Bruce Hawkins, Smith College professor emeritus of physics, says he’d been taking photographs for years when he traveled but hadn’t treated the activity very seriously. But in 2011, he had to replace his color printer and got a large format (13 x 19 inches) replacement because it was on sale. “Then I wondered what my pictures would look like at that size and got hooked, because they looked pretty good,” he says.
Hawkins, who lives in Northampton, says he focuses on travel landscapes, though he also takes some pictures in and around the Valley. In a current show at the Hosmer Gallery at Forbes Library, he offers both dramatic views of places like the Grand Canyon, Switzerland and California’s Sierra Mountains, as well as more tranquil images, such as a tree-lined street in Sorrento, Italy.
Hampshire Life: What is your creative process like?
Bruce Hawkins: I photograph scenes that look interesting to me. I use a compact camera that fits in my pocket and zooms all the way from wide angle to quite extreme telephoto. I frame them in the viewfinder to get a good composition, and sometimes crop them later. Later I process them on the computer to liven the colors, but hopefully not beyond the visual impression to the eye. Then I review them and pick a very few to print at the large format.
H.L.: Does is start with a Eureka! moment?
B.H.: Sometimes one comes around a corner or up a climb on the trail, and the view is amazing. But it doesn’t always photograph well. Then when I review the pictures, there is a quieter recognition of which are the best. Sometimes when I’m looking at old pictures (I have a slideshow of them in the background on my computer all the time), I see one that startles me.
H.L.: How do you know you’re on the right track?
B.H.: The pictures tell me which ones.
H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?
B.H.: I go and do physics research, which is my two-day a week retirement day job with a colleague.
H.L.: How do you know when the work is done?
B.H.: When I have processed all the pictures from a trip.
H.L.: What did you do recently that relates to your art?
B.H.: Chose the pictures for the Hosmer Gallery exhibit.
H.L.: How does photography relate to your professional life?
B.H.: My specialty is how shining light on atoms changes them. Sixty years ago, my physics research was fundamental to much of what is now done with lasers, and my colleague and I are currently using lasers to make precision measurements of the structure of the Beryllium atom. So professionally I use light bounced off of really small things, and artistically I use light bounced off of rather large things like mountains.
— Steve Pfarrer
Bruce Hawkins’ photographs are on view at Hosmer Gallery at Forbes Library in Northampton through March 30. The exhibit also features photographs by Janine Norton and Robert Salthouse.