American Photo’s Russell Hart returned to his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia to report on the first-ever LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph, a photo extravaganza organized by National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols.

I’m flying south in a buzzing turboprop, a plane too small for comfort, pushing through blue so pale it begs for a polarizing filter. In my lap by sheer accident is Sky in a Bottle, a book about why the sky is blue (a matter that long confounded 19th-century English scientist and photo enthusiast Sir John Herschel), and I’m looking out the window wondering if persistence of vision accounts for why the propeller’s blades are invisible, with only blue sky circling the engine cowling. (The book says that Herschel was first to use the term “scattered” to describe the sky’s unpolarized light.)

I’m in a small plane because I’m flying to a small town, Charlottesville, Virginia, to attend LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph. Charlottesville and its environs are often called Jefferson’s country (our third President lived and died there), but this week it might as well be called Nichols’s country. That’s Nichols as in Nick, a.k.a. Michael K. Nichols, one of National Geographic magazine’s top shooters. The driving force behind LOOK3, Nick is giving downtown Charlottesville a huge infusion of photographic culture. He says he wants to turn the area into a “living image.”

Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography • Day 3: Grand Finale Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Master Classes • William Albert Allard Conversation and Gallery Party • Eugene Richards

The three-day public event is predictably top-tier, featuring widespread exhibitions and installations, workshops, portfolio reviews, and lectures, all by top photographers. Shows and screenings will also feature work by up-and-coming and even come-as-you-are photographers, who can print or project their work on site. There will be outdoor slideshows and musical performances. Each day will end with a ticketed “INsight Conversation” with one of the event’s three marquee photographers, William Albert Allard, Sally Mann, and Eugene Richards (who is sitting in the seat behind me). I’ll be reporting on all this visual foment over the next few days.

Nichols characterizes LOOK3 as “three days of peace, love, and photography,” a description that betrays the festival’s informal origin. It is in fact the blossoming of a famous Nichols tradition — a summer yard party-cum-photo hoedown that he’s hosted for years at his own place in Charlottesville. I hope to interview Nichols during the festival to find out how long he’d been thinking of taking his photographic be-in public. As you’ll learn, he’s an unlikely impresario.

LOOK3 has special meaning for me because I grew up in Charlottesville, long before it became the favorite place to live of National Geographic photographers, who just hop on lovely, rolling Route 29 North to get to headquarters in DC. Most of my family and friends have long since moved away, so it’s nice to have some other reason to visit than my 80-something uncle and oldest cousin, much as I enjoy them. In fact, I’m using the occasion to deliver some stuff of photographic interest to my cousin. It’s in my carry-on backpack, probably the strangest in its contents that I’ve ever strapped on. Some of what’s inside is digital — a Canon EOS 5D D-SLR and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom, with which I plan to shoot pictures to post here, and the borrowed PowerBook I’m writing this on. Some is analog, magnetic to be specific — the cassette recorder with which I’ll do my interviews. And the rest of the pack is filled with boxes of various-sized glass-plate negatives, all wedged neatly among the padded dividers — my back kids you not.

The plates were given to me years ago by my cousin’s mother, my late aunt, when I was just getting into photography. They were shot by her father, a professional photographer, in the first few decades of the 20th century, and include not only family images (my aunt in a wicker baby carriage) but pictures he took of the construction of the Panama Canal and aerial reconnaissance photos he shot over enemy territory in World War I. One of my favorite images is of his fellow soldiers posing in confiscated German uniforms, helmet spikes and all. I’ve been the custodian of these negatives for many years, and I’m going to return them to my cousin, their rightful keeper.

No, I don’t have any unexposed glass plates in my backpack. But to stretch the point, its contents are kind of a metaphor, both technical and aesthetic, for what will be going on at LOOK3. Nichols has totally mixed it up for the occasion, representing all manner of work. He has included digital photographers, of course, who often focus on the here and now of world events. He has included analog photographers, those who still shoot film, often working in a black-and-white documentary mode like Eugene Richards. And he has included fine-art photographers such as Sally Mann, a Virginia native, who has used glass plate negatives in her recent visual explorations.

It’s a tribute to Nick Nichols’s vision of LOOK3 that he hasn’t limited his featured photographers to documentarians and photojournalists, but rather has widened the more typical National Geographic purview. Nick has clearly learned, as I have from my experience at American Photo, that photography can be all things to all people.

I turn on the TV in my hotel room to see what’s happening here (there are now TV stations in Charlottesville, not just Richmond) and the local channel is airing its “community corner” segment about upcoming events. Featured are a Brownie Scout sale, a birdwatching trek, and a few other small-town amusements, but no LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph.

So I decide to take a stroll down Main Street, closed to traffic and rechristened the Downtown Mall not long after I left Charlottesville, and it’s a totally different story than the news would have me believe. Nick Nichols is omnipresent. Banner-sized fabric prints of his greatest wildlife hits are stretched from tree to tree all up and down the mall. Al fresco diners sit unfazed beneath strutting silverback gorillas, elephants rampant, and tigers quenching their thirst (the latter placed thoughtfully right in front of a fountain). Not quite up on their taxonomy, parents field curious questions from their kids. I overhear the silverback being called a monkey and some exotic cat a cute kitty.

Nick has Main Street covered, though without a photo credit in sight. But step onto any of the mall’s quaint side streets and you’ll find banners announcing LOOK3’s marquee photographers, Bill Allard, Sally Mann, and Gene Richards. Allard is first up, tomorrow.

The LOOK3 planners seem to have left Thursday as a get-your-bearings day — a chance to check out all the venues before things really get cooking tonight (see next page), when William Albert Allard will be the main event.

Allard is literally the first person I see on my way to the mall, this being the proverbial small town. He’s heading to the Les Yeux du Monde gallery (that’s The Eyes of the World to us), which is showing a retrospective of his long career called “Five Decades.”

I ask him if he’s excited, and he says he’s a little nervous about tonight. It’s hard for me to imagine the unflappable Allard the least bit nervous, though I’m sure there’s comfort in the fact that home and a dram are a few minutes away. When I chatted with Eugene Richards at the airport rental car counter yesterday, he said he was seriously anxious about giving his closing talk on Saturday night. These are guys who’ve been to hell and back as photographers, but they’re only human.

Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography • Day 3: Grand Finale Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Master Classes • William Albert Allard Conversation and Gallery Party • Eugene Richards

Allard will be presenting at the downtown mall’s grandly restored Paramount Theatre, which together with the festival office in the YourSpace building across the street, is the heart of the festival. This morning, photographers David Alan Harvey, Maggie Steber, Alex Webb, and Rebecca Norris Webb are all inside the theatre doing portfolio reviews.

I don’t want to intrude on anybody’s face time with this fabulous four, so I decide to make the exhibition rounds. First stop is the locally venerable Second Street Gallery, where “Sally Mann: The Given” is on display. The show includes work from Mann’s circa-2000 “Matter Lent” series, for which she disinterred her late, much-loved dog Eva long after the animal’s death in order to make wet-plate images in a still-life vein of the bones and carcass, dried but not yet fully reclaimed. (More on that work here. That body of work also included pictures of putrefying corpses at a forensic test farm.) Gallery director Leah Stoddard tells me that there are bones all over Mann’s house and the grounds of her central Virginia farm, mainly for chewing on by her various living hounds, but that the photographer still has Eva’s carcass hanging in her studio and the dog’s bones in a bowl “in case she needs them again.” As Stoddard points out, “If you live on a farm, life and death is all around you. For Mann, it’s all just part of a natural life cycle.”

© Sally Mann/courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY
One of Sally Mann’s untitled ambrotypes, a process that turns a glass-plate negative into a one-of-a-kind positive.

But the real surprise in Mann’s show is new work that takes the photographer deeper into abstraction than did her Matter Lent images. It is also still life, done with the 19th-century ambrotype process, but I use the term still life advisedly because the images’ soft, defocused shapes and extremely muted tonality make their actual content difficult or impossible to identify. In fact, what’s interesting about these images is the way their elements linger in that space between knowing and not knowing what you’re looking at. It’s a hard effect to describe, so see the gallery here for examples.

With this work, photographic process is perhaps more preeminent than in any of Mann’s previous pictures. Ambrotypes are essentially underexposed glass-plate negatives that are coated black on their nonemulsion side, a trick that turns them into positives by allowing the black coating to show through the negative’s clearer areas — those representing darker tones in the subject. The negative’s denser areas become the ambrotype’s lighter tones and highlights, and range from creamy to brown in color. The effect makes Mann’s images seem almost lightless. The 15×13.5-inch plates are adhered directly to the mat board, and there’s no glass on the frame — a little scary in a tile-floored gallery!

Leah Stoddard says that Mann calls these pictures musical “scales,” as if they’re for practice, though their very condensed tonal scale hardly seems an octave wide. Nor would one want to pay $36,000, the price for one of Mann’s ambrotypes, for a mere exercise — though it should be pointed out that each is a one-of-a-kind original, with all the funky coating artifacts that Mann has left around the edges of the plate. When you buy one, you’re actually getting the photographer’s negative in the bargain!

In fact, one thing I particularly like about the images, and this is a characteristic of ambrotype, is the way they seem to shift subtly in certain areas from positive to negative, depending on density, ambient lighting, and the angle from which you’re looking at them. It’s like a less frustrating, much subtler version of the experience of looking at a daguerreotype’s mirrored surface.

I leave the Second Street Gallery and walk a block up Water Street to Les Yeux du Monde to see Allard’s show. Someone is setting up to shoot video, and in walks Allard for the session, so I decide to put off seeing the show until tonight, when the gallery will host a party after the photographer’s Paramount Theatre talk.

© Eugene Richards/VII
A classic Richards shot from 1993.

Instead, I walk to the other side of the downtown mall and up a block to Market Street to the McGuffey Art Center, to see Gene Richards’ show. When I went to Lane High School, which is just down the slope of nearby Vinegar Hill (once a slum visible from Lane’s windows, now home to the fancy Omni Hotel), McGuffey was either a vocational school or a primary school for kids with learning disabilities; I never quite knew which. It was terra incognito for me then, but in 1975 it was converted into an artists’ studio complex. Richards’s prints are spread throughout, on almost every wall not taken up by other artists’ work. As I start to walk around, the old, original narrow-board wooden floors creak and pop loudly, and I feel like I’m back in grammar, er, elementary school.

Richards’ show is just a knockout. I need more time than I have now to tell you about it, so stay tuned to this space.

I’m sitting in downtown Charlottesville’s old Paramount Theatre, in my youth a movie theatre but now dubbed “historic,” waiting for William Albert Allard to speak. I’m in the third row now, but I vividly remember sitting in the front row with a friend and watching the classic surf film Endless Summer. I only know the year was 1966 because I checked the Web to see when the movie was released. We watched it twice in a row, because back then they didn’t kick you out of movie theatres after one showing. (In fact we probably arrived in the middle and left in the middle, the way people used to do.) What I don’t remember, sadly, is whether the Paramount was truly integrated in 1966. When I first started going to it, black people had to sit in the balcony. (Now you probably pay extra for that privilege.) I do remember that they continued to sit there even after their self-empowerment in the late sixties. Separatism seamlessly replaced segregation.

I got to know Bill Allard in the late 1980s, when he was still living in nearby Batesville. I interviewed him at length for a book called William Albert Allard: The Photographic Essay, part of the abortive American Photographer Masters Series. (My co-author was Erla Zwingle, who had already left the magazine.) I quickly discovered that Allard is a piece of work — in the best way. He is crusty but a total artist, opinionated but open to any experience photography might offer him. And photography, mainly through the auspices and good offices of National Geographic, has given him plenty of experience, allowing him to get intimately acquainted with people ranging from the Mennonites of Montana to the fashionistas of Paris to the mountain Indians of Peru. (He is a self-described “people photographer.”) He will no doubt cover all that tonight.

|| |—| | | Photo by Russell Hart| | Bill Allard with fellow National Geographic photographer and partner in crime David Alan Harvey. Click photo for more party pics.| The turnout for Allard is huge. From where I sit the theatre looks nearly full. Right behind me is a photojournalist-turned-lawyer who’s come all the way from Fort Worth for the occasion, his 35mm Leica at the ready. We talk and he tells me that quitting photography professionally, which he did for financial reasons, left a “hole” in his heart. I tell him maybe it’s better that photography remain his passion, affirmed by his presence here, rather than his profession, a tougher one than ever.

The audience quiets and out walks National Public Radio’s Alex Chadwick, a photo enthusiast who will be having tonight’s “conversation” with Allard. He sits in one of two chairs behind a small table with a MacBook Pro sitting on it, facing him. Then out walks Allard, who sits down in the other chair and for the first time in my memory takes off his trademark hat. He puts his Leica M8 down on the floor beside him. Later he explains that he’s feeling his way into digital after decades of thinking in Kodachrome, and he still needs to sit with someone who knows how to open and process the M8’s RAW files.

Chadwick hardly gets a word in edgewise, though he gives the photographer something to talk to besides the black void of the audience as a life’s work is projected on the huge screen (digitally of course, and sharp as a tack). The conversation is almost all stories, and the stories make you realize how hard-won the pictures are. I’ve heard most of them before, but it’s pleasant to hear Allard’s rich voice as the images move along. Some of them are unfamiliar to me. One is a full-length Ingres-like nude, reclining, which Allard took at a Mexican border brothel. He seems to leave the picture up on the screen for a very long time, and after a while you can hear Nick Nichols quietly cackling several rows back. The nude lingers, full-frontal, and the audience starts to giggle, and Nick’s cackle turns into a hoot, and Allard realizes that he’s talked way ahead of the picture. He is, after all, the man who loves women.

|| |—| | | Photo by Russell Hart| | Allard told the story of how he captured this nude at a brothel along the Mexican border.| Allard says it was odd to “fall into” National Geographic from a world of documentary photography in which he shot black and white and made his own prints. “At first it was like sending all my pictures to the drugstore,” he says. “Everything would come back in little yellow boxes.” But the Geographic gave Allard a chance to “finger-paint,” as he puts it, and as anyone who follows his work knows, he went on to become a masterful colorist.

When the conversation ends Allard gets a standing ovation, and the crowd slowly spills out into the mall. People start to wander over to Les Yeux du Monde for “drinks and light fare.” I walk in and some musicians are setting up; it turns out that they comprise the Terry Allard Band, fronted by Bill’s own grown daughter. The crowd gets louder and the band begins to play above the din. I hear a rumor that Bill will be sitting in to sing some blues, that indigenous music being Allard’s favorite photographic subject, or so he said this evening. Unfortunately I have to leave before I can confirm his appearance so I can turn in some pictures of the event…

Friday at LOOK3 includes another full day of master classes at the Paramount Theatre. The classes break in the middle of the day for slide talks by the teachers, which are open to the festival public. Maggie Steber goes first, and she is a surprise to the crowd-so gentle and sweetly funny that you can’t quite picture her in the violent, life-threatening places she inhabits as a photojournalist for National Geographic (“a great champion of mine”) and other magazines.
Steber shows two bodies of work, first the desperate, brutal Haiti pictures that we’ve always associated with her, then a less familiar, newer body of work about the life of American Indians. (Excuse me for not saying Native Americans, a term I think is unfair to both American Indians and native-born Americans. If it’s good enough for AIM, the American Indian Movement, it’s good enough for me.) Steber sets up each group of pictures and pretty much lets the slideshow run its course, with nice Haitian and American Indian music that is sometimes deliberately dissonant with the pictures we’re seeing.

|| |—| | Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Masterclasses • William Albert Allard Exhibition and After-party • Eugene Richards | The Indian sequence seems to alternate photographs of its subjects in ceremonial situations, dressed in the familiar feathers and traditional garb, with images of the same subjects’ daily lives, focusing on the Wildcat family of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, terminus of the Trail of Tears. Steber says we (photographers too) still stereotype American Indians, thinking of and depicting them in “performance” (the pow-wow), and that we need to get beyond that, a case she’s trying to make and cause she’s trying to promote with her pictures. Indeed, many of the photographs of the Wildcat family and other Indians show happy times. Others show business-suited Indian men, not women — yes, that issue is global — making deals, perhaps for casinos. (So be it.)

On the other hand, says Steber, the ceremonial aspect of Indian life “is sometimes real,” especially now that tribes are restoring aspects of their traditional culture eradicated by time, assimilation, prejudice, and murderous mistreatment. “We should photograph the pow-wows and the poverty,” she pleads. In passing she mentions turn-of-the-20th-century Indian photographer Edward Curtis, who even then had to set up some of his pictures because his subjects had already given up the rituals and associated dress he wanted to capture. I sense Steber has mixed feelings about Curtis’s work.

In the audience Q&A that follows, someone asks Steber what it’s like to be a woman in the dangerous situations in which she works. You expect her to say that it’s tougher for women than men, but Steber surprises the audience. “I think it’s an advantage, actually,” she says, “because people don’t expect much from us.” The audience laughs. “In these countries, but even here” she quickly adds, lest America seem more progressive in this way than less privileged societies. “Women are disarming, because we’re nonthreatening,” she continues. “We can get into places men might not be able to.” Then she blurts out, “I really love being a woman,” and the audience roars.

Fun, but Steber shoots back that when she’s on assignment, gender plays no real part in her photographic process. “I don’t feel like a woman or a man when I’m working,” she says. “I feel like a human being.”

Someone else asks Steber whether she thinks photography can really change the world for the better. “Some days I’m very cynical, and I think, what’s the point,” she says. “Other days I’d bet my life on it.” It seems her lot is really cast with those “other days.” Says Steber, “As a culture, we need to take far more advantage of visual information.” To that end, she has received a grant to reinvent the “great American newspaper,” a sort of template for the future of that foundering medium. She says it will be “picture-driven,” naturally. I’ll look into that project when I get back to the office.

Steber wraps it up and I go to the men’s room, where I overhear a couple of guys talking about the Sally Mann show at the Second Street Gallery, both admitting that it didn’t make much sense to them. They’re debating whether or not they should go to the “conversation” with her later this afternoon.

Next up for a slide talk is National Geographic photographer David Alan Harvey, larger than life and Yin to Allard’s Yin (typo intended). He talks about his books, beginning with the first one he ever made — a 1958 photo album containing Harvey’s charming, artless black-and-white photos of family events in Newton Falls, Ohio, most of them mundane. Pages from the album flash up on the screen, with captions such as “Gary Kicks Ball,” “Patty Trying to Get Gary Out,” and “Off For a Family Drive.” The latter will be the title of Harvey’s next book, an inward-looking study of his extended family.

The remainder of Harvey’s slideshow is of four different projects, including images from his well-known book Divided Soul, a long-term study of the Spanish diaspora, and images from Nairobi, Kenya, shot for an Africa-themed National Geographic, Editor Chris Johns‘ first issue and Harvey’s first time shooting digitally. To kick his available-light habit Harvey also took along a 1200-watt-second strobe on that trip, and the pictures have quite a different feeling than his usual ones.

Harvey also shows pictures he wants to put in another book, one he’s planning to do after “Off For a Family Drive.” He describes it as a novella — I’m not clear if he’s the one who’ll be writing it — called You Made Me Leave. It will contain about 20 portraits of young women, some of them sort of fragmentary, and readers will have to figure out which of them is the story’s protagonist (or love interest, I suspect). And then there is work from Harvey’s recent series on Hip Hop culture, “Living Proof,” which is now on display at the powerHouse Arena, the publisher’s new quarters in Brooklyn’s DUMBO district. (When did it get that name? Can we have gladiatorial fights between egomaniacal photographers, please?)

And then come the questions for Harvey, during which he admits that while yes, he does shoot tilted frames and that there’s a certain amount of aesthetic controversy about this being an over-stylized thing to do, he doesn’t worry about it; that he misses the “right moment” a lot; that some pictures don’t quite work out the way he expected; that his kind of photography takes patience. In fact a typical day of shooting, he says, “will mostly come down to an ecstatic five minutes when I’m really in the Zone.”

Harvey’s handlers rush him off because the afternoon sessions of the workshops are about to begin. I follow him to the fifth floor of the Paramount to sit in with his group of nearly 30 attendees. His computer assistant/projectionist scrolls through the radio stations on iTunes and chooses some soft Latin Jazz. Harvey starts in where the group left off this morning, offering editing help to a young woman who recently quit her job as a photo assistant in New York City so that she could accompany her mother, a pediatrician, on a pro bono medical trip to Nicaragua. Her pictures of both hospital scenes and indigenous people are brave but not quite there yet. “Can we get kind on tough on you now?” Harvey asks. “Where are my glasses? Wait, I don’t need them for this. Can you live without these two?” (Visit Harvey’s “Road Trips” blog for his take on LOOK3, at

The pictures are being projected onscreen using Aperture, festival sponsor Apple’s new workflow software, in thumbnail/contact sheet format. An assistant does the mousework while Harvey points at one image and says move it here, points at another and says move it there. I take some photos of him with the projected pictures all over his back (see accompanying gallery), from my usual favorite spot in the back of the classroom. Then I sneak out to go and write this up in time for the “conversation” with Sally Mann at 4:00…

National Geographic photographer Vincent Musi has been super as Master of Ceremonies, giving his job a right mix of humor and gravitas. Yesterday, when he introduced William Albert Allard, he had a good line: “When Bill sets foot in a story, he owns it.” Today, with Sally Mann about to talk, he has no similarly punchy line — even seems a little tentative. After all, Mann is really the polar opposite, artistically speaking, of an Allard or of any Geographic photographer, Musi included. Making pictures related mainly to her own life and children, at or near her family farm in Lexington — just over the mountains and a little south of Charlottesville — Mann looks inward while Allard looks out. (From the pictures, her place is like no family farm I’ve ever visited, but that’s another story.) Yet both photographers make pictures that are keenly observed, uniquely theirs, and totally about themselves.

Musi opts for something more rarefied than the idea of setting foot in a story, observing that we’re all sitting in the Paramount Theatre because of a thermometer that broke, not here and now in Charlottesville’s humid 95 degrees but 170 years ago in the chemical accident that led to the daguerreotype. Then he introduces Alex Chadwick and Sally Mann.

Their conversation starts off more slowly than Chadwick’s session with the garrulous Allard. It even feels a little awkward, and Mann seems nervous or uncomfortable, something she acknowledges by telling the audience that this is the first time she and Chadwick have met. But given Chadwick’s regular “Photo Op” segment on his NPR Day to Day show, he surely knows Mann’s work even if he hasn’t met her.

The first pictures shown are the ones of the photographer’s children, made almost famous by the controversy over her book Immediate Family, which some people worried was sexualizing her children for sensational effect. (They were totally wrong, but more on that later.) Mann tries to explain how you can make pictures of kids, who are always in motion, with her 8×10 view camera, a capture device seemingly intolerant of movement. It turns out that many of her familiar pictures took “multiple” attempts, at least by the view camera’s more labored standards. Her well-known picture of son Emmett standing naked in a river about as deep as his privates, and looking rather surly, took seven weeks of trying. “He doesn’t look like he would’ve given you an eighth week,” quips Chadwick.

Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography • Day 3: Grand Finale Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Master Classes • William Albert Allard Conversation and Gallery Party • Eugene Richards

Mann says her camera was and is always set up at home, ready to shoot. Of course setup is always a bigger deal with a large-format camera than a smaller one, but the photographer observes that “If you set up the camera, pictures happen, and if you don’t, they don’t happen.” In that context she identifies her all-time favorite picture, which I’ll reveal on American Photo’s State of the Art blog once I find a copy of it to run. (I couldn’t find anything on the Web, and I don’t have any books here.) A surprising number of the pictures in her show are ones I’ve never seen before, and most of them are just beautiful.

Chadwick asks about the perpetual nakedness of the children in Mann’s pictures. She admits that her family has always had “the luxury of privacy,” being on a large rural property with no close neighbors or human traffic, and she avers that this is why people from denser places might not have understood, since urban and suburban kids have to keep their shorts on. The issue of the personal privacy of children entering puberty doesn’t come up.

Mann says that she and her kids used to get out her art history books to look at old paintings and try to imitate them photographically. Given that the masses were less prudish centuries ago, many of the subjects would have been naked. “We did ‘Venus After School,'” she jokes. “But aren’t you making your children vulnerable?” asks Chadwick. “Vulnerable to what?” asks Mann. “To the stares of strangers,” says Chadwick. “Everyone is vulnerable,” says Mann.

Mann goes on to tell the story of how, after the FBI raided the studio of photographer Jock Sturges, who also makes beautiful pictures of naked people (young and older in his case), and confiscated his negatives and prints on the grounds that they were pornographic (which I still find mindblowing, given the manifest artistry of his work), she actually went to visit the FBI agent in charge of that “investigation,” her family in tow, to show him her pictures. “I wanted to find out if he was going to arrest me,” she explains. After seeing Mann’s close-knit family firsthand, the man said No, that her work definitely was not pornography.

The FBI agent went on to become a “friend” of Mann’s, the photographer says. “He told me, ‘Sally, there are people who get aroused by a picture of a doorknob.'” I only wish Mann had asked him why, knowing that truth, he gave Sturges such a hard time, and brought such an outrageously capricious standard to the important task with which our citizenry had trusted him.

Mann says that the move from photographing people to photographing landscapes, her more recent subject, was a natural progression. “My children kept getting smaller in the frame,” she says. “They were eventually pushed out of the picture.” (And pushed off the farm and out of Mann’s immediate life as they grew up.) The landscape surrounding her kids began to take over her pictures, she says, explaining that until then she had been a very single-minded photographer, eyes only on her children, when she began to realize “how beautiful” the landscape around them really was. That realization also made Mann realize that she could work on more than one project at a time, hence the greater variety of her more recent output.

I wonder if that change of subject also indulged her wrongheaded idea that she is not a good technician, as interesting process-related accidents began to creep into her work. (The “bad technician” disclaimer is often made by art-minded photographers, who seem positively embarrassed by the notion of good technique.) “I had no formal schooling,” she explains. “I took workshops with Ansel Adams, but all we did was drink.”

Mann says she’s fascinated with what old, uncoated large-format lenses do to light, and that she’s always on the lookout for them, also a necessity given the bigger and bigger formats with which she has chosen to shoot. (See yesterday’s review of her show at the Second Street Gallery, here [link].) And then, as if to make up for having gotten so technical, she says she wants her work to be “Proustian in its sense of evocation.” OK.

Alex Chadwick assumes that to make her recent landscapes Mann has spent a lot of time away from her farm. In fact, she says, the pictures were pretty much all produced on three road trips. She made the trips (irony of ironies) in a Chevy Suburban, having rigged up what was essentially a 19th-century wet-plate darkroom in the back of what I think is America’s largest SUV. She describes an occasion on which she stopped to take a picture on a remote gravel road in the deeper South. She had set up her view camera and enclosed herself in the darkroom to coat a plate when she heard the approaching rumble of what was clearly a large truck. She was nervous, but being in the middle of a “pour” couldn’t leave the car. The truck stopped right beside her. When a trepidatious Mann climbed out of her darkroom, the driver was standing there. “Lovely day for a photograph,” he said. He was a lovely man, Mann says.

Chadwick and Mann discuss the canine portion of her “What Remains” work, correcting me on a few wrong impressions I created in my first day’s write-up of the photographer’s Second Street Gallery show. It seems that when her dog Eva died, Mann’s husband Larry took the animal, a rescued greyhound, to a taxidermist to have her skinned. Mann wanted to keep the skin, and after consulting with experts on matters of putrefaction, buried the rest of the dog in a fine-mesh cage so that her bones could be easily retrieved after the tissue had decomposed. “We did all of this without thinking of photography,” she says, but the rest is history.

Mann characterizes her feelings toward the human corpses she photographed at a Tennessee forensic research facility quaintly dubbed “the body farm.” “I felt tender toward these people,” she says. “Some of them I even took out of the body bags.” (The bodies were donated or unclaimed, or what remained of people who couldn’t afford to bury themselves.) During the conversation Mann has taken off her sandal, crossed her legs, and is now fiddling with her bare foot. “The project was my own personal exploration into the nature of death,” she says. She also identifies a consistent visual motif in What Remains, that the photographs’ horizon line is about three quarters of the way up the picture space. “It was sort of ‘what remains’ visually when you compose like that,” she explains. “It put the emphasis on the ground.”

A landscape that has a pattern of waves rippling through its emulsion prompts someone in the audience to ask Mann (who has already remarked on the beauty of “felicitous” accidental effects, from drips to cracks to fogging, related to her antiquarian processes) whether she cultivates such artifacts. “Well, in this case it was just a really bad pour,” she says, referring to the business of spreading the sticky, gun-cotton-in-ether emulsion on a sheet of glass to create a sensitized negative. “But as I got better at the process, yes, I did do it deliberately. I love all those flaws.”

After discussing the ambrotypes on display at the Second Street Gallery (it turns out that she uses black glass for the plates rather than blackening the processed negative’s nonemulsion side after the fact) and reminding the audience that it’s hard to fathom an ambrotype’s appeal without seeing the plate’s actual, physical surface, Mann talks about even newer projects — showing pictures she says are being seen publicly for the very first time. “I’m a little nervous about showing them,” she says. “They might just end up stuffed under my bed.” First is an ongoing series of large-format portraits of black men. “It might be one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever done,” says Mann, who tells us that because she was raised by a black woman she has always been interested in racial relations. “It was a leap of faith for them to model for me. It’s a leap of faith for anyone to model.”

Finally, Mann shows portraits of her husband, Larry, who I don’t recall ever seeing in her photographs. They are oversized-plate images of him, nude and usually faceless, in her studio. Larry has muscular dystrophy, so his once-substantial frame has been withering in recent years. “I’m interested in the notion of a woman taking intimate pictures of a man,” says Mann. “It’s sort of a cultural taboo. I think women have never really been allowed to look as closely at men as men look at women, and if they do they’re thought to be provocative or transgressive.” Chadwick observes that even Mann’s own photographs of her children seem to be mainly of the two girls and much less of the boy. Mann responds with hesitation, and maybe some realization. “I protected him,” she says. “I do have pictures of Emmett naked, but I was less comfortable publishing them. I hate to make this admission, but it’s true.”

Vince Musi starts off today’s Masters slide talks at the Paramount with an apology for technical problems at last night’s Shots event, a six-hour eat-drink man-woman dance party that showcased the work of “emerging” photographers. These included David Leeson, Hazel Thompson, Farah Nosh, and Cass Bird, not to mention a few with photography in their blood such as Jessie Mann (Sally’s daughter) and Fanny Griffiths Ferrato (Donna’s daughter), both of whose moms are featured artists at the festival. A torrential lightning storm messed with the projection equipment, so not all of the 32 photographers got their due. But the show must go on, so Muni introduces the husband-and-wife photo team of Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb . Like Steber and Harvey yesterday, their slide talks are wedged between morning and afternoon workshops.

Afterwards I stroll down the mall to the Pavilion, a huge civic amphitheater where LOOK3’s final bash will be held tonight. A number of storefronts along the way have rear-projection screens installed in their windows, part of the festival’s Pages program. Pages features the year’s “best published images” from around the world, and American Photo (one of the festival’s sponsors) is among the magazines included. I come to creaky old Timberlake’s drugstore and walk in just to see What Remains. On downtown shopping trips my sisters and I sometimes got to eat at the soda fountain in the back half of the store. I’m amazed to see that it’s still there, the main differences being the 21st-century products on the shelves and large framed photos of the soda fountain in the old days on the walls. Most, but not all, date to before my childhood visits. Does photography help or hinder our sense of the passage of time? I’m still not sure. Two doors down from Timberlake’s a bookstore has filled its display window with some of the many titles associated with LOOK3’s photographers, including Mann’s What Remains, Sam Abell’s Seeing Gardens, and Nick Nichols’s massive The Last Place on Earth.

Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography • Day 3: Grand Finale Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Master Classes • William Albert Allard Conversation and Gallery Party • Eugene Richards

Across the street from the Paramount in a large, unfinished retail space is LOOK3’s YourSpace, where any festival-attending photographer can walk in and get his or her work exhibited, albeit informally. Roughly-framed display walls that started out bare on Thursday morning are now filled with tacked-up prints in various sizes. Some of the prints have the photographer’s business card tacked beside them; others are anonymous and, usually, artless. With a few exceptions, even the best submissions just miss the mark, illustrating the gap between pro and amateur. I wonder if the luxury of time and professional resources would have made the difference.

The deal at YourSpace is that you bring in up to three digital files for on-the-spot printing at a special Canon booth set up with a 13-inch Pixma Pro9000 inkjet printer and, for larger sizes, two 17-inch imagePROGRAF iPF5000 printers. (Canon is one of the festival’s big sponsors.) In a separate area staffed by Apple there are three 24-inch iMacs and a couple of smaller machines with which entrants can edit their work, using Aperture of course, and prepare it for printing. (Apple has provided computers for the whole festival as well.) The Apple folks are also diverting many of these pictures to an ongoing slideshow adjacent to their booth. The turnout has been so great — Canon will have made close to 600 prints before closing up shop — that submissions are now limited to one print per person, with a smaller maximum size.

Unfortunately I don’t have time to hop in the car and head over to the University of Virginia Art Museum to see “Four Virginia Photographers,” an exhibition timed to the festival that features work by Sam Abell, Emmet Gowin, Sally Mann, and William Wylie. You might want to read the C-ville Weekly’s writeup of the show. So I return to the Paramount Theatre, where a crowd is already forming to see Eugene Richards’s conversation with Alex Chadwick. Once we’re all cool inside, Vince Musi announces that Nick Nichols’s sixth- through twelfth-grade art teacher is in the audience. Then he introduces Gene Richards with another good line. “He is the photographer you want to be, you should be, and you can’t be,” says Musi. “With Gene, there is no safe viewing distance.”

Richards doesn’t seem as nervous as he said he was when I ran into him at the airport rental car counter. It turns out that he was yet another tutee of Minor White (who of his generation didn’t study with the guy?) and that White schooled Richards in the ways of the view camera. Richards might have gone on to make the sort of abstract, mystical photographs his teacher espoused, but fate had a different plan for him.

Angry about the Vietnam War, Richards chose to serve in Vista, a government-sponsored volunteer program aimed at improving low-income life. He was dispatched to the hardscrabble Arkansas Delta, a place nearly as exotic as Vietnam would have been to a kid who grew up in the blue-collar Dorchester section of Boston. Once there, Richards started an alternative, on-the-cheap newspaper of the sort then abundant in eastern cities, to report on black activism and the doings of the Ku Klux Klan. The paper’s progressive politics got him beaten up and repeatedly arrested, stories he recounts almost dismissively. Richards took pictures for the paper, of course, and this was the source of a photographic epiphany. “I realized I had the wrong camera for the job,” he says, noting that a view camera is pretty much useless for that kind of picture making.

By the time Richards moved back to Dorchester he was shooting with a 35mm camera, and that was what he used for the pictures in his self-published Dorchester Days. Though not his first book (1973’s Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta), that now-classic 1978 monograph would be his ticket to bigger and better things.

Meanwhile Richards had married his longtime sweetheart, Dorothea Lynch. His wedded bliss ended, though, when Lynch developed breast cancer. It was her wish, in fact, that Richards photograph the medical marathon she knew she was in for. “Dorothea wasn’t private about her illness, but I was,” says Richards, who clearly loved his first wife’s strength. “I found out that she was more incredible than I ever knew.” He recalls a sympathetic doctor asking Lynch after her mastectomy (which left a huge scar because lymph glands were also removed) whether she felt like “less of a woman.” “I’ve never been more of a woman,” she answered. “That’s why I’m here.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but it makes the audience burst into applause.

Lynch kept a gracefully written journal while Richards photographed her. The actual journal is on display in a glass case at the photographer’s “13 Books” show, which I saw at the McGuffey Art Center on Thursday. It’s open to the July 2, 1982 entry, in which Lynch describes the daily rhythms, dreamlike in her mind, of the hospital she inhabits. Though Lynch didn’t survive her disease, her chronicle was ultimately published in Richards’s Exploding Into Life, which won Nikon’s 1986 Book of the Year Award. Meanwhile, Magnum had taken notice of Dorchester Days and invited the photographer to join the famous co-op, which he would later leave, return to, and leave again.

It was the early ’80s, and Life assigned Richards to document the ongoing violence in Beirut. He realized he wasn’t cut out for combat duty, but says the experience in Lebanon taught him how to approach people and gain their confidence, especially in challenging or dangerous situations. When Richards got home he found his way into a family of circus clowns who were physically very small and kept various weapons to ward off people who might take advantage of their stature. The pictures ran in Mother Jones magazine as part of a story called “Short People Got Guns.” (The audience laughs.)

Another powerful series of Richards photographs was made on assignment in a Denver emergency room. Though his images are very much about mortality, Richards initially wanted to turn the job down. “I have a tendency to think a subject isn’t right for me at first,” he explains. But Richards found the ER to be such a remarkable place in its human drama — “It’s awful and stomach-turning, but thrilling because the people there are trying to help,” he says — that after the assignment ended he continued to shoot there. “You get so involved you have to go back,” he says. “I had to finish the story.” The result was a 1989 book called The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room. Richards projects a horrific image from the book in which a gurney at the top of the frame supports the naked body of an overweight woman — a bartender who had been shot by a drunken customer for refusing to serve him another drink — and the lower portion of the frame is filled with the detritus of surgery, including blood-drenched bandages and medical paraphernalia. The scene looks as if a bomb has just gone off in the middle of it. “The doctors were unable to save her, and had just left the room to collect themselves,” says Richards. “I wanted to make a picture in which she was just part of the debris.”

Another of Richards’s 1980s books represented in his slideshow was a study of domestic poverty called Below the Line: Living Poor in America, done on commission from Consumer Reports (“They started out as social issues guys,” Richards explains) and with writing by his second wife, Janine Altongy. The book won Richards the ICP’s photojournalism award in 1987. He shows a picture from it, taken in a Chicago tenement, of a young black woman sitting on the edge of a tub in her squalid bathroom, her naked toddler lying face-up in her lap as she kisses the bottom of his foot. It was a print I was drawn to at Richards’s 13 Books show. Called “Emily’s Second Child, 1986,” it has Richards’s familiar skewed wide-angle composition, which at first I thought was the reason the sink in the image’s foreground appears to tilt toward the camera. Then, on closer inspection, I realized that the sink had literally become detached from the wall and was hanging forward, probably unusable.

Richards recounts that the woman’s landlord became aware that Richards was photographing inside his building, and proceeded to disconnect the electricity to punish his tenants. Yet, says the photographer, “Nobody we met on the project blamed anybody but themselves for their poverty.” Richards managed to “hotwire” the building to restore power, but he cites this story as an example of how “A photographer can sometimes affect things in a very negative way.”

How does Richards get the kind of access he needs to make such pictures? It’s a slow process. “You have to find people who trust you,” he says. “Or someone who says, ‘I won’t talk to you, but so-and-so will,’ and you take it from there.” Once you’re in, “Peoples’ eyes give you permission,” he says. “When the eyes don’t change, I know I can shoot.” How does Richards cope with the difficulty and danger of these situations? “Stress really helps me,” he says. “When I’m under stress I’m a better photographer.” He describes shooting in similar circumstances, in Brooklyn’s Red Hook section, for a story on crack cocaine that ran Life magazine. Richards and the writer hadn’t been seeing much action, so they began to follow someone they thought was on the way to a drug deal in another part of the building. The pursuit became a chase, and Richards heard somebody call out, “Is it the cops?” Someone else answered from a nearby apartment that “No, it’s just the assholes from Life magazine.” The audience roars.

Eugene Richards is a slow, methodical speaker who forgets to advance his slides. Nick Nichols and his cohorts keep running down the aisle to the Paramount Theater’s stage, prompting him to move along. The show goes overtime, but the audience gives Richards a powerful ovation when it’s through. Bill Allard and Sally Mann are bold in their work, to be sure, but the soft-spoken, reserved Richards is simply brave. While Mann’s exploration of mortality looks inward (assuming, as many art photographers do, that her life is interesting enough to be her subject), Richards’s looks out almost selflessly, with only his unfailing eye giving the work away as his. I wonder, though, if his often-abrupt cropping and kind of sideways way of seeing his subjects are telling us that he really wants to look away. Obviously he stops himself before he can.

The crowd spills out of the Paramount and into the mall for the last time, scattering in search of supper. A short while later you can hear the Hackensaw Boys tuning up for LOOK3’s finale, a “mega-visual event featuring work by world-renowned photographers projected onto a giant screen” promised by the festival flyer, down at the Pavilion. As they start to play their bluegrass people linger on the grassy outskirts of the amphitheatre. Nick Nichols is there, alternately taking calls and talking with Bill Allard, who is sipping from a plastic cup of beer. Someone has set up an 8×10 wooden field camera on the grass and aimed it at the stage, a forlorn hope in the dimming light. I ask Allard if he ended up singing with his daughter’s band at the Les Yeux du Monde gallery party on Thursday night. He did, and says it may have been the high point of his Festival of the Photograph experience. It seems there may be video of Allard’s performance to be had, so I’ll look into getting a clip for the Website.

Portfolios • Michael Nichols • Sally Mann • Eugene Richards • William Albert Allard • A Town Overrun by Photography • Day 3: Grand Finale Show Reviews and Talks • Sally Mann • Maggie Steber and David Alan Harvey Master Classes • William Albert Allard Conversation and Gallery Party • Eugene Richards

Big photographs flash onscreen throughout the Hackensaw Boys’ performance. By the time their hacking and sawing winds down the area in front of the stage is packed with dancers, and the group performs its last number in the midst of them, acoustically. Then Vincent Musi calls the festival’s creators and coordinators up on stage for a curtain call. They include Nick, Nick’s co-director Jessica Nagle, operations manager Andrew Owen, producer Will Kerner, exhibits director Will May, and last but not least the energetic, highly organized Gina Martin, Nick’s right-hand woman. They all did a super job, but are just the tip of an iceberg of people who’ve made LOOK3 possible.

The show starts with a change of tack, as ecologist-photographer Mark Moffett projects his astounding photographs of frogs and insects. He narrates them with natural humor, describing one arachnid with a big nose as “the Jimmy Durante of the spider world” and an ant that aids the digestion of a gluttonous plant as “living Tums.” Maybe it’s their sheer scale on the screen, but his pictures seem to show small-scale life with more detail and drama than I’ve ever seen.

Many other photographers follow with less scientific work, much of it new, including Debbie Fleming Caffery, Jonas Bendiksen, Donna Ferrato, and Tyler Hicks. National Geographic’s Sam Abell hasn’t brought his own fine work but, rather, that of “America’s greatest unknown photographer,” Pam Spaulding of Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal. Spaulding has documented the life of the local McGarvey family for the past 30 years with such meticulous detail and persistence that you wonder if she herself has had a life. I’ve got to look into her work.

Larry Towell, an excellent photographer whose prejudices only detract from his work, is represented by his usual anti-Israel polemic. And what photo fest would be complete without one? The pictures are followed by Towell’s short and inexplicable first-person film (completely out of place in this stills-only show) of his defying a soldier’s order to get off an Israeli bus that has been blown up by a Palestinian. As he goads the soldier again and again, the photographer comes off not as a journalist but as an angry man determined to pick a fight — one to which the soldier won’t rise, to Towell’s apparent frustration. It’s the only false note in an otherwise “mega” presentation that goes on into the wee hours, and also features hummingbird specialist Luis Mazariegos, artful Afghan photographer Zalmai, and Christopher Morris with his “My America” project, a powerful indictment of nationalism.

It’s as if the grand finale of LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph intends to reinforce a point made by Vince Musi in his introductory comments three days ago. Said Musi, “We’re not in Nick’s back yard anymore.”



At the reception for Bill Allard’s career retrospective spanning five decades, held at the Les Yeux du Monde gallery.




William Albert Allard and David Alan Harvey chat up the crowd at Les Yeux du Monde.


David Alan Harvey enjoys the Terry Allard Band, fronted by Bill’s own grown daughter. Later, Allard himself would sing with the group.


The Terry Allard Band.




Bill Allard talks to Alex Chadwick about his seminal Western work.




Charlottesville’s grandly restored Paramount Theater is one of the festival’s key venues.