A look inside the mind of Greg Whitmore

Greg Whitmore ’98 is a documentary photographer who has put together photo essays. He has displayed two of these on his web site at http://wso.williams.edu/~gwhitmor, one titled Manufacturing Capacity, and the other Rite of Passage. The topics of these two essays vary greatly. One explores North Adams in their post-industrial struggles, and the examines the journey of corporate recruiting at Williams.

Whitmore declared political science his major in January 1996, and began studying with documentary photographer Kevin Bubriski. He was inspired by the works of the documentary photographer Shelby Adams and Gilles Peress, “I began studying the work of Shelby Adams and Gilles Peress and realized that I could do this. I wanted to focus on constructing personal narratives with my photographs by getting into the flow of how the town works.”

Whitmore also spoke of the tensions between Williams, North Adams and his own life. “When I came to this school I had come from a private high school and a public grammar school before that. I live in a middle class neighborhood in Beverly, Mass; my father is a teacher. The communities I have been in are in some ways like North Adams. The issues that play out in North Adams simply aren’t a reality here [on the Williams campus]. North Adams does not have the super-wealthy people like Williams does. None of us are going to go to school forever; eventually we will have to deal with places like North Adams and the problems they face.”

He began Manufacturing Capacity as a sophomore and continued until his senior year as an independent study. This photo essay not only examines the building of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, it also explores the historial developments of a small New England community struggling with their new found post-industrialism.

Professor of English Cassandra Cleghorn served as Whitmore’s independent study advisor for this project. Also, he recieved a grant from President of the College Harry C. Payne, which allow Whitmore to continue his work on the project.

“I didn’t overtly think about the divisions of the two worlds — North Adams and Williams. Instead, I was taking these photographs as a way of working out problems. I’m a resident of this area, and I wanted to look at what was going on in the community.”

Whitmore was able to achieve this by simply listening to the people of North Adams. “You would be amazed how little people pay attention to other people, and so when I came to North Adams and told people that I was interested in hearing their stories they were very willing to share them with me.” The majority of the photographs that Whitmore used in Manufacturing Capacity resulted from his informal conversations with North Adams residents.

While working on his documentary project, Whitmore became concerned about his role as a member of the media and his responsibility to the people he was photographing. “Am I ‘using’ these people? I guess to some extent I am but that’s what the media does. The best I could do was to be as honest as possible.” Whitmore stated about his efforts.

As Whitmore became more involved with members of the community, he became increasingly concerned about the future of the North Adams. Whitmore was especially worried by some of the proposed plans for the development of the community. One development project that he was especially troubled by was construction of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art or MASS MoCA, which will open in May 1999.

Thomas Krenz, who was a poli-ec major at Williams and is now the director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, initiated the movement to bring MASS MoCA to North Adams. According to Whitmore, Krenz is concerned with the business aspects of running an art museum, primarily the financial matters connected to buying and selling works of art. However, he is not concerned enough with the natural processes of transition and growth occurring in North Adams. Whitmore believes that such forced development will push the community in the wrong direction and will only hurt the people of North Adams in the long run. “North Adams was not built around a service economy that MASS MoCA is making it. The population that is in North Adams now won’t be there in ten years because they’re either very old or very young. Many of the growing families grew up when there wasn’t any work. A really good example of this is that a new restaurant opened recently that serves $22 entrees. Formerly, the building was a diner were people could get a $2.25 breakfast special before they went to work.”

Whitmore plans on making two sets of prints of Manufacturing Capacity and donating one to the library in North Adams or a historical society. “I don’t want the project to just sit around, but at the same time I don’t have the resources to do anything with it. I paid for all of my film, paper and gas myself. I’ll be here over the summer and I’d like more people to see it, especially people in North Adams. Maybe I could give a slide show at the library or something like that.”

Whitmore’s other work, Rite of Passage, which developed out of his Winter Study class, “The Photo Essay” is also focused on a period of transition. Whitmore was inspired to create Rite of Passage as he watched his classmates make career choices to join the corporate world either as investment bankers or consultants. Rite of Passage contains pictures of various seniors meeting with corporate executives in the Office of Career Counseling, over breakfast in Baxter and around campus.

“I spoke with the Vice President of Goldman Sachs, who’s one of the Trustees of the College. He said that he wanted to step up the recruiting on college campuses to attract a wider variety of people. That sort of appalled me. The fact is that it’s possible nowadays. There is a huge corporate structure,” Whitmore stated as explained his concerns about recruiting on campus, and the direction that many Williams students choose for their lives, “There aren’t very many people at Williams that are rabid economists. Many of the people that I spoke with had very genuine motivations for going into this corporate world. It just seems like there are a lot of people who are being pushed into these jobs.”

Whitmore would like to see more Williams students explore more civic minded career paths. “I can empathize with these people who didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do. This becomes an easy choice. It’s also very easy for these corporate firms. If the students this year don’t pan out there will be another load of labor next year. There are just so many other things to do. People who leave Williams are smart people. They might be complacent, but if they really want to do something they aren’t going to starve.”

Whitmore is certainly anything but complacent himself. Currently, he is thinking about making a film of the corporate recruiting at Williams. “I think that it would be an unbelievable film. I would use the photographs as sketches. The Vice President of Golman Sachs said that I could interview him for the project.”

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