CAMBRIDGE — Until a year ago, it would have been hard to imagine Greig Cranna’s involvement with photography getting any fuller. “I’ve loved it from the first time I started looking at Popular Photography magazine,” he said over lunch last month. “I was 14.”
Then in February 2018 a 415-square-foot commercial space near his North Cambridge home became available.
Cranna, 68, had spent 40 years doing work as a commercial photographer. A past president of the American Society of Picture Professionals, he’d photographed Jimmy Carter for the Council on Foreign Relations, Labrador rivers for the Atlantic Salmon Foundation, Lipizzaner horses in Hungary for an international environmental congress. He’d even passed on the bug to his daughter. Molly Cranna is a photographer based in Los Angeles. “Now I call her for technical advice,” her father said.
Connoisseur as well as practitioner, Cranna also collects photographs. “I still love having a camera in my hand,” he said. “But I love looking at photography.” Arnold Newman’s celebrated 1946 portrait of Igor Stravinsky holds pride of place in his collection. “I stand in front of it and look at it every day,” Cranna said. “Keep that mojo, you know?”
Mojo can take many forms. Photography as vocation and avocation came together for Cranna in a new and unexpected way 15 months ago when he signed a lease for the small storefront midway between Porter and Davis squares. Thus was Bridge Gallery born.
The name has a double significance for Cranna, and the sign on the exterior is pretty significant, too. For several years, he’s been shooting bridges all over the world, a project that started when, on assignment in Argentina, he unexpectedly encountered a Santiago Calatrava span. After Labor Day, he plans to mount a show of his bridge photos.
The second meaning is much closer to home. “Originally,” Cranna said, “I was going to call the place Hang: because people could hang out and [it’s] where I’d hang stuff. But my wife said, ‘Ugh, that’s a horrible name. But ‘Bridge’ rolls off the tongue.’ It really does. Then it became more of a concept of a bridge to the community.”
Cranna said that concept has proven a success. “The neighbors love the place. People drop in with their kids. It’s a nice place for kids; they can do cartwheels while I’m talking with their parents. I like the fact when I walk down the street after locking that door I wave to 10 people before I get to my house.”
The first show, last fall, featured Cranna’s work. The second show, last winter, consisted of prints from glass-plate negatives. “Collectors Show: A Choice Selection From Local Collectors” opened earlier this month. It runs through May 11.
It’s an unusual show. First, it’s of unusually high quality. The two dozen photographs include works by André Kertész, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Sebastião Salgado, Robert Doisneau (six by him). The list goes on. A second reason is that each photograph is from a different local collector, a testament to Cranna’s powers of persuasion. “I managed to cajole and wheedle,” he said at the show’s opening, on April 13.
Matthew Carter, standing next to Cranna, nodded in smiling agreement. “Greig, as you can see, is very social. He’s not a shrinking violet.” Carter, the legendary typographer, lives near the gallery and has known Cranna since the ’80s.
“I’m a hustler by nature,” Cranna laughed, “or at least a schemer.”
Carter nodded again. “How else are you going to do something like this if you can’t leverage it?”
He spoke from Cranna-leveraged experience. Carter designed a font for the sign on the Bridge Gallery exterior. Having Carter, the creator of such fonts as Verdana, Georgia, and Tahoma, do a font for you is like having Martin Scorsese shoot your wedding video. “Well, you don’t often get a commission where it’s carte-blanche,” he joked.
“I like to tell people good design releases endorphins,” Cranna said.
A trim, vigorous man, Cranna looks a decade or more younger than his actual age. He has led a not-trim, decidedly vigorous life. Born in Vancouver, he moved with his family to Montreal, then New Jersey (his father, a physicist, worked for Bell Labs). The Crannas eventually ended up in Acton. “Couldn’t wait to get out of town,” Cranna says. Before doing so, he spent a lot of time in the Acton-Boxborough High School darkroom.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Cranna bounced around Western Massachusetts, then Alaska, then Europe, before ending up in New York City in 1976. He needed to earn a living (dreams of graduate work in ornithology had failed to take flight). Cranna’s darkroom days came to the rescue: He got a job in a Manhattan photo lab. Soon enough, he was saying, “‘I’m as good as most of the stuff I see coming in the door. I’m going to quit my job and become a photographer.’ There was no Plan B. That was it.” Three years later he met his future wife. They moved to Cambridge in 1982.
Cranna’s lease on the Bridge Gallery space is for three years. ““I’m still trying to figure out how this fits in my professional life,” he said at lunch. “The worst-case scenario is I’m going to burn X number of dollars over the next three years, and I’m prepared to do that.”
In July, he plans to mount a show of photographs from Lou Jones’s panAFRICAproject. There’s that show after Labor Day of his own bridge photographs. The one other show he’s sure of will be up around Mother’s Day next year. It will be drawn from portraits that Cranna and his daughter have been taking for the past four years for the Boston nonprofit Victory Programs of homeless single mothers and their children.
“In my own mind, I called it the Self-Esteem Project,” Cranna said. “I don’t know if it changes their life, but it changes that 15 minutes of their life. For 15 minutres or half an hour they feel pretty darn good about themselves. And we make them look dynamite: no tricks, no Photoshopping, just treating them like human beings.”
That still leaves room for several more shows before Cranna’s lease is up — as well as lectures and maybe music and some other things he has in mind. He admits still feeling the occasional attack of nerves. “I wake up some mornings thinking I’m on a fool’s errand. It’s such a rollercoaster.” They’re the exception, though.
“I just came back from shooting agriculture out in California,” Cranna said. “But I know that my days are numbered, and this seemed like a perfect way to stay engaged in the world of photography. . . . It’s just been such a huge piece of my life, and I’m not prepared to give it up. This became a way to segue — same act, just a different scene: Act I, Scene 2.”
COLLECTORS SHOW: A Choice Selection of Photographs From Local Collectors” through May 11
At Bridge Gallery, 5 Pemberton St., Cambridge, open Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays, noon-5 p.m., Tuesdays 4 p.m.-7 p.m. 617-930-3418, www.bridge.photos
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.