Boston has always been a great town for photographers. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with one of its best, Michael Hintlian, for lunch and a look at his new series of photographs titled No Transfer. I am most familiar with Michael’s black and white photographs from his seminal book Digging. As a lifelong resident of Boston (and one of the grumpy Bostonians who had to live through the never-ending turmoil caused by the construction of the Big Dig), Digging is a terrific first person look at the process and people involved in the construction of this wonder-of-the-new-world. If you are not familiar with Digging, here’s a link to the work on Michael’s website.
No Transfer’s color images are strong and real and reveal the people of the city from the perspective of a frequent public transport commuter like myself. Michael’s photos capture those moments that appear out the window and are gone in a millisecond.
Here’s Michael’s description of the series from his website:
“All the photographs in the No Transfer gallery were made from the window of a bus or train. Starting out of a frustration with working on the street in Boston – a very difficult place for a street photographer – it grew into an absorbing project. Working from a moving bus or train offered new challenges, how quickly I needed to work, the right seat, dirty and tinted windows. Almost immediately something different began to happen – I was responding to the first impulse before my mind started to run the process. This environment offers no second chances or time to consider anything, only perception followed by a response with a camera. Photographer Henry Wessel said of this quality: “…(being) outside your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”
And I am still learning.”
Over lunch, I asked Michael a few questions about No Transfer.
PW: I want to ask you about Digging, the body of work that I know of yours best. Since the Big Dig continues to be an ongoing news story, are you returning to that work in any way today?
MH: Yes, on and off. The project doesn’t seem to want to leave my subconscious. I want to do a 10-year anniversary, Son-of-Digging edit to see if the work takes an interesting turn. Recently I have returned to many of the worksites to stand where I did before and shoot what these places look like today, all with larger formats and some in color. I really do like the kind of relationship to time photography can evidence; it’s very interesting.
A side note about the media noise and the Big Dig – I never thought of the project as news; I really saw it as history. And I wasn’t interested in making pictures that were editorially valid.
PW: Is No Transfer an evolution of Digging, a reaction to Digging, or none of the above?
MH: Though I learned much from the Big Dig project, the No Transfer work is a return to my roots as a street photographer and my interest in working differently, in color. Following the Big Dig, its 7 ½ years of working one environment week in week out, I really wanted to separate myself from it. I like having a connection to it I did not want to be known only for one body of work and/or as the Big Dig photographer.
PW: Where do you stand now with the work?”
MH: As the work continues it has matured and I very actively try new things to make the image making process less certain. As with anything I do with photography I am using the project as a way learn something and to go further. From time to time I give some serious thought to concluding the project and begin something else but then some new image(s) tells me to keep up. And I am never short of distractions, a good part of my working day involves making pictures – every day produces a constant, new flow of ideas for direction coming at me. And so little time
Photographs upper left and below © Michael Hintlian