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Harold Shapiro’s Luminous Instruments solo exhibit currently lights up the main gallery at Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven. The North Branford native was first inspired to tinker with lights and lighting growing up on his family farm, while his roots in photography and music are tied to his school years in town. (Photo by Harold Shapiro )
Silver Flute. (Photo by Harold Shapiro )
Guitar and Bass. (Photo by Harold Shapiro )
Harp. (Photo by Harold Shapiro. )
“Flyolin” (Photo by Harold Shapiro )
Alto Sax. (Photo by Harold Shapiro )
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With Luminous Instruments, Harold Shapiro marries his remarkable musicianship, passion for photography, and love of light. The result? Breathtaking images of instruments captured in a dance of light and dynamic motion.
Through Thursday, April 9, Harold’s Luminous Instruments solo exhibit lights up the main gallery at Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) in New Haven. Since 1984, Harold has been sharing his knowledge of photography as both a teacher and photo department head at CAW. The North Branford native, now a Guilford resident, is also known to many due to decades of volunteerism, sharing both his photography and musicianship to support people from all walks of life.
As a professional photographer of 39 years, Harold says he considers this exhibit to be the cumulative highlight of his career. He’s also grateful to note Luminous Instruments has been made possible by his award of a Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists Grant.
Harold has curated the exhibit by selecting more than a dozen exuberant black and white images hung as framed portraits.
As Harold describes it, “I was inspired to create this new portfolio while playing in a theatrical orchestra. As I observed my beautiful woodwind instrument under the theater lights, I was mesmerized by the intricate shapes of the keys. They cried out to me to capture their elegance and strength and tell their story through photography.”
As Harold also points out, that first moment of inspiration actually struck more than 30 years ago; at that time, he took a different approach to capturing that beauty.
“I was sitting in the pit orchestra, and between songs I was looking at the keys on my bass clarinet, and I said, ‘This thing is so beautiful,’” Harold recalls. “So I started doing still images of the instruments way back then, in 1980 or ‘81. And I did exhibit some of those. Then, about a year and a half ago, I started photographing them again, but with movement, to try to evoke the sense of the music coming out of the instrument.”
You could say that’s the short version of what’s transpired over a lifetime to inspire Harold’s latest photographic work.
His interest in lighting goes back to his days growing up on his family’s farm, which was known as Shapiro’s Farm, located on Route 80 in North Branford.
“It’s something that started when I was very, very young,” says Harold. “One of the things that you learn when you’re on a farm is to be very handy—everyone would fix things. So I started to play with lightbulbs when I was in grammar school. I loved the lights on the tractors and trucks, and wiring them up.”
He says he was also aware from a young age of the “value of vision,” due to vision loss being experienced by his grandmother. It helped Harold not only to appreciate the gift of sight, but also inspired him to capture and celebrate visual images on film and, later, with digital photography.
His love of photography and the work of notable 20th-century artists was developed at North Branford High School (NBHS) and on his own, poring over books found at the town’s Atwater Public Library. The NBHS Class of 1979 alumnus says he first learned how to develop prints in a high school class.
“I got to go into the darkroom before I even had a camera. And when I saw how prints were developed, I practically fainted. It was totally magical and beautiful. I was in love with that instantly,” he says.
As a teacher of photography not only at CAW but also with Guilford Art Center and Milford Photo, Harold often tells his students that the craft is “perhaps the perfect combination of science and art. Obviously the technology is very important, but the whole idea of, ‘What are you communicating—what matters?’ is essential. So you have to understand the techniques to be successful in getting that message across.”
With Luminous Instruments, Harold shares his message of the beauty of instrumental music and photography, by capturing individual portraits celebrating a wide variety of orchestra instruments as they are manipulated by his own hands and captured through his lens using long exposure photography methods.
“Often, people ask me how I do it. I answer it’s not really about how I do it, it’s why,” he says. “The why is the important thing. And the why is because I’m so passionate about music. This brings together my passion for music, which is related to my passion for photography, and within my photography, there’s my love of long exposure—that’s where the magic happens.”
Musician, Photographer, and Volunteer
Harold specializes in woodwinds and first started playing music as a school boy. He credits his early interest in music and theater to his older sister Lenore.
“She’s the reason I started on saxophone in 3rd grade, and I took to it very quickly,” says Harold, who also notes that he didn’t care much for practicing as a kid.
Harold says his Luminous Instruments image titled “Bass Trombone” was inspired as an homage to his North Branford junior high music teacher, trombonist Cathy Stewart, He says he also values the mentorship he received from his NBHS music teachers, Alan Ettinger and John Congo.
While attending New England School of Photography in Boston, where he graduated in 1981 with honors in portraiture and color, Harold’s interest in music inspired him to take up flute, followed by piccolo.
Playing music is also what led Harold to begin volunteering in his community, and one of those activities paid Harold back by connecting him with a master flautist. While he was still in high school, Harold first foray into helping others was as a volunteer usher with Chestnut Hill Concerts in 1977. He continued to volunteer with the concert program through 1996.
Founded in 1969 by Yale University’s Elsa Redlich, the annual summer concerts held in Madison draws accomplished musicians. Harold says he was thrilled to experience every performance.
“I did that for 20 years,” he says. “That’s where I met Ransom Wilson, who is a virtuoso flute player, and he’s still in my life—he’s the flute professor at Yale.”
Harold has been serving Yale University as a photographer since 1981 and loves the experiential and cultural opportunities he gathers during his work.
“Every day that I photograph on the Yale campus feels like a special privilege and a learning experience, as I get to meet thought leaders and experts from many fields of study,” says Harold, an associate fellow at Jonathan Edwards College.
Through his work at Yale, he’s had milestone experiences photographing and meeting remarkable people such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while also finding much to enjoy about more typical assignments.
For example, on March 9, “I photographed 70 portraits for the Yale Physician Associates program,” he says. “They’re students of all different ages from all over the country, and it was such fun to meet them.”
Harold met many people through his volunteer efforts, as well. They include decades of sharing his music with patients at Yale New Haven Hospital, for which he was awarded the American Hospital Association’s Volunteer Award. Harold says he never knows how his hospital visits will impact others, but he did recently get some amazing feedback.
“A woman told my sister her mother had been in a coma, and after I played for her in the hospital, she woke up, right after I left. She heard the music,” says Harold.
He’s lent his photographic skills as a volunteer as well: SARAH honored Harold with a Ginger Calhoun Volunteer Service Award for creating a project pairing photographers with adults with Down syndrome. As a Shoreline Arts Alliance (SAA) volunteer, Harold became very involved in assisting with SAA’s annual Images exhibit. He also volunteered his services to support the elderly at Branford Adult Daycare Center and helped uplift homeless men served by New Haven’s Columbus House.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to help people in need,” says Harold, who also regularly volunteers to assist the efforts of his wife, Marji Shapiro, in her role as director of education of the Anti-Defamation League’s Connecticut office.
“The amount of people she’s helped is enormous. She’s helped many people in horrific circumstances, and they adore her because of that,” says Harold.
The couple married in 1993 and settled in Guilford.
Widening the Scope of His Work
Now that Harold has created Luminous Instruments, he plans to find more ways to continue to share the work.
“One of my dreams is to exhibit these pictures in museums that feature musical instruments,” he says. “And I’m proud be involved in another exhibit, right now, at Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments. It’s called Resounding Brass: Conch Shells to Silver Trumpet. The exhibit will be up for a year, and I’m going to be rotating in different photographs of brass instruments.”
The exhibit opened in February; for more information, visit music.yale.edu.
For more information on viewing Harold Shapiro’s Luminous Instruments exhibit at Creative Arts Workshop, 80 Audubon Street, New Haven, visit www.creativeartsworkshop.org.
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