Upon moving to Boston's South End over four years ago, one of my first introductions to the neighborhood was my happening upon a reception for an exhibition of Henry Horenstein's photographs at the Boston Public Library's South End Gallery. I was impressed with the Gallery's mission to showcase local artists-from emerging to nationally established-in a context that was frequented by a broader cross-section of viewers than just about any gallery I had ever seen. Young children from the community, library regulars, local artists, and art gallery aficionados alike all attended these exhibitions. I eventually applied for a show and exhibited portraits of high school students from a project on which I had been working.
Over the next few years the Gallery flourished with a lineup of exciting shows, but ultimately fell victim to the BPL's budget cuts and was forced to curtail its format of regularly scheduled juried exhibitions. For a final event, the Gallery Committee decided to commission a portrait series of South End artists that had previously shown at the Gallery. I was invited to produce a photographic portfolio, to be gifted to the BPL's Print Collection. The exhibition record was so well stocked with strong candidates that the Committee struggled with the limitations imposed by the funding available. In the end, fifteen people were selected to represent as well as possible the wide range of artists whose work had been shown over the years.
The making of these portraits was both an honor and treat for me. I welcomed the chance to get to know the artists by photographing them in their studios after spending time with each of them, learning more about their work, their process, and their space. Without exception they were gracious sitters, but moreover, they were simply a fascinating group. They exemplify the unique mix of talent that is the South End's community of artists.
The portraits for this portfolio, all 16 x 20 inch black and white gelatin silver prints made with available or minimal lighting, were shown as the South End Gallery's last formal exhibition in the spring of 2003.
- Mori Insinger, January 2004
After a lengthy process of proposals and planning involving the city, developers, and the local community, construction began on the empty Parcel 8 site in Boston's South End in the summer of 2002. The final approved development, Atelier 505, is a luxury condominium complex which will also house the first new performing arts theaters in Boston in over 70 years. Upon completion in the summer of 2004, this $100 million development will be home to approximately 100 luxury residential units, two theaters for the Boston Center for the Arts and the Huntington Theater Company, a mix of restaurants and retail shops, and two levels of below-ground parking. As such a major addition to the neighborhood, Atelier 505 is the subject of many opinions as local residents await the impact it will have on the area.
For many, the development of high-end housing is a welcome addition to a community that has seen its property values continue to rise, as upscale restaurants and boutique shopping have elevated the South End to one of Boston's trendiest neighborhoods. The area will have even more options for living, dining, shopping, and entertainment as the commercial center of the South End gains a huge new presence, literally and figuratively. At ten stories, the highest part of the development will tower over neighboring buildings and bring a big-city feel to a neighborhood known for its quaint Victorian architecture. On the other hand, there is concern about the changing fabric of the local community, historically one of Boston's most culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods. Many fear the effects of gentrification will have gone too far, as more modest income groups such as artists, the elderly, immigrants, and working-class residents are further priced out of a community which they helped to establish over time. Incoming professionals bring with them ways that may strike others as ill-fitted to the long-standing traditions and character of the neighborhood.
It is with these social factors as a backdrop that I found the physical development of Parcel 8 to be quite emblematic of the larger dynamics of change in Boston, and certainly the South End. Atelier 505 makes a gallant attempt to fit into its surroundings and make a contribution to the neighborhood, but at the same time makes such a dramatic change in the landscape that some people hesitate to embrace this brash newcomer. But over time, with both an upside and a downside, that which is new eventually becomes part of the familiar landscape -and people adjust, adapt, and carry on.
The color photographs for this project were made as often as once a week, beginning in the summer of 2002, and will continue through the completion of the complex in the summer of 2004. I am grateful to Matt Miller, Lydia Walshin, and Ted Chaloner for their assistance with this project.
- Mori Insinger, January 2004