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Arnie Jarmak: Photographing Chelsea in Transition, 1977–89

Photographing Chelsea in Transition, 1977–89 showcases the significance of the corpus of work by photographer Arnie Jarmak (b. 1949, Marblehead, Mass.), and the contribution it makes to understanding how and why local neighborhoods change. The exhibition presents more than 80 photographs from an archive of some 20,000 he produced as chief photographer for the city’s daily newspaper, the Chelsea Record, while living there in the late 1970s through the 1980s.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to present this retrospective of Arnie Jarmak’s photographs, taken over 12 years (1977–89), chronicling the culture of the city of Chelsea for its local newspaper,” Netzer said. “Jarmak’s oral history recorded for this project and displays from his archives and of his cameras enhance the exhibition’s historical significance. The exhibition also celebrates the ongoing work of Boston College faculty and students on the digital history project, Global Boston, documenting the area’s immigrant communities since 1870.”

Among the last film photographers before the digital age, Jarmak used a Deardorff 8 × 10 inch field camera and a Nikon F 35 mm camera (both displayed in the exhibition) to document Chelsea’s notoriously corrupt politicians, the fires that raged through its aging housing stock and the celebrated firefighters who fought them, long-established businesses of European immigrants (many of them Jewish from Eastern Europe), and the arrivals of immigrants from Central America who enriched the city. Jarmak chronicles these changes in sharply observed portraits of residents, lively vignettes of the city’s youth, and illustrations of community celebrations—a testament to the central role a local paper played in the life of a vibrant and complex city, according to organizers.

“The opportunity to photograph Chelsea was truly a gift given to me,” said Jarmak. “I am thankful to the people of this city who supported and embraced my work every day at the Chelsea Record.”

According to exhibition co-curator Ash Anderson, a Boston College art history faculty member, “Jarmak slyly draws on the intertwined histories of documentary and fine art photography and his intimate knowledge of Chelsea to create dynamic, insightful compositions that bring to life a chaotic period in the city’s history.”

Recordings of interviews with Jarmak, by co-curator Diana Larsen, a McMullen Museum assistant director, accompany the exhibition. The curators also edited an e-catalogue that includes a biography of Jarmak by Larsen, an essay by Anderson situating Jarmak’s work within the history of twentieth-century photography, including an examination of artistic and literary influences, and a study of Chelsea’s immigrant evolution and demographic transformations by BC Professor of History Marilynn S. Johnson, Global Boston director.

“Jarmak’s photographs tell a real American story,” said Larsen. “Although they represent life several decades ago, they provide a window into what is occurring in Chelsea today—the residents of a small, ever-changing immigrant city striving to succeed.”

The artist’s friend and collaborator, Joshua Resnek, added: “Jarmak has the passion of a young man and the support of a city with a big heart and soul.”

Organized by the McMullen Museum, Arnie Jarmak: Photographing Chelsea in Transition, 1977–89 received major support from Boston College and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

On October 2, 2022 from noon to 5 pm the McMullen Museum hosts "Chelsea Loves Arnie" Day with a special reception in their gallery. Photographer Arnie Jarmak and many who recall this era in the city will be on hand.

View the E-Catalog with images and scholarly articles reflecting on the work


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