Connected \\ August 30, 2017
Bob's year in photography
With nearly three decades as a professional photographer, mostly focusing on the fashion industry, Bob Packert now imparts wardrobe, makeup and hair tips to his new subjects —the curators, art history scholars and other academic types who work at a museum. He sends links to clothing sites, advises on colors, brings in experts from his professional network, tells them not to wait until the minute before getting their portrait taken to do their makeup. “And, oh, yeah, be yourself,” he says, with a laugh.
A behind the scenes look at the Tedi Asher shoot.
On the particular rainy afternoon that we chatted over lunch, he was headed to capture a portrait of PEM’s neuroscientist Tedi Asher, one she could proudly share while representing PEM at an upcoming conference in Germany.
Packert brings a creative mindset to the role. He once published a book called Animal Instinct that featured a haunting series of models in animal masks, shot at a group of abandoned summer cottages in Rhode Island. He fondly remembers giving instruction to a group of three models wearing sheep masks to gaze intently toward another model, asleep in a decaying bed. All the while a live rabbit hops past the foot of the bed. He titled this image, Counting Sheep.
One year ago, Packert took over as head of the Digital Imaging department, taking the helm after the retirement of longtime staff member Walter Silver. Packert brings with him the experience of building and working with a client list that includes big names like Volkswagen and publications such as Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Vogue Italia.
A few months before his new gig, guiding the photo team at PEM, Packert shot a colorful fashion shoot in PEM’s exhibition Intersections: Anila Quayyum Agha for Northshore Magazine.
The photo department is responsible for documenting thousands of collection objects and rotating exhibitions, weekly events, and also for taking staff portraits and fulfilling countless image requests by other departments. One of the things Packert has enjoyed at his new post is challenging his team to see things anew.
“It’s great to get the shots you’ve been asked to shoot, but I encourage them to explore other options as well,” he says.
In a recent meeting in one of PEM’s historic homes, Packert says his eyes drifted above to a beautiful chandelier. He began to shoot it, imagining the various uses for these images.
For monthly meetings of the museum’s Creative Services department, Packert has started to create contact sheets of a dozen images, comparing existing object photography with new shots of everything from works in the collection to shots of people partying it up at PEM/PM, the museum’s monthly after-hours parties. He then tightly crops a few of the images, so that staff can see the power of the images up close and in the square shape that makes them sharable on Instagram.
This summer, he has documented the experience of the museum’s Native American Fellows and their journey from day one in a traditional welcome ceremony to their guided museum work and outside field trips, including a game at Fenway Park, which was a welcome assignment for this longtime Red Sox fan.
Packert got into fashion photography because he likes working with people. It shows in his images that seem to ask questions, arousing curiosity about the subject more than any material thing. It is also demonstrated by his initiative to create a pop-up gallery to showcase the artistic talents of PEM staff. So far, exhibitions of photography and watercolor illustrations have brought coworkers together for early-morning receptions to admire a wall that was otherwise left bare.
Since college, Packert, whose father was an art teacher, has carefully studied ads in magazines, taking in the lighting and props, analyzing “every little detail,” he says. Creative ads to promote the Museum Shop in PEM’s members’ magazine have featured PEM staff, as well. A shot of Tiffany Yee, assistant to the museum’s director, featured her on a local beach, modeling a custom silk scarf created to support cancer patients.
With the museum's new fashion initiative, it seems Packert has good timing. Born in New Mexico, he's busy planning details for the next PEM Shop ad, featuring Georgia O'Keeffe inspired wardrobe, and searching for the right stucco wall as a background.
Along with his photography for the museum, Packert maintains a studio at Porter Mill in Beverly. He creates his own mixed media collages, incorporating his images. His work is exhibited in local galleries and held in private collections.
After years of having to always network for the job, Packert loves producing creative content in a place that keeps him busy and allows him to stay where he’s most comfortable … behind the camera.
Follow him on Instagram @bpackert