"Home is this little house in which I live, and much beyond it."
— Robert Francis, 1986
Fort Juniper is the name of a small one-person house in the woods of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was built by the poet Robert Francis (1901-87) in 1940 and served as his home until his death. Presently, it is used to host poets-in-residence through the Robert Francis Trust.
While wandering in the woods as a teenager, I often encountered an older man in a cap, someone I assumed to be a poet but never spoke to; many years later, I learned that the man who tipped his hat to me was Francis. It was in this area of Amherst where I first forged my sense of intimacy with the land and it was these same environs that Francis would walk for inspiration. Via Francis’s poems and prose, I am seeing my former hometown with new eyes and capturing the intersection of his understanding of this place with my own experience.
Many people know of the other two great poets from Amherst, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and an additional aim of this project is to bring more attention to Francis and his work. For Francis, Fort Juniper was more than just an abode in which to reside, it was a fort to shelter him, a lens through which he viewed the world, and a mirror with which to observe his inner states. In researching Francis, I have read his autobiography, poems, and many of his newspaper columns. Tales of walks and neighbors, trees and chickens, these are the observations made with the eyes of a poet. It is from Francis’s reflections and poetry that I occasionally cull titles and inspiration for my images.
The area being photographed is growing naturally to include parts of the river that flow away from Fort Juniper towards my childhood home and other locations related to Francis. In essence, this project allows me entrance into a world I had left many years ago and the opportunity to explore how and where our lives interweave through time.
The Washington Elm
"A myth is a fanciful picture of the past designed to justify certain activities in the present"
— Bernard Williams
The Washington Elm
“The Washington Elm” is a project documenting the tree under which George Washington allegedly took command of the Continental Army in Cambridge, MA in 1775. These images are the first in a larger undertaking that considers the role elm trees have played in the history and civic life of American cities. The overarching series, entitled “The Fate of the Elms” taken from a poem by Robert Francis, will include the Elm, other scions or clones, and artifacts from around the country.
By beginning with one tree, which is itself not the original, I invite the viewer to consider how history is represented and memorialized within the built environment and via connections to the natural world. Washington and troops did indeed muster on Cambridge Common. However, according to a nineteenth-century legend, perhaps by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this event took place under the shade of an elm. Many scions—a rooted clipping that is genetically identical—of this witness tree have been planted around the country. Interest in cultivating these elms grew during the nation's centennial, but the most widespread effort was led by the Daughters of the American Revolution on the anniversary of Washington’s birth in 1932.
In 1923, Cambridge city workers, in an effort to keep the original Elm alive, cut off a limb, unbalancing the tree and causing it to topple and die. Fortunately, a Harvard alum and University of Washington professor had planted a scion on the UW campus in the 1880s; it was from this Elm that the current tree on the Common was grown. In making these photographs, I am interested in the how the Elm sits within its environs, what people's interactions are with the site, the ways in which the monuments support or contradict history, and the physical beauty of the tree itself.
“The Washington Elm” is supported by a Cambridge Arts Council grant and selections will be shown, along with artifacts made from the Elm and related ephemera, at the Cambridge History Society in Fall 2014.
The Fortieth Parallel
The Fortieth Parallel
"Place and people are made familiar to us by means of the camera in the hands of skillful operators, who, vying with each other in the excellence of their productions, avail themselves of every opportunity to visit interesting points, and to take care to lose no good chance to scour the country in search of new fields for photographic labor."
— Attributed to Timothy O'Sullivan, Harper's New Monthly Magazine
Vol. 39, Issue 232 (September 1869)
The “Fortieth Parallel” is a panoramic examination of precise yet arbitrary places found along this important parallel of latitude across the American landscape.
As the baseline for surveying the Kansas and Nebraska territory, the 40th parallel defined the settlement of a large part of the western United States and Clarence King surveyed a portion in the 1860s with photographer Timothy O’Sullivan. Using contemporary GPS technology together with an 8x10 camera, I have photographed the view from this line of latitude across the U.S. at every whole of degree of longitude. There are 50 of these confluences on land and the parallel roughly bisects the country, running from the New Jersey shoreline to Northern California. At each intersection, there is approximately a 20-square foot area in which I can compose a view. The format unites the project’s form and content, aesthetically and philosophically, and emulates a person’s entire field of vision. Not wanting to re-make O’Sullivan’s pictures or simply record topography, I see the project instead as a personal contemporary survey and one that engages the nature of how humans circumscribe and conceive the world.
Begun in 1998, before GPS selective availability was lifted, this project was completed in 2012. This series unites my interest in mapping with conceptually-based art practices and references several “histories”—my father’s history as a surveyor, my interests in maps and systems, the history of the mapping of the U.S. and photography’s role within it, and the history of GPS. By documenting the seemingly random terrain found at these intersections, I invite the viewer to consider the history of landscape, land use, locative technologies, and the built environment as well as their own relationship to place.
I am fascinated with location-based systems and my work engages the nature of how humans measure the world. I often use or create rules to govern the location or approach in order to make a series of photographs. This method stems from my interest in maps and mapping, historical photographic surveys, and conceptually-based art practices. It is through these influences that I started to see and make pictures: by measuring, coordinating, and locating myself within the world.
Bruce Myren is an artist and photographer based in Cambridge, MA. He holds a BFA in photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and earned his MFA in studio art from the University of Connecticut, Storrs in 2009.
Shown nationally and published internationally, Myren's work has been featured in Fraction Magazine, afterimage, and View Camera Magazine as well as group exhibitions at the Phoenix Art Museum, RISD Museum's Chace Center, Houston Center of Photography, and the William Benton Museum of Art, among others. His numerous solo exhibitions include showings at the University of the Arts, Danforth Museum of Art, and Gallery Kayafas in Boston, where he is represented.
In 2012, he launched a successful Kickstarter fundraiser to complete his project “The Fortieth Parallel” and it has since been highlighted in the Huffington Post, Petapixel, Slate, Slate France, and the Discovery Channel online. Myren has presented on panels at the national conferences of the College Art Association and the Society for Photographic Education, spoken at colleges across the country as a visiting artist, and served as a juror for exhibitions at the Griffin Museum of Photography and Magenta Foundation's Flash Forward Festival. He is a recipient of a 2014 Cambridge Arts Council Grant.
Currently, Myren works at the Boston Public Library in their Digital Lab and teaches at Lesley University College of Art & Design and Northeastern University. Recently, he was a Visiting Lecturer of Art at Amherst College and a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the Chair of the Northeast Region of the Society for Photographic Education and on the board of directors of the Photographic Resource Center.
In his work, Myren investigates issues of place and space, often via the exploration and employment of locative systems, either literal or metaphoric. Myren's recent series include an investigation of the Fortieth Parallel of latitude; a piece that documents the view from every place he has lived to where he lives now; and a study of the poet Robert Francis’s one-person house in the woods of Amherst, MA
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