Dominic Alessandra

Master Photography 

 

 
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Current Project

 

To sponsor a photographic journey from Whitby, England across seven continents retracing the voyages of Capt. Cook to the present remains and location of the Whitby ships Endeavor and Discovery recently uncovered under water in Newport, R.I. To photograph the present day descendants of those populations Capt. Cook and his original Whitby ships and crews would have come upon. To express their story from an Indigenous perspective in photographs using early photographic technique and equipment. The examples I have submitted are representative from the starting point to the end. From Whitby, England to Narragansett, R.I. For a more complete review, several collections are available in my gallery. I need a sponsor for each of the indigenous cultures to be selected. Example Aboriginal Australia, Maori of New Zealand, Tahitian Natives of Polynesia; Native Hawaiians, Indigenous of South America; China; Africa; Pacific Northwest, First People of the Americas; Others, to be named... To sponsor an exhibition and cultural exchange photographically both on the Internet and selected locations with regard to Indigenous people representing where they are today in the 21stt Century and in relationship to others. To tell their story…

 

Whitby, described as a “Haven under the Hill” by Whitby authoress Mary Linskill, has changed little over the passage of centuries. One of the few places in the world reminiscent of footpaths and passages used since medieval times by knights, abbots, monks, smugglers, mariners,  merchants and fisherfolk.                     

 Roman galleys found safe harbor here in the 1st century. Whitby represents every period of English history from earliest Anglo-Saxon dominion through the Danish and Norman Conquest.  Caedmon, the first English poet, is buried in the same cemetery as townsfolk and monk of old under the silhouette of Whitby Abbey.  The monumental ruins can be seen from a distance of miles in every direction perched atop the windswept cliff.  Since it’s founding in 656 by St. Hilda, the first abbess, it became a place of learning and religious importance.  Here at the Synod of Whitby the Roman Church set the date for Easter.  Henry the VIII dissolved the monastery but “ dared not to destroy the sacred site”.  Erosion oft times exposes a wooden coffin jutting out of the side of the cliff.  A haunting scene in fog, mist and smoking chimneys Whitby Town provided the setting for his novel “Dracula”.  Bram Stoker the author is included among other notable English writers, namely Charles Dickens and Lewis Carol having visited, lived or written here. Passages of “Alice in Wonderland” were inspired from nearby “Sandsend”

 During one of the most prosperous periods during the 1800's, Whitby was one of the principal ports of England, renown for shipbuilding and whaling.  James Cook began his seafaring career from here and all three ships he used for his explorations, scientific studies and circumnavigation from 1768-1780 were built here. Whitby shipyards had a reputation for high standards and quality ship- building at this time. Whitby  ships were preferred by the British Admiralty because of their proven seaworthiness. They fulfilled the necessary requirements for long sea voyages that would take cook from Whitby across to South America, to Patagonia and Antartica, to New Zealand and Australia, Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands, Pacific Northwest, along the eastern Asian coast and Japan, returning around the Cape of Good Hope. The inventor of the Crows nest, Capt. William Scoresby, arctic explorer also hails from Whitby.

 Whitby’s renown was well documented during the late 1800’s by Frank Sutcliffe, one of the greatest Victorian photographers of that era.  His work provides a pictorial record and testimony of a seafaring life, related trades and picturesque environs at the turn of the last century. This period was the end of the great shipbuilding, whaling and sailing era.  A rich portrait of a way of life that is now nearly lost.   Now 100 years later coupled with the declining fishing industry, how has Whitby survived?  There still remain glimpses of this former life as real as yesteryear.            

 During the 70’s and 80's, I have recorded glimpses of this almost forgotten way of life and heard many stories. Many of the shops and shopkeepers of Old England are now gone. Gone, but unforgotten is James Grimes Cole. At age 92, the oldest retired Whitby fisherman I met and photographed around 1972. A decade later I photographed his son, Jake Cole, in his seventies, also retired, shown in the photograph to the left with his wife. It is my intention to record a third generation of this family, the surviving son of Jake Cole, still a fisherman? From the perspective of our entire heritage we are now witnessing rapid changes and the death of a way of life worldwide.  If we do not chronicle these times in images and words as creatively as in the past we will have lost an important cultural portrait and inspiration. That is why I feel it is important and challenging to make a visual history working in a format that is a continuation of the earliest photographic techniques. Some of the greatest images are from this era. Using similar techniques and original equipment, the stories can continue to be told in a very familiar way.

 This original format should continue to be supported and encouraged. The wooden camera in the hands of a creative photographer comes to life as an acceptable medium and will always find a place within the field of great photography past, present and future.

  I was given a box camera to restore and use in 1971 by Bill Eglon Shaw, owner of Sutcliffe Gallery because of my enthusiasm and interest in old Whitby and in particular the photography of Frank Sutcliffe, exhibited in his shop. I was told the camera once belonged to F.M. Sutcliffe. As I discovered Whitby many scenes remained unchanged from the days of old.  Soon after completing the restoration with the help of a local craftsman, the first photographs I took were thought to be original Sutcliffe by the local newspaper editor. A controversy soon arose over the photographs and the authenticity of the camera. How could an “American” visiting in town wind up with F.M. Sutcliffs’ camera, a local historical and national  treasure. I owe that and the start of my career in photography to the original generosity of Bill Shaw, who at the time was also accountable to the Whitby Historical Society. The provenance of the camera in the end was left to the claim of a local antique dealer who was now deceased.

  The only certainty derived from the camera is the originality of the photographs taken in 70’s and 80’, recently printed almost 100 years after Sutcliffs’ era. From that first photograph over 30 years ago to the present, I only have used vintage cameras with wooden tripods, brass lens, wooden shutters, etc. I learned this photography first hand from a former Victorian photographer Claudius Morris of York who instructed me his technique for hand capping the lens, about apertures sizes and light, and how to develop negatives.

   I am looking for support to return to England to continue this photographic tradition in Whitby into the 21stCentury. Owing to Whitbys’ isolation and self-sufficiency on the North Sea could be one reason why Whitby has survived as a window into past centuries and remains in tact as an ancient seaport today. I hope to continue to exhibit the fishing community’s rugged individual character, and record their rich heritage steeped in history and tradition. Perhaps by sharing that same timeless nature and local seascape experience that also impacted the character of a James Cook, a quiet strength and reverence of the sea and yesteryear is passed along. Or from a single knowledge to be uncovered in the reminiscence of another time communicated in a narrow street or yard, between two mates, about the weather, “winkles”, a Whitby lass or lad, or a Whitby lifeboat rescue is reason enough.

    What is the extent of the socioeconomic, political and technological pressures for change in the modern world having on Whitby today? I am only certain of one thing. I will be sure to continue to take portraits for the preservation of what is in my view, their national treasure, in the faces and stories of their past and present. To exhibit their spirit to the world as a light for others to appreciate and a testimony to a way of life that still exists in the 21st century we can all respect and be proud of.

A commitment and focus to record a historical heritage that needs to be restored and acknowledged. As societies become more dependent on technology, we can lose touch with another life that is vital, essential for our understanding and welfare. There is a need for mutual understanding, accountable leadership and responsibility that can guide nations and people in unity with cultural exchange or continue with the usual trappings of politics, isolation, alienation, inequity and misunderstanding. It starts with knowing the past accurately as important as what is going on today. The most important stories I find are told in the noble faces contributing to peace whose ancestors have been grievously wronged, displaced, or mistreated throughout history and to this day. I support their cause for recognition and encourage them to continue to lead in peace and dignity with the demonstration of their cultural heritage. I have tried to do that in my photography to cross borders, boundaries, and barriers for unity: to see across race, class, religion etc. and photograph for the more important cause for peace. I photograph because I love view camera photography, the people and places I photograph.

I am including a portfolio on Whitby, the starting point of this project, and another on American Indians of the Narragansett Nation in Rhode Island for the completion. Many photographs were taken at the last Pow Wows of the 20th Century and the first of the 21st Century in the Northeast. The Narragansett shared a common language with the inhabitants of Cape Cod, of the present day Mashpee Indians, Wampanoag.  They are the present day descendents of the original natives that would have been present in the area along the eastern coast at the time the last Whitby built ship “Endeavor” reached Newport. Both the “Resolution” and the “ Endeavor” originating from Whitby found their way to America after the British Admiralty decommissioned them soon after Cooks death. This last ship used by the greatest explorer of that era may have been recently located at the bottom of the harbor in Newport, Rhode Island. While the story of Cook and Whitby ships may be renewed with their rediscovery, I am focused on the indigenous people today, uncovering these descendants, of those natives whose lives would be forever changed and transformed by those explorations, scientific studies and subsequent colonizations.  

From Whitby I will retrace Capt. Cooks` circumnavigation across 7 continents My purpose is to record the descendants of the indigenous people that Capt. Cook in his oak Whitby built sailing ships would have encountered in his voyage around the world over 200 years ago. And reveal in their faces and expressions their story that brings us into the 21st Century.

The photographs in the portfolio are from two of the oldest tribes of the Northeast. The Narragansett who are recognized by the Federal government and the Mashpee Wampanoog who are unrecognized, even though they have been established on Cape Cod for over 350 years and have been sometimes referred to historically as “South Seas Indians.” Two of the photographs were received and acknowledged by President Clinton in 1999. One titled “Little Chief, Prayer for Wampanoag recognition’’ and the other a portrait of ‘‘ Chief Seventh Hawk’’ of the Narragansett.

         Giovanni di Verrazzano provided the first known-recorded description of     these people in 1524.  He had sailed along most of the East Coast and wrote….

“These people are the most beautiful and have the most civil customs that we have found on this voyage. They are taller than we are; they are a bronze color, some tending more toward whiteness, others to a tawny color; the face is clear-cut; the hair is long and black, and they take great pains to decorate it; the eyes are black and alert, and their manner is sweet and gentle, very much like the manner of the ancients.  I shall not speak to Your Majesty of the other parts of the body, since they have all the proportions belonging to any well-built man.  Their women are just as shapely and beautiful; very gracious, of attractive manner and pleasant appearance; their customs and behavior follow womanly custom as far as befits human nature; they go nude except for a stag skin embroidered like the men's, and some wear rich lynx skins on their arms; their bare heads are decorated with various ornaments made of braids of their own hair which hang down over their breasts on either side.  Some have other hair arrangements such as the women of Egypt and Syria wear, and these women are older and have been joined in wedlock.  Both men and women have various trinkets hanging from their ears as the Orientals do; and we saw that they had many sheets of worked copper, which they prize more than gold . . . . They are very generous and give away all they have.  We made great friends with them, and one day before we entered the harbor with the ship, when we were lying at anchor one league out to sea be­cause of unfavorable weather, they came out to the ship with a great number of their boats; they had painted and decorated their faces with various colors, showing us that it was a sign of happiness.”  (Wroth 1970:138)

 The present day Mashpee descendants are somewhere between this earliest known description of a noble sovereign people by Verrazzano and one by contrast having suffered epidemic, dislocation, resulting in famine, deprivation, as subjects to the Laws of the General Court. This condition was reflected in a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts in 1774-76. In protest over the guardianship of Indian affairs recorded …

   “We poor Indians Entreat the great Court at Boston to remove those gentlemen the Honble Coll. Bourn Jeans Otis Eq., and Mr. Crocker From being our Guardians, for we are more hirt since they have intermeddled about our lands and meadows, for we are now destitute, and likely to starve to death with hunger or for want, for they stop our money, and we lived better before they come, and when they first come we was still and hoped we should then do better, but now we see we are poorer. We do humbly beseech our Honourable Rulers to take care of us that they may not have power to sell our land to any for we never desire that it should be sold but that we and our children may live upon it if god be willing. We have never been against the English but united with them against their enemies, therefore we hope you will help.”  (MA 31:102)

The Mashpee Wampanoag have occupied the same area of Cape Cod for over 350 years. They are among over 100 tribes that are still unrecognized in the year 2001. They expect Federal Recognition at any time. This will come after their land in perpetuity was taken away because they were not recognized as a “tribe” as recently as 1978.

Cape Cod is many things to many people. One of the recent references today is “the silicon sandbar.” For me having lived in Mashpee it will always remain the “Land of the Wampanoag” who traditionally welcomed the first Pilgrims in their land.

“ Loving,, Tender and Spiritual is the way of Native People. That is the way it is.  For their survival, it must be that way. If you become like the people you’re fighting and it is not that way, it is the wrong way! ”  Chief Earl Mills, former Chief of the Mashpee, Wampanoag. March 23, 2001.

It has been almost 100 years since Edward Curtis photographed American Indians. Now 100 years later, almost forgotten, the tribes of the Northeast are entering the 21st century. By using a camera from this earliest period, a contemporary to Edward Curtis and Frank Sutcliff, an original image tied to the past is maintained to portray this re-emergence with integrity. By keeping alive this photographic standard in sepia and at the same time creating what I call Photo-ionographs is a complementary new genre for opening this new era. Using both formats I am committed to focusing on the unrecognized, forgotten and indigenous people to create the highest standards and finest work that can represent this expression and story.

My goal is to primarily keep humanity in focus increasing recognition of surviving cultures, for restoring visual heritage and a visual history creating social and political consciousness for greater understanding. Creating images for education, for art and for enrichment not only for native populations but also equally as an American, for our cultural heritage for present and future generations. My goal is to compile a collection of original photography, to produce a book or books including several exhibitions to edify and enrich this heritage encouraging unity and peace in the 21st Century. 

I will make myself available as well as my photography for gallery exhibition, print, and joint venture considering new projects. At the same time advancing cultural restoration and awareness  advocating the rights for diversity and respecting  cultural integrity, I encourage the fusion of cultural diversity to be the melting pot in the new millenium, the potpourri and the potter to help form and shape a  colorful new world for the 21st century that will be equally exciting and beneficial to all.                      

I am requesting sponsorship or support to continue this effort. I am dedicating myself primarily to the projects I have described. My photography while derivative from the techniques of early photography is contemporary for the 21ST Century. It is both appreciated and has won support with Indigenous People, and a Nation, the Narragansett, to share their story. As I improvise and refine my work I always attempt to maintain this original tradition .My hope is that what I offer too will become timeless, original and recognizable. I need your support in anyway possible.                                                                                                                                                 Sincerely Yours,

Dominic Alessandra                                                          

 E-mail     dominic@excite.com  

 Web-site     http://www.paxcorps.com

        I also would like to acknowledge and thank the many individuals and supporters of my photography who in good faith have cooperated and trusted me to photograph them and have encouraged me to continue my work. Especially to Chief Sachem Seventh Hawk, Running Wolf and the Tribal Council of the Narragansett, Hiawatha, Crawling Wolf, the late Lucille C. Stanton Dawson and individuals like Great Horned Owl, Candece, Weenaatainnini, June, Keon, Hebert Waters Jr., and Vanessa of the Mashpee Wampanoag.  

       I am grateful to the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for a grant and award from their Artists’ Resource Trust that allowed me to continue my work last year and has brought me to the threshold of a first exhibition planned latter this year 2001.    

      I thank Steven Albahari, publisher of the “Journal of Contemporary Photography” for his  review, guidance, and support. And especially my gratitude to Tim Daley of Millstone Press for selecting my work for limited editions to be released into the 21stCentury who specializes in Fine Art Printing representing the highest quality in Iris printing available today.     

     To Dale and Eric and The Buffalo Big Print for their high quality reproduction and work on the first large format photo-ionographs I am also grateful.

      I also would like to thank Manny Louro of IKON Office Solutions and the office personnel for their support and the use of their copy machine to make the quality reproduction in this printed format.            

     The photographs and material in this publication are protected by copyright. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or use of this material is permitted without the expressed authorization, written consent or approval of Dominic Alessandra, i.e. Paxcorps Publications, Ionographs copyright 2001.

 

 

 
   

©2000, Dominic Alessandra; all right reserved.