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Art People: Stan Sherer, photographer

  • Photographer Stan Sherer talks about his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Photographer Stan Sherer talks about his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Woman outside a silk-rearing hut" is a photograph shown, Tuesday, from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    "Woman outside a silk-rearing hut" is a photograph shown, Tuesday, from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A photograph from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton displays printed cloth, shown Tuesday. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A photograph from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton displays printed cloth, shown Tuesday. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Photographer Stan Sherer poses for a portrait in front of his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Photographer Stan Sherer poses for a portrait in front of his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Photographer Stan Sherer talks about his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • "Woman outside a silk-rearing hut" is a photograph shown, Tuesday, from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A photograph from Stan Sherer's upcoming exhibit at Historic Northampton displays printed cloth, shown Tuesday. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Photographer Stan Sherer poses for a portrait in front of his upcoming exhibit, Tuesday, at Historic Northampton. The exhibit juxtaposes old photographs and images of Northampton's silk industry with photos Sherer has taken of the modern silk industry in China.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Stan Sherer enjoys taking an occasional landscape photo, but that’s mainly as a reminder of a scene he’s enjoyed. It’s difficult at best, he says, to capture the expansive beauty of the outdoors.

“I’m always thinking, ‘Do I really need to photograph this?’ ” he says.

What Sherer, of Northampton, really likes to photograph is, as he puts it, “the way life unfolds. I’m interested in the way people live their lives ... it’s about trying to find the pulse of a community.”

Like a classic documentary photographer, Sherer for many years worked exclusively in black and white as he chronicled, in exhibits and books, various communities: the story of the former Northampton State Hospital; the people of northern Albania; the oldest family farms in Massachusetts.

These days, Sherer, 66, has adopted some digital technology, like colored filters, and he also uses new printing techniques for his photos. But he still takes a classic approach to his work, including in his latest exhibit, at Historic Northampton, which matches photos from Northampton’s early 20th-century silk industry with images Sherer took of contemporary silk-making in China.

The show is part of a new initiative at Historic Northampton in which artists are invited to display work inspired by objects from the museum’s collection, or by Northampton events and people. Sherer has also collaborated with his wife, Marjorie Senechal, a writer and Smith College professor emerita of mathematics, who wrote the text for the exhibit.

Sherer has given his photographs a vintage look, with a red-brown tint like old sepia-colored photos of the U.S. West; he’s also printed the photos on handmade rice paper, his goal being to convey something of the long history of silk-making in China.

“That’s a big challenge as a photographer — how do you show that history?” he said. “I hope that some aspect of that is picked up by the viewer.”

As Senechal’s text explains why Northampton’s silk industry failed and China’s flourished, Sherer’s photos depict modern Chinese silk factories but also timeless images from the field. In one, an older worker with worn face and hands walks along a canal, a wicker basket slung behind him, full of mulberry leaves he’s gathered by hand to feed to silkworms.

Sherer says that though digital technology has opened new opportunities for photographers, old techniques like daguerreotypes are also enjoying renewed popularity. He, for one, likes to make images with his hands, rather than just process images on a computer. “That’s the kind of thing that keeps my work fresh — telling stories and finding different ways to do that,” he said.

An opening reception for “Northampton Silk Threads: The China Connection” takes place from 5 to 8 this evening at Historic Northampton. The exhibit runs through May 31.

— Steve Pfarrer

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