Butchers Hill photographer Joe Nash likes to take pictures of “Structures and Strangers,” which is also the title of the exhibit he held last Sunday at Salt A New American Tavern to benefit the Friends of Patterson Park.
A big man, six-foot-four, with a deep and gravelly voice prone to salty language, Nash, 64, is a management consultant who looks and sounds the part, but his photographs show an appreciation for the temporary, the obsolete, and the forgotten.
“ZCBJ Lodge #296,” for example, is a study of an old meeting house—weatherbeaten and in need of, at the very least, a paint job—standing on the desolate Nebraska plain. It’s unclear whether the ZCBJ, an association for Czech immigrants, still meets there, or at all.
It is also unclear whether the smoking man in the stained jeans and hooded parka in “Butt and Bollards” is taking a cigarette break or just having one of many cigarettes he will smoke in the spot he has chosen for the day, behind some bollards and next to some Chinese trinkets for sale in New York City.
The ambiguities are part of the art, and looking at Nash’s photos, you can’t help but wonder these things.
Prior to Sunday’s exhibit, Nash spoke to the Baltimore Guide about photography and being a photographer.
On becoming a serious amateur photographer
I’ve been doing this for 10 years. This is not full time; I have a real job. This is a labor of love.
I got tired of playing golf for 30 years. And my golf game was getting [lousier].
On learning the technical and artistic aspects of photography
All that [technical] stuff is really easy for me. The much harder thing for me is the compositional stuff. I took a few workshops, mostly only to find that the guys who teach the workshops don’t know how they [take aesthetic photos]. They’re completely intuitive as well!
I think Malcolm Gladwell had it right—that it’s 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. I started taking pictures in the fall of 2003, and I didn’t take anything worth putting in a show until 2006. The only thing that’s changed is my ability to visualize stuff—what I want and how to get it on paper.
On embracing digital photography
I started out as a computer programmer in the late 60s, and I never had any interest in photography then.
Believe me, after high school chemistry, I’m not likely to sit around blotting myself with chemicals in a darkroom. Despite my age, I’m more comfortable in the digital space.
What he photographs
Basically, I do two different things: structures and strangers. I take a lot of pictures of buildings. I have a lot of shots from North Dakota. I look for a building with some character—a cool old door or window or something. In Maine, there a lot of beach cottages built by people who just wanted to go the beach. I’ve been to Kansas and Nebraska, and also Colorado. I’m not photographing Greg Norman’s house—maybe some miner’s place in Leadville.
I tend to be attracted to vernacular American architecture—the normal everyday stuff.
On the “strangers” side, it’s much more ‘go out on the street and take pictures of people you don’t know.’ It’s more, if you will, athletic. The people that are up on the wall [at the Salt Tavern exhibit] will never know they are up on the wall. They’re just normal people doing whatever they’re doing.
On holding a benefit exhibit for Patterson Park
I’ve been thinking about what this neighborhood would be like if it was just more houses instead of the park—it’d be a very different neighborhood. Patterson Park really opens things up and makes things a lot more attractive.
Also, [my photography] is purely an amateur thing. I give it away to people I know, whatever. It kind of feels better to do it this way, as a benefit, and it kind of feels good to support the park.
To see more of Nash’s photography, visit his blog, nashification.com, or his website, www.sprayedink.com/nashtastic. His work remains on display and for sale through the end of April at Salt in Butchers Hill.
by Erik Zygmont