Submitted by Marv Goldschmitt, Bedford Center for the Arts’ Photography Group
Bob Barrett was a photographer. That’s how we knew him. His illustrious career as a physicist was something we’d heard about but that was another Bob. The Bob Barrett we knew was a photographer.
The first time I met Bob, we were both entrants in the Bedford Arts and Crafts Society’s annual photo contest. My work was traditional photography; his was something else. It was a collage of styles and technology. There were clearly photographs at the core of what he was showing but there was also an assemblage of impressions and takes that, frankly, couldn’t have come from a man already in his late 80s. But it did. When I met Bob his hearing wasn’t so great anymore but that was OK because, in the main, you wanted to listen to him. This Bob was also a teacher and mentor and he was looking ahead.
When we started Bedford Center for the Arts’ “geeks” photography group, Bob would show up and sit as close to the front as he could so he could catch what we were discussing about the bleeding edge of technology for photographers. And he always had a bit of a surprise for us. A new small camera that he’d gotten that took HD video (four yeas ago, that was still a rarity). A new technique for posterization. Who was that masked man?
The image that stays with me the most was when Bob, at 91, taught a class for us. It wasn’t just a class, it was a class on GIMP. What’s GIMP? GIMP is a free open source challenger to Photoshop. It is created and maintained by an amorphous collection of young rebels who want to liberate photographers from the tyranny of corporate software giants. GIMP is powerful, cutting edge and hard to use. And Bob, a 91 year old photographer who could barely hear, couldn’t see too well and needed to leave before dark so he could drive home on his own, taught a group of geeks how to use GIMP.
Over the last few years, Bob realized that he wasn’t going to be doing much more photography or teaching and he started to give some things away. He gave me a memory stick (the appropriateness of that name is clear) with a number of his pictures and the outlines for an introduction to digital photography class he taught in 2008 at Middlesex Community College. When I heard the terrible news of Bob’s passing, I went back and took yet another look at the treasure he gave me, I found Concord Falls, a breathtaking picture which shows not just how Bob saw the world but how he waited for and used the newest tools to accomplish his vision. The picture was taken in 2003 with one of the first competent digital cameras and the final image was created in 2006 with software that had just become available. And, at age 91 he taught us how to use GIMP.
How special was that? How special was Bob? He’ll be missed.
Editor’s Note: Robert Barrett, a long-time resident of Sweetwater Avenue, died on October 30. Click here to read his full obituary.