Local Boy Makes Good
Aaron Helfand Photography at Historic Northampton
By Edward Shanahan
It is not hard to bump into Aaron Helfand if you are only mildly active in the civic life of Northampton.
When I was serving on the Northampton Tree Committee some years back, it was not uncommon for him, even as a student at Williams College, to sit through tedious meetings in order to eventually talk enthusiastically about his idea for planting a handful of disease resistant elm saplings in an experimental attempt to begin to replace those dozens majestic elms that had been lost over time.
And given his measured and informed presentation, it instantly seemed sound to go along with whatever Aaron thought was a good idea. Presto, he won approval for his plan and the equally fast he saw that the trees were in the ground.
More recently, he was part of a team of University of Notre Dame School of Architecture students who spent most of last year’s winter and spring term studying the history, current condition, and proposed future development of the Northampton urban environment. Hearings were held, detailed presentations and analyses were offered. And those privileged to sit in on the presentations were bowled over the historical insight, technical knowledge and bold vision of the assembled architecture students.
Helfand, who is 26, and grew up in Northampton, seemed to be first among equals on the collegiate team, largely due to his quiet knowledge, and his ability to speak clearly and with confidence. But also, as this is his hometown, it was evident that he had a much deeper understanding of the community, past, present, and, he hoped, its future. Aaron Helfand at Historic Northampton exhibition opening
Entitled “New England Architecture,” the exhibit consists of more than a score of crisp color photographs of various architectural styles from locations throughout the New England region, including some close to home in Deerfield and Hatfield. My personal favorites were an autumn view of a stark white fence at an historic Bennington, Vermont, cemetery where Robert Frost is buried, as well as an unusual view of a Federal style Unitarian church in Providence. The exhibit will run through March 2010.
At the Nov. 8 opening, Aaron was on hand to explain the photography techniques (digital camera/photo shop tweaking) involved in his handsome images. He also patiently answered a range of questions about his views of contemporary architecture, the state of public building, and what constituted the key differences between historic buildings and what gets built today, in both the public and private sector. Durability, design, craftsmanship and commitment to overall quality were high on his list.
These days, Aaron Helfand is working for a firm in Boston specializing in residential design.
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