Artists on display at UMMA see world in a different light

Posted Oct. 04, 2010, at 6:16 p.m.

“Life and art are inseparable,” said Ilya Askinazi, 47, of Bangor. “To me, photography is just like any art. If your art is not who you are, then it’s not real.”

His belief is echoed by fellow photographer Todd Watts, 61, who said, “Art and life aren’t separate; they are the same. The subject of the picture often has to do with the morning of when I am making the picture.”

Askinazi and Watts each will be exhibiting their photographic art at the University of Maine Museum of Art from Oct. 8 to Dec. 31. While both artists portray the rapidly changing world in their work, they employ opposite photographic techniques — Askinazi uses a “light box” on a tripod, and Watts manipulates images on a computer.

“There is a very striking contrast between the two artists,” said UMMA Director and Curator George Kinghorn. “It shows a purist tradition and a contemporary photographer pushing the color scale and the computer as a creative implement.”

Tradition and intuition: Ilya Askinazi

“I just love this camera. I grew up in Moscow and did photography then. I was a shy kid, but you can’t be shy with this thing,” said Russian-born photographer Ilya Askinazi who takes black-and-white photographs using a Deardorff 8×10 view camera.

“The stuff that I do is so dinosaur,” said Askinazi. “Basically it is an 8×10 camera that I contact print. The main reason is that it works for me. The whole process of what I do is a lot closer and intimate to the things I shoot.”

He feels completely comfortable with the antique equipment, and doesn’t like the instant gratification of a digital camera, which allows you to see a photograph without entering a darkroom. If you are able to take hundreds of shots and delete the majority of them later, “you lose this thing called intuition,” he said.

“Seeing him on the streets of Bangor with an 8×10 camera is like looking back in time,” said curator Kinghorn. “It’s a big, beautiful camera. It’s walking art itself.”

A fellow photographer recently voiced how amazing it is that Askinazi exposes and processes about 2,000 negatives per year, works full time as a car salesman and sleeps.

“The amount of work this thing produces — it’s just metal and wood. It’s just a light box,” he said. His favorite lens was made by Bausch & Lomb in 1895.

Askinazi photographs daily and doesn’t shoot specific subject matter for gallery or museum shows. Unwilling to be limited to certain subjects, he shoots portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, nudes and nature.

For the UMMA exhibit “A Pointed View,” he gave Kinghorn a surplus of pieces to choose from.

While Askinazi thinks the subject of the photo is important, his main focus is how light plays off the subject.

“I don’t think the world is the same world anymore. Maybe I have changed with the time. What I portray is a little bit darker,” he said. “I’m allowing a lot more surprises in the work. I used to want to have total control. Rather than stopping time, I’m trying to give it the dimension of being transient.”

Reality is becoming surreal, Askinazi said. The bare reality captured in his photos may surprise a viewer who is bombarded with the unreal images and alternate realities of 3-D movies and video games.

A Bangor resident might not recognize Askinazi’s black-and-white photograph of light playing off a downtown Bangor building at sunset.

All day long, he sees lobstermen, fishermen, mill workers and potato farmers. Maine is not always pretty, he says, but it is “beautiful in it’s moodiness and darkness.”

“My connection to Maine, I can’t live without it,” he said. “It’s something that got into me 26 years ago, and I can’t get it out of me. I’m right in the middle of Bangor. I watch its changes in weather, in light and architecturally.”

With a tent and a camera, he came to Maine on a Greyhound bus and never left.

“Maine is a treasure, and I don’t think it’s necessarily captured or expressed,” he said. “Maine has an edge to it … It’s landscape and how the Maine people can’t be separated from the landscape.”

Though he’s working on capturing Maine, Askinazi’s photography isn’t limited to the state. Last January, he traveled to Israel, a place he’d wanted to visit since childhood. He produced five boxes of images, some of which will be shown at the UMMA exhibit. Photos from his second home, New York, have also been submitted for the exhibit.

He carries around a 14-pound camera, 15-pound Ries ash tripod, 4-pound lenses and 12 pounds of film. He processes the film in the darkroom of his Bangor Studio on State Street.

“You get tired of standing on your feet in the dark room,” he said. “But you can never get tired of seeing the image emerging in the liquid. It’s magic.”For information, visit

Technology and pattern: Todd Watts

Todd Watts recently discovered a box in his attic labeled, “Strings Too Short to Use.” To him, it displayed how people in the early 20th century saved everything. He compared that mindset to today’s consumerism.

His exhibit, named after the label on that old box, is a series of large-scale color photographic compositions about the future, pollution, overpopulation and the reality that “we’re running out of things.”

The piece “Text Message: Whatever” displays young people interacting in a fog of clouds. Watts composed it while thinking of the younger generation, people born into a time of change and not being able to compare that changing world to a time of less technology, less pollution and fewer people.

“What is most impressive about this body of work is that it was created specifically for the show here,” said Kinghorn, who worked with Watts over the past year to plan the exhibit.

Though he takes traditional photographs, the photos are digitized, manipulated and combined with the computer program Photoshop.

“It’s about the act of drawing and painting and design,” said Kinghorn. “It’s really creating an experience that is unique and totally different for the viewer.”

This is the his first show in which all of his images are created using computer software, scanning photos so he could work with multiple images on Photoshop, which he learned to use through trial and error.

In “The Caterpillar’s Conundrum,” he combined about 240 individual photos of people to create an evenly spaced crowd on a cloudy, pale green atmosphere. And in the three-panel picture “A String Too short To Use,” birds from Florida land in trees in Athens, Maine.

He works with Photoshop “in the simplest possible way” and, although it has allowed him to create a new type of image, he feels as if he is always fighting it and having to undermine it.

“My work is idea-based, not reactive,” he said. “I have a resource of imagery [about 6,000 negatives from 10 countries].”

He created the images shown in his exhibit between 2006 and last week, but the photos were drawn from his collection and could have been taken many years before.

“I could go on for four hours about each picture,” said Watts. “A lot has to do with the relationship between the artist and the viewer, but the viewer carries the weight.”

Ten years ago, he became more conscious about population changes when he moved from crowded Manhattan to Blanchard, Maine, a town with about 80 residents. There was a sense of urgency in Manhattan, “as if culture was squeezing the people, but in the second poorest county in Maine, everyone is OK,” he said.

The Plum Creek controversy over development in the Moosehead Lake Region spurred the creation of a four-piece series that will be in the exhibit. He used molasses on glass plates to draw animals, bulldozers, condos and vacationing people, and laid the images over a lakeside photograph on Photoshop — a process that took several months.

Across the road from his home in Blanchard, he works in a studio with a professional analog darkroom and digital darkroom.

“The main thrust is the formal art issues, the spacing and color,” Watts said. “Even though [the pictures] are highly manipulated, somehow they are always connected to the subject. How do we perceive life based on patterning? And then color — I’m not so shy about color.”For more information on Watts, visit

UMMA members can meet the artists from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Members’ Preview Reception at the museum, 40 Harlow St. in Bangor. The exhibit opens to the public Oct. 8. Admission to the museum is free.

For information, call UMMA at 561-3350 or visit

UMMA to display restored Pablo Picasso prints

Eight Pablo Picasso prints, part of the permanent collection of University of Maine Museum of Art, will be shown in the exhibit “Pablo Picasso: The Passionate Print, Selections from the Museum Collection” Oct. 8-Dec. 30.

Picasso, known as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, produced more than 20,000 prints. His ability to move from one printmaking technique to another is shown in his etchings, aquatints, linocuts and lithographs included in the exhibit.

Six of the prints recently have received conservation treatment at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts. They were run through neutralizing baths and selective bleaching to restore the paper close to its original appearance and have been returned to the museum to be displayed for the first time. All six have new mats and framing.

“They look phenomenal,” said Kinghorn. “We are now able to showcase these for the community and the people of Maine.”

Unlike most artists, Picasso’s artwork ranges from representational to reductive and abstract.

One of the prints, “Jackal in a Straw Hat,” 1962, has only 50 impressions in the world, one of which is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Another, “Faun Unveiling a Woman,” 1936, was part of a series produced for the famous art dealer and critic Ambrose Vollard. Only 260 impressions exist, according to Kinghorn.

“We are very pleased to be ramping up our conservation efforts,” Kinghorn said. As part of the exhibit, they will provide information to educate visitors about the importance of conservation.

The museum has about 3,500 works in its collection, and about the same amount available through campus lending.

For information, call UMMA at 561-3350 or visit