Art Maker: Frank Ward, photographer

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  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward considers selections for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward considers selections for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward holds photos for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward considers selections for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward considers selections for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At his Ashfield home, photographer Frank Ward considers selections for his show last month at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, “The Last Empire — The new countries of the old Soviet Union.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The personal train car of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on display at the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia, in 2019. Photo by and courtesy of Frank Ward

  • Uzbek family living in the mountains of Tajikistan, from 2012. Photo by and courtesy of Frank Ward

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2019 8:49:23 AM

Ashfield photographer Frank Ward, who most recently taught visual arts at Holyoke Community College, has been traveling abroad for years — in the counties of the former Soviet Union, in India, in the former Yugoslavia — to document people and places. In 2012, he served as a cultural envoy in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for the United States Department of State, and he’s also received a number of grants for his work, including projects with Holyoke’s Latino community.

Last month, at an exhibit at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery displaying some of his photos from the former U.S.S.R., Ward talked about the challenge of trying to document life in places where changes are coming fast and furious. Ukraine and Russia seemed roughly on par with America in the 1950s when he first visited about 19 years ago, says Ward — but today, he notes, “It’s almost as though they’ve completely bypassed late 20th-century technology and gone right into the digital world.”

Steve Pfarrer: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Frank Ward: Photography is my way to make sense of the world around me. I have been photographing in the many countries of the former Soviet Union for almost two decades. From this experience I have achieved a total appreciation of where I live in western Mass.

SP: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

FW: I am most inspired by the subjects of my pictures. Not all my pictures are of people, but all my pictures are about people. For me, looking through the camera is the primal “Eureka!” moment. Older photographers, beginning with Henri Cartier-Bresson, call it “the Decisive Moment.” Cartier-Bresson also described the experience as saying “Yes!” to the world.

SP: How do you know when your work is finished?

FW: My work does not finish. The world keeps shifting in front of my camera. I’m always photographing and the world is not finished with me, yet.

SP: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

FW: Mistakes are my friends. I make hundreds of them when I am photographing. Sometimes, after a hundred mistakes I make a picture that I haven’t made before. It’s the mistakes that get me there.

SP: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

FW: Jane Lund, the Ashfield painter who can spend a year or more creating one fine piece of artwork, inspires me to slow down and look carefully at what I am seeing. She tells me to go deep even if my camera can only record the surface of things.

Also, the late art critic and photographer Ben Lifson, my teacher at Bard College, told me that Renaissance artists were history’s first great photographers. He would take tracing paper and outline the shapes depicted in my photographs. That’s when I started seeing composition as key in a picture’s success.

SP: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you’ve attended and enjoyed?

FW: This past summer, I saw Double Edge Theater in Ashfield perform “I Am the Baron.” I try to see their productions every year. They are consistently the most exciting expression of creative energy available within four miles of my house.

SP: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

FW: I would want to be a barista, but a barista is an artist. I could be a coffee roaster, but a roaster is an artist, too. I’d be willing to do anything related to quality coffee.

SP: What do you do when you’re stuck?

FW: If I am home, I play with my American Flyer electric trains. I’ve had them for 60 years. For 40 of those years they were stored in my attic. If I am traveling, I go to a nearby restaurant and order pasta Bolognese. That is one of the few foods available in every city and country of the former Soviet Union.

More of Ward’s photography can be seen at fmward.com.




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