On his way to a downtown appointment, Bren Bater unexpectedly ran into hundreds of faces looking out at him from a telephone pole.
“It gets one’s attention,” he said as he scanned the column of black and white photos.
This was the latest stop of Inside Out NHV, a roving, unofficial, temporary exhibit that has popped up in various parts of town and prompted an ongoing debate about public art along the way.
Last year, the project’s creator, Ben Berkowitz (at left in photo below), and allies organized and temporarily placed massive photo portraits of New Haveners for a while on walls underneath highway overpasses near Bradley Street and Jocelyn Square. (Read about that here.) Last month, the images were displayed indoors, at the Hilles Gallery at the Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) on Audubon Street. (Read about that here.)
This week Berkowitz stapled miniature versions of the same photos onto a telephone pole in a parking lot across from the State Street train station.
Bater (at right in photo, with Berkowitz), a photography enthusiast who lives in Westchester County, N.Y, admired the quality and composition of the portraits. Bharad Manghnani, who manages the parking lot, was more interested in the contents.
“It reminds you of all the people you knew, you grew up with,” said Manghnani (pictured), who lives in Morris Cove.
“Memories are good,” he added with a chuckle.
Manghnani, who from his booth has a view of the mini-installation, said many people have been stopping to look at the photos. “Some actually spend 10 to 15 minutes.”
Mid-afternoon amid the heat and humidity Wednesday, passersby didn’t tend to notice the photos or show much interest once they saw them.
“I didn’t notice until you pointed it out, honestly,” said Brock, a man in business clothes who would give only his first name. He recognized the photos from the original underpass mural.
“They need to be bolder and bigger,” he said of the new smaller version. “And black and white’s not gonna work. It needs to pop.”
The subtlety of the smaller photos may be what Berkowitz, the creator, has in mind. He said the next installment of the project, to be called Photobomb NHV, will be a game challenging people to find the small portraits posted individually throughout the city. The images will have some clue to let viewers know they’ve stumbled into a game.
posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on September 13, 2013 10:07am
I’m all in favor of creativity in the public space, but isn’t stapling stuff to utility poles illegal? And who is gonna remove all those staples from the pole when the photos have all turned to mush after a few rainstorms?
posted by: LuvNewHaven on September 13, 2013 11:55am
“Isn’t stapling stuff to utility poles illegal…”
“Who is gonna remove all those staples…”
New Haven is FILLED with utility poles that have been stapled on and the the left staples left in, FILLED with them. Between the ancient band flyers and the research study flyers and the “WILL RAKE YOUR LEAVES” ads that have built up over what are literally decades, some of those poles are more metal than wood.
Besides which, Berkowitz is very civic minded, I would be surprised if he let this turn into a mess.
posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 13, 2013 12:14pm
Hey Gretchen. Its not a utility pole. Its a sign pole on private property. I just did this for fun over the weekend and will remove all of the staples and pictures if its starts to get tarnished.
posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2013 1:24pm
Not only am I surprised that this ‘fun’ project is ‘newsworthy’, the bottom line is that is is a puff piece for ‘installment two’.
I urge you to reconsider this up-coming project.
The large scale portraits under the underpass were done with understanding from the participants, and the project was working with ‘concept’ and ‘intent’.
You have now thrown out ‘the concept’ and taken that ‘intent’ and blown it up into a personal past time, where the lines are muddied, and personal boundaries are easily crossed.
It is time to but closure on this project.
Maybe a large format ‘yearbook’ style poster would be a nice commemorative piece for all the participants.
posted by: exnewhavener on September 13, 2013 1:57pm
Has anyone cleaned up the original “Inside Out” yet? I haven’t been by there in ~6 months, but it was a blighted nightmare last I saw it.
posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 13, 2013 2:01pm
An independent writer came to my office because someone there saw that I tweeted a photo of it. I like the Independent and am not going to deny them an interview. I suggested that we might make use of the photos for a contest as I thought it would be a good way to get out and have people explore New Haven.
I did not realize that the author was even going to talk about the scavenger hunt idea as it was just an idea and something I thought I was explaining off-record. I should have been more clear about that with him. I would have preferred that folks found out about the contest through the installations not the Internet and the fun is taken out of it a bit for me now.
I had those photos because it was a prize to those who contributed larger sums to the project. I was one of those people. I felt obligated to post them at some point because we were not able to post everyone’s photos under the underpass in the end. I thought they were better served in the public space than my house.
Appreciate your opinion as always and your help donating wheat paste to the original installation. Thoughts about what else we could easily scavenge for around town to get people out into neighborhoods would be appreciated.
Also, this project is done over and over around the world and I strongly disagree that its time to put closure to it. Whether I’m for doing anything more is a different story.
posted by: ScottVig on September 13, 2013 2:05pm
Ben: This is great! These are exactly the kind of beautification and artistic engagements New Haven needs more of.
Staples, really? You folks are worried about staples on poles?
How about contributing to make New Haven a more engaging and dynamic city instead of sitting around and whining on your computers all day? Just a thought.
posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2013 2:43pm
If you are going to do a ‘scavenger hunt’ type thing, my suggestion is to make it a project that promotes the ‘wonders’ of New Haven, rather than celebrates individuals.
This is a necessary move that encourages inclusion.
posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 13, 2013 3:41pm
Cool stuff. Now that the idea is out there we were going to encourage the folks putting up the pics to place them by things in New Haven that they loved as a way to get others closer to those things.
I think you can find vanity in most art by the way and especially art that is this public. Vanity is a reality and using it as a way of getting more people included in a project or their neighborhood feels to me like a good use of its existence in all of us.
Instead of photos we could use small pics of work from local artists. More in-line with what you are thinking?
posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2013 4:58pm
I just don’t think you really get the nature of public art.
This discussion is probably better suited over a beer at this point.
posted by: Mister Jones on September 16, 2013 9:54am
I think the phone company long ago gave up the staple-poster battle.
posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 17, 2013 6:39pm
It will probably take more than one beer to educate me Bill but we can give it a try. Shoot me an email.