Greenfield’s Al Norman displaying photography at Artspace

  • Greenfield activist Al Norman has two distinct collections of photography on display at Artspace starting Friday. The first, “SIGN LANGUAGE: The First Amendment Photos,” is a collection of photographs taken at various protests and political rallies between 2016 and 2019. Contributed photo/Al Norman

  • Greenfield activist Al Norman has two distinct collections of photography on display at Artspace starting Friday. The first, “SIGN LANGUAGE: The First Amendment Photos,” is a collection of photographs taken at various protests and political rallies between 2016 and 2019. Contributed photo/Al Norman

For the Recorder
Published: 2/17/2020 6:21:25 PM

GREENFIELD — Residents may be most familiar with sprawlbuster Al Norman for his opposition to having a big box store in Greenfield and advocating for the citizen’s referendum process. Now, a different part of Norman’s activism will be on display, through photography.

A political and introspective exhibit of Norman’s photography will be on display at Artspace, 15 Mill St., starting Friday, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. There Norman will give a brief introduction to his work, and be available for questions and conversation.

The four-week exhibit will feature two distinct collections of Norman’s work. The first, titled “SIGN LANGUAGE: The First Amendment Photos,” is a collection of photographs taken at various protests and political rallies in recent years.

“Our protest signs are a form of personal advertising for causes we embrace,” Norman said. “Our words can be insightful, inane, mysterious — but they are always urgent. We put words on signs to communicate our passions. It’s an early version of social media like Twitter.”

The First Amendment Photos collection features 16 prints shot at public rallies between 2016 and 2019, including a 2018 anti-Trump rally in New York City, the Boston Women’s March in 2017, and rallies in Northampton and Greenfield. Through these images, Norman said he tries to capture a distinctly human urge to share our opinions, boldly and loudly, for all to see.

“As American citizens, we all have the guaranteed right under the First Amendment to the Constitution ‘peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,’” Norman said. “Sometimes we raise our voices, sometimes we paint signs to express our grievances or beliefs.”

Norman rejects categorizing his work as “photojournalism,” saying it detracts from the images’ artistic quality.

“Once placed inside a frame, the snapshot claims its own internal significance: the angle of an arm, the contorted face, the light in the air, the painted letters on a placard — all stilled,” he said. “It escapes time. We are the only species on Earth that engages in this kind of public display, holding words above our heads, like cartoon balloons.”

The second collection, “Natural Rhythm,” offers a look at nature’s symmetry and our collective humanity, Norman explained.

“Nature, like the human body, is all about symmetry, which is the similarity or correspondence between different things, with exact parts facing each other, or around an axis,” he said. “This symmetry presents a pattern, perceived as a repeated rhythm, a form of visual music. This rhythm pleases us, because it is calming and ordered, in contrast to the swirl of what appears as a chaotic and random universe.”

This collection of 16 photos focus on patterns found in nature. They were shot at locations like the Smith College greenhouse, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.

Norman said photography had always been a passion of his, pursued between his time working for an anti-poverty agency at the State House in Boston and lobbying for the rights of elderly people for 38 years. In the late 1970s, Norman set up a darkroom in his Greenfield home to print black and white photos.

All photographs in the Artspace exhibit, though, were shot and edited on Norman’s iPhone 8 Plus. The prints will be available to purchase, with a portion of the proceeds supporting Artspace. Light refreshments will be served.


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