Standing in New Haven’s Café George by Paula, amid nearly two-dozen photographs on display for sale, Connecticut resident Woody Ford is dressed for a heist. Wearing a pair of black skinny jeans, a black beanie and a jet-black motorcycle jacket, Ford looks like a character out of a ’70s film, ready to slip into the eatery and leave with the prints, which are priced around $200-300, undetected. But, ironically, the photographs are his to begin with.
The exhibition, which opened last Wednesday, features a range of the freelance photographer’s work, from color photographs of murky ponds that remind the viewer of Monet’s water lilies, to several black-and-whites of jazz musicians such as bassist Charles Mingus and bandleader Duke Ellington. The pieces have been photographed over several decades, and, as Ford said, dropping his head and softly brushing the placard of Ellington, they are reminders that his art is of another time.
“It was a different time then,” Ford said. “You don’t see the same drive for art anymore.”
But he quickly added, “Things aren’t bad, though. They’re just not great.”
An unlikely gallery, Café George by Paula is a small restaurant that generally serves the 300 George St. office building and surrounding businesses during their employees’ lunch hours. But it makes perfect sense to Paula Korneski, the owner of the café, who sees every venue as an opportunity to support local artists.
Some time back — neither Ford nor Korneski can pin down a date — Ford attended the opening of another exhibition at the café. He had heard of the café, and its specially carved niches for artworks, through “friends of friends.” And Korneski, who proudly boasted that she doesn’t turn away artists, regardless of her personal opinions of their work, accepted Ford’s proposal to present his collection.
“I love Woody’s work,” she said. “All of it. I can’t pick a favorite.”
In an era of limited gallery spaces, as the economy struggles in a recession, Café George by Paula offers a unique opportunity to all artists without competition, regardless of skill or renown. And the café tries to host one such exhibit every month, letting its walls play temporary hosts to local artists’ works for periods of three to four weeks at a time.
But that’s not to say Ford doesn’t like competition. He said he believes competition pushes artists to produce their best works. Indeed, in 2004, Ford won a highly competitive grant from the Andrew Rhodes Memorial Fund for the Visual Arts Foundation. Though Ford did not disclose the amount of the grant, he said it was “sizeable.”
Nancy Barnes, an arts reporter in New York City and one of Ford’s longtime fans, said Ford captures the true essence of his subjects — a quality he gains from his ability to go back in time.
He certainly seemed to be from a different decade, as he whispered about times when cigarette smoke freely drifted in clubs, adding atmosphere and obscurity to the snaphots by cameras of the era. He pointed to one such photo: a black-and-white portrait of feisty jazz singer Marion Williams caught at a particularly emphatic moment in a song, her mouth seemingly preparing to spit in the face of a man who has scorned her.
Suddenly, in the midst of his talk about the spontaneity and sass of Williams, Ford’s small, dated phone rang. He smoothly responded: “Give me 10 minutes and I’ll be bolting.”