions with about all the attention paid to the life and death of Ted Kennedy. Afterwards we went out to the Manchester, NH bar scene and played pool with some inebriated guys (I think I was one of them).
I cannot finish these comments without mentioning Neil Besser, who figures prominently in these photos and in our lives. We all spent many days, weekends, and school vacations with Neil while hiking, skiing, climbing, partying and doing the things that we did back then. It was never a smooth ride with Neil. As bright, creative, and strong as he was, toward the end of high school his rebelliousness and mental illness became more prominent. As long as we were all in la la land, he could survive. But once we all left for college and faced up to the challenges of the real world, Neil’s life took a very serious turn for the worse with manic and depressive episodes, and becoming more threatening to his friends, family, and acquaintances. I want to celebrate the best of Neil in these photos. If his family finds their way to this exhibit, I want to say that I am truly sorry for the pain that you have gone through.
Some of us did not make it this far. Bruce Paskow was a dear friend from West Orange who figures prominently in these photos. Bruce had a wonderful creative energy and could always make you feel warm and fuzzy. He eventually became a musician with a successful rock band, the Washington Squares. Bruce died of complications due to AIDS in 1994.
Thank god for Facebook in providing a way to keep in touch with the rest of you. Just this past year I have met some old friends on this ridiculously infectious website including Nancy Ensminger and Laurie Fox.
It is unfortunate and telling that I cannot find one picture of my brother Elliott, who I was not very close with during the time these photos were taken, but ever since college we have been good friends and good brothers.
There are just a few photos of two dear friends who predated the time when I started this photo project at 13—David Weinstein and Roree Iris. Both deserve to be represented here in greater quantity.
I want to apologize to Lori Litwin for not having any photos of her, but she is here in spirit.
For those who might be reading this and have not kept up with me, and those of you who have kept up with me and are still confused—what about me? I live in Concord, Massachusetts with my partner of twelve years, Barbara Ayotte. We own a house together and have two crazy cats, Zeke and Melisa. My day job since graduating from college is graphic design. But the work that I have done that is most meaningful to me is spending fifteen years as the director of a Balkan humanitarian and advocacy organization, the Center for Balkan Development, and more recently starting a website for documentary photography, SocialDocumentary.net. I still manage to take photographs once in while. In mid-November 2009 I will be going to Uganda with Barbara for a week to document the public health projects of Cambridge-based Management Sciences for Health (where Barbara works).
Whew! I never planned to write such a long statement, and I could keep going, but I will break if off here.
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Thank you everyone for everything!
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