Fourth of July in Rhode Island

Well, it’s that time of year again, when folks here in the US celebrate Independence Day. Rhode Island, settled by dissident Roger Williams, celebrates diversity; and the approaches to that celebration are themselves diverse.

Rhode Island of course has parades. But unlike most places in the U.S., the parades here fall into two general categories. The ultra-traditional, as evidenced in the red-white-and-bluer than thou parade in Bristol (also the oldest continuous Fourth of July parade in the U.S., as Bristolians are quick to point out).

And the wacko, as celebrated in the Ancients and Horribles parade in Chepachet. (That’s a village in the town of Gloucester, but I don’t have the time or the space here to explain RI’s villages, some of which extend across several towns.)

Yet a third way RI often celebrates the Fourth is at Waterfire, an installation founded and continued by Barnaby Evans, in and along the river in downtown Providence. To go to Waterfire is a transforming experience: it’s large, it’s mellow, and it attracts an absolute cross-section of humanity. And, yes, real fire is involved.

I'm pretty much a people photographer, I like to shoot in the streets, and there are few opportunities riper for people photography than parades and public celebrations. So I recommend that you go a celebration this Fourth of July, that you bring a camera, and that you aim the camera at the crowd at least as often as at the parade itself. And just click here for more photos of the Fourth of July in Rhode Island.


You do what?

You go to an opening, a cocktail party, or any kind of social event, and, sooner or later, somebody’s going to ask, “So what do you do?” I tell people I’m an advertising, commercial and editorial photographer, and they often respond on some variation of the theme, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Which is better than a clipped “Oh,” which is the usual response to, for example, “I’m an accountant.” But every once in a while ...

Rhode Island, the current world headquarters of Ed Lefkowicz Photography, is, by all accounts, a quirky place. It’s small. It’s a unit of measure. (The BP oil spill, as of June 9, 2010, covered about 16,434 square miles, 13.5 times the size of Rhode Island (You can see the spill on Google Earth here, and compare it to your own location) But I digress.

Rhode Island has some legitimate claims to the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the U.S., and one result was a proliferation of small manufacturers. Some really, really, small, as in one or two people working from a home’s basement workshop. (I once met two brothers, one of whom sold antiquarian books on the side, whose full-time, basement business was to make high-end silicon-carbide mortars and pestles for research labs. Go figure.) While this micro-business model has waned of late, it hasn’t disappeared. Which brings me to Rick.

Rick’s business is one of those “You do what!?” businesses. I can say this with some certainty, because that was precisely my reaction when he first told me. Rick, you see, makes crowns for religious statues. In his basement workshop. I had to see.

Pretty basic equipment: a handful of foot-presses that probably date back to the late 1800s, a propane soldering setup with compressed air to boost and control the temperature, a few simple hand tools, and that’s about it. (So far, I don’t think I’ve divulged any trade secrets here.)

He makes a variety of sizes and styles to order. (The market is not what it once was, the decline of the church being what it is, and Rick is apparently the only manufacturer left in the U.S.) The process is by turns more simple and more complex than you might think, and it’s an interesting process to watch. And Rick is an interesting guy to talk to. So we talked. And I made some photos while he worked.

All of this got me thinking that it would be fun to see who else is out there making things in Rhode Island basement workshops. I’m looking, so if you hear of anyone, let me know. I’ll be grateful for any leads.

Click for more images of Rick making crowns.


Portraits of an artist

I like to work with creative people, whether they be musicians, visual artists, dancers, actors, or even scientists. I like to be around creative energy, and I really like the collaborative process when photographing creatives. I usually understand what they’re about, they usually understand what I’m trying to accomplish, and the results reflect it.

I first met the Norwegian painter Jone Ketil Rimestad back in 1997. I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I loved it when I saw it, and we hit it off personally. We’ve seen each other intermittently over the years, sometimes at openings of his shows in N.Y. and elsewhere, and sometimes just socially. We speak on the phone a lot, particularly through the dark Norwegian winters. Two things immediately struck me about Jone: his feelings come out in his works (the oil sketches he made on his first trip to N.Y. took me aback: the buildings loom and curve in over the viewer); and he has an astoundingly accurate memory for colors.

The first portraits of him that I made were on a Cape Cod beach in winter. He was, as you can see, lively and jumping around. (Cape Cod winters are as nothing when compared with Norwegian winters, which helps explain his exuberance when most of the locals were likely huddled by their fires!) I think the portrait really captures his exuberance and playfulness.

Jone came to visit a week or so ago, and we spent some time getting caught up and some time poking around the Rhode Island coast. Jone is also a sailor (despite the headscarf, he’s not a pirate), and he likes old nautical stuff, so I did this by a rusting breakwater.

I made a few portraits at home, of him with one of his paintings. Pretty simple lighting—one lightpanel catching late afternoon window light. Jone hated it, so I took it down.

(Oh, yeah, the lightpanel. He got intrigued by that, and did this Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia thing.)

We wound up at Beavertail Light in Jamestown. While we scrambled on the rocks, explored the remains of WWII defenses, checked out the foundation of an earlier lighthouse, I took some photos. Just before we were about to leave, I saw the sun raking across the white bricks of the old lightkeeper’s cottage, Jone stood in the doorway, and we took advantage of the perfect angle and color of the late afternoon sun. The texture of the white painted bricks was hard to deal with, but it reminded me of the impasto of his paintings. (I think we popped a little light into the shadow side of his face with a reflector.) There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. And paying attention.

Click for more artist portraits of Jone.