1 Picture 1000 (or so) Words

Connecting across 6 decades.

An Individual’s history goes beyond the years they have lived. Connections before our birth are woven into the timeline of our lives. The crossroads of past generations intersecting our life providing interesting synapses connecting seemingly unrelated parts of our lives. 

I recently had one of those intersections.  This MGM camera crane connects my first job in TV to a project I’m working on in retirement. This is indeed a reach to make the connections. But stay with me.

This story begins with childhood inspiration of film making. Specifically dance scenes in West Side Story. Visual storytelling is something I latched onto as a goal. I got a degree in Visual Communications from KSU. During my Sr. year I got a job at Cathedral Teleproductions, in Cuyahoga Falls. The technical, studio and editing facilities were far superior than any TV station outside of a major market. I was “the new college kid” and the people were great. My job was the library/shipping/receiving of dubs of the Rex Humbard show.

Any down time, I was in the edit suite or the huge studio. 25’ ceilings, 60 X 90 floor space, Mole lights and more grip equipment than I had any idea how to use. This was the real deal. Big time sound-stage. Years before I got there, the facility did commercial production and was the biggest sound-stage between Chicago and NY. In the back of the studio was a big crane but was never used. Curious about big blue I was told after it was delivered a copy of the script from Gone With the Wind was found in one of the compartments. The cynic in me recognized I was the new kid to tell stories to and took it with a grain of salt. But there were markings on it tying it to MGM. Maybe?

If you know anything about production you know this crane is an unbelievable custom  piece of gear. Room on the tongue for 2. I balanced it and was amazed how smoothly I could make it move. The arm approached a ton but I moved it with 2 fingers. The electric motor was burned out and had to be moved by hand. This was my first “crush” on production equipment.

After about 6 months I became involved in studio and Sunday service productions. I had found my place and what became a career, on the production crew.

Shortly before I left that job, a new show open was scheduled to be shot in a park near the studios. The crane was pulled out of mothballs to be towed to the park. The two rear wheels were used to steer. Somebody had to ride in the driver’s seat and keep the wheels straight. The kid” got a chance to drive the crane. I knew this crane had done some big jobs. I was pretty pleased with myself. Not real resume material but a nice ego boost to begin a career. Being connected to the era of production I admired was an impetus to always look for connections you can reflect on.

Now a leap of decades. Before retirement I got back into still photography. A few components of this story are already connected but life goes on after retirement. Capturing moments and telling visual stories was the objective I wanted to pursue. The primary subjects I wanted to see in the viewfinder were sailboats & humans. Humans is subdivided into creative, artistic/athletic and just folks. Dance, both artistic and athletic, was in my mind’s eye for the challenge of capturing light, form and emotion. I looked for opportunities and found them.

A connection with Dancer/Choreographer Maria Caruso has provided wonderful opportunities. But our first meeting is the connection (unknown at that time) to the big blue crane. Ms Caruso told me her studio is the old studio of Gene Kelly…a kid from da ‘burgh. I always respecte the space of artists and her studio was no exception. I was in a space that was more than it seemed. I put that outta my mind, grabbed my 2 step ladder and started taking some pics during a rehearsal.

A recap. I was inspired by strong visuals including dance as a youngster. Wanted to work on production crews as a career. First job had big time gear including a big 40’ crane built for MGM. Had a career doing what I enjoyed, but no dance. Retired with a DSLR and found opportunities to capture some dance images. 

Ok. I now have a connection to Singing in the Rain which arguably is the best musical/dance production ever made. West Side Story grabbed me, but as my appreciation for the genre evolved Gene Kelly and company set a standard that should always be part of any critique.

And now the connection back to that very first job.

Facebook has a group called Eyes of a Generation I follow.  Many TV geeks are still telling stories and sharing pics of gear on this site. I posted the pic above. That connected me with a camera operator who had worked at Cathedral on commercial production in the early 70’s. He corrected the story I was told when I was “the new kid from college.” They didn’t find a script to Gone with the Wind. They found a work order in one of the tool storage compartments for Signing in the Rain.

Here’s the final weave of connections. I was inspired by dance scenes in West Side Story. MGM’s Singing in the Rain was a natural progression of appreciation of this genre. I drove this MGM crane on my first job. The pedigree of this classic camera crane is a work order for the film a kid from my hometown,who owned a studio in Pittsburgh, starred in and co-directed. I took pictures in Gene Kelly’s studio. It was the first time I ever took a 2 step ladder onto a shoot.

If you look, you can find connections in life that will give you a sense of place in history.

Symbolic Portraiture

Michael Fratangelo creates a compelling style with his painting.

I was honored to be welcomed into the studio of an artist to discuss his process & document his technique. People who whet their skills, persistence, talent & technique to create art define their own space. It is a place to be respected. Alone in a building on the third floor the work Michael Fratangelo does in his studio is primarily at night. Maybe Quincy Jones was on to something when he said “The muse come out at night.”

I first saw his work at Ketchup City Creative.  This powerful series was recognized & exhibited in Europe. The subject of the paintings was the War in Iraq. The series reflected photos from the NYT. I was taken back by the size of the paintings some as large as 6’ by 8’. My eyes welcomed the pallet of colors.  His style is such that the oil-on-canvas is thick & chunky giving an added element of form.  I was intrigued by how he defines his Symbolic Portraits. I was preparing my own Portraiture themed gallery show & his work was an unexpected perspective into defining a portrait. Classic portraits of people are not what he produces. The work I saw in his brochure gave me new eyes. Boldly, I asked if I could visit his studio to document his work.

My minds eye of a painter’s space is not what I found. From a photographers perspective the lighting was mixed & poorly distributed. Working at night the windows provided no source of naturally soft light. Mirror like, they only reflected glares. The primary light was florescent & he used 2 thrift-store-rejected pole lamps for the work in front of him. I quickly realized all Michael needed was illumination! The work was coming from his mind to his hands. Watching him work I began to understand his comment “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants”. This is a place where the muse may visit.

 I’m not an art critic & lack their classic adjectives, adverbs & education to describe paintings. I can say that visually his paintings have strength. Since it is Michael’s work I accept his description of “using symbolism to create spiritually guided portraits”. Adjusting the viewer’s awareness to a different type of portrait resonated with me.

Some artists make sketches or drafts that play an important role in their work. For Michael, a critical step is interviewing & understand the person. What he learns becomes layers in the painting he creates. A common topic includes mentors & individuals that have inspired. Family snapshots showing decades of change in the person hang on the wall alongside of where he works. The favorite food in somebodies life can sneak into the symbolism coming from his brushes. The colors & forms Michael sees are a part of the spiritual aspects of the people he paints.

Allen Levine, who Michael has known for years, commissioned the project I photographed. Allen is an outgoing person with passion for sports. He hosts a local talk show calling himself the Talking Machine. The symbolism in his portrait reveals his character with forms & color from Michael.

Michael never started out to be an artist coming close to never recognizing his gift. As a student he was adrift. During our conversations he frequently discussed how John Bowman, one of his professors at Penn State, encouraged him to develop his own voice on the canvas using his intuitive sense of color. After that, he avoided academic probation & was on a path to understanding & developing his talent.

Michael has confidence he is where he needs to be with his art. His role as a Middle School teacher “inspiring his students to simply avoid being afraid to be creative” is part of his personality. He recognizes the value of ingenuity across all learning. Having found his talent he looks to help others discover theirs.  This provides motivation outside the studio. As a member of the board of Penn State’s College of Art & Architecture he gives back to the place where he found his gift.

I asked what artists inspired him. Of particular interest were sculptors Henry Moore from Britain & Michelangelo Buonarroti of Italy. I found it somewhat odd that sculptors influenced a painter working in a 2 dimensional medium until I researched their work. Both had a mystical view of their work, that the sculptors already lay in the marble they were uncovering. Michael considers himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Instead of using hammer chisel & stone, Michael has a similar belief he is uncovering his work like the sculptors but with brush, palette knife & oil paint.

 Michael daringly describes himself as a visionary artist. With early international recognition of his style, he now is earning commissions for his unique portraits. I do not doubt that his work may reach a new level. For now, he continues to produce his dynamic colorful symbolic portraits while trying to put a dent in the universe.

This new blog format I am using will allow you to click on the photographs to see them full frame. Feedback appreciated.