Eric’s Note: I am very pleased to feature the project, “Bell Pond” by Stephen DiRado, a photographer and a professor at the Photography Visual & Performing Arts Department at Clark University. His current project is called, “Summer Spent” — a photography film about shooting with his 8×10 camera on a clothing optional beach, conversations with subjects and a lot of soul searching on why he photographs. Read more about his “Bell Pond” project below.
Stephen: Fresh out of art school in 1981 I was eager to find a project. There were some false starts.
During the summer of 1983 I documented a densely populated community of new and old immigrants residing on Belmont Hill in Worcester, MA. Bell Pond is the public park and pond central to the neighborhood and a magnet for families, individuals and teen gangs. A tight community, all watching out for each other, I came in as an outsider, a suburban kid fresh out of art school looking for a project.
The pond is a spring fed abandoned quarry that sits high on top of a hill. A small sandy beach spreads out on its west bank, monitored by lifeguards employed by the city. Southwest from it, sits a tree covered hill where teens congregated to do what most city kids do on hot summer days. To the east, sitting on the water’s edge are two towering assisted living facilities. This contrast always reminded me of how we live now… but where we might be living during years to come.
As a middle-class white kid from the burbs of Boston, I had no business hanging and photographing. I didn’t look or talk like anybody, and worse, I carried a 1950s metal large format camera on my shoulder along with an old tomahawk type (Sunpak) flash and a satchel full of film holders. Stringing jobs together, washing windows in the morning, developing film for a local photo store midday, gave me free time after 3pm to borrow a shared car with my wife to travel the few miles to my self proclaimed 3rd job: Create a portrait of a community through photographs, and all summer if that is what it takes to do it right.
For every negative I exposed, a photo was handed to my subject the following day. I developed my film in a bedroom closet, and early morning contact printed, washed the photos in the kitchen sink, leaving them to dry around the apartment on nylon screens draped over chairs.
I quickly became known as the picture man. The regulars grew to trust me, and even confided in my sincerity to listen to their stories. I cast no judgment. I was 25 years old, but much younger than many other 25 year olds surrounding me.
Bell Pond started mid May and ended mid October of 1983. I exposed a little over a 1000 sheets of film. Less than a year later I talked my way into a local gallery to show this work. I wanted to share my point of view with the community. Hundreds came, many dressed in their Sunday best.
Since, I have been documenting all kinds of projects, including for over twenty years, my father’s life with Alzheimer’s. Some projects seem like they will never stop, I keep finding new things to say. Bell Pond was my most innocent work and by far the shorted project. Comparing it to all others, it comes of raw, sympathetic and at times iconic.