The village of Alfred is obscure enough that I’ll start by specifying that it is indeed a place and not a person.
When I told people that I’d go to New York and didn’t specify that I meant New York state, I was told “Oh man, you’re gonna get some amazing photos!”. I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking about Alfred. Quaint little Alfred.
When I told him I’d be heading there, the officer at the border told me “Yeah, that’s kinda in the middle of nowhere”. It's several hours away from New York City. I saw cows along the way. You have to go through a town called Almond. (Of all nuts I'd want my town to be named after, Almond is probably second to last, just before Peanut.) There are only a handful of restaurants, two bars, one grocery store, one bank, one convenience store. (Shouldn’t a convenience store be promoted to something more than a mere convenience if it’s the only one and thus ESSENTIAL?)
The village is mostly quiet, but at times, the stillness is punctuated by church bells and, no, that isn’t rain you’re hearing coming from the forest, that is a several-hundred-strong murder of crows defecating. Murderous indeed. Enough to force detours, really. I saw two people running away from the trees screaming “THEY’RE SHITTING!”. The roost was so massive and dense that the trees in the forest looked like they still had leaves at night. If you wanted to play with fire, you could clap your hands and hear them shower the forest floor in response.
Check out the aftermath.
Hundreds of abstract expressionists squawking up there.
There’s a ubiquitous arts presence in Alfred that goes way beyond the crows, however. Two universities in this tiny village means that it’s full of students (making inebriated screams a daily occurrence at night), and the strong arts programs in particular draw out all kinds of artists to Alfred, including my friend Paméla Simard (you might recognize her from my first post about her or this one of our trip in Quebec). She's currently there doing her master’s of fine arts in sculptural and dimensional studies.
Each art grad student has a studio space, and as you walk through the hallway, you can catch glimpses of their unique world.
This is Pam’s little sanctuary.
She’s gradually making this new space her own. With her only one semester completed, it’s starting to feel pretty lived-in already. We’re a long way from her previous holy place, the woodshop in Concordia, or her old bedroom, the cabinet of curiosities full of wooden sculptures. But you’ll still recognize it as her space in the half-completed projects haphazardly scattered across the room, her streams of consciousness scribbled on the walls, and her new scroll saw, begging to be used more, but cast aside for now as she’s exploring materials other than wood.
During my visit, she was working on a wearable piece made of silicone and patience.
She was also exploring new ideas in the foundry, about to cast a bronze eye for an iron sculpture of hers. She also created fascinating studies of negative space by holding plaster against her body and creating sculptures in the process.
She was also up to her usual shenanigans.
If you’ve seen my previous annual review post, you may have read that in 2017 I took portraits of 544 different people. This artist was the most fun and interesting to photograph—makes a trip all the way to Alfred worth it!