A torn open briefcase, a weathered sign that reads, “Out,” images of a demolished hotel, and only one portrait, an aging man behind a desk, looking out a window, in high contrast, black and white, these are a few of the photos Laura Montgomery took as a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The Archives preserves her photography project, “Vanishing Boston,” in a cool concrete room on the fifth floor of the Healey Library. The 63 pieces offer a survey of dilapidation in Boston, showcasing the effects of aging in crisp focus and with special attention to the angles and shadows of the scenes she's captured.
After graduation, Montgomery pursued a career in the arts. She has been involved in art displays all around Boston.
Montgomery specializes in fine art photography & history and Boston-area African American & Diaspora artists. Right now she works as the Art Gallery Director of the Mary L. Fifield Art Gallery at Bunker Hill Community College.
“I’m a creative economy, higher education sector public servant,” she said. “I received solid training in public service and the arts at UMB.”
Montgomery is also an Adjunct Professor of Art History in the BHCC Visual and Media Arts Department and has taught a variety of arts and media courses at colleges in the Boston area.
She looks back fondly on her days as a student at UMass Boston.
“I’ll never forget being on the last shuttle, then the last train, and then the last green line trolley and having to walk two miles up Commonwealth Ave. from Kenmore Square to get home in the Blizzard of 1978! And who would forget hearing Teddy Kennedy speak on campus!”
Montgomery started taking classes part time in 1977 with the quasi-intention of being a psychology major.
“So many of my classes were damn good. From each I learned and benefitted tremendously. With the low cost and luxury to take classes for the sake of learning—as opposed to the high-stakes educational costs and constraints faced by students today—the need to get into career tracts early.”
She enrolled in an eclectic array of courses from African Civilization to Communications and Media and Cinema Studies, to Botany and Nutrition. Between classes, she got involved in the arts on campus. She volunteered in the Harbor Art Gallery, and later got a work-study position there.
“I left UMass Boston with so much more than I arrived with,” she says. “Chiefly, I left with a mindset to continue and think of myself as a perennial student, a life-long learner, and for this I have always been grateful.”
Shortly after starting classes, she joined the Women’s Center, eventually becoming its student director, where she began to program feminist arts and cultural events. With encouragement from friends she ran and won the chair of Registered Student Organizations.
“I ran my campaign on roller skates with my slogan—Vote Montgomery: She wants to Keeps the Works Rolling Smoothly at UMB!”
Montgomery also worked at the Mass Media and the campus magazine, Wavelength, as an editor. She liked to have a base of operation. In her first year, she spent a lot of time in the Women’s Center, and shot pool with students at the Veterans Center. Then she began to spend a lot of time in Student Activities, and later at the Mass Media, Wavelength, and Point Press offices and darkroom.
“The Ryan Lounge was always a nice space and I did a lot of tutoring and mentoring in that area, enjoying the view of the Blue Hills,” she says. “I shot photographs from one end of that campus to the other, but not nearly as many as Harry Brett!”
When she was on the Student Activities Committee, she helped create a campus pub.
“We actually had a student-run pub on campus,” she says. “Originally serving beer and wine, and later as I recall, some pretty good vegetarian food. Can you imagine beer and wine on campus mid-afternoon? There were some fantastic BEER BLASTS. Yes, we called them BEER BLASTS, held in the Wheatley Cafeteria and out on the fields. Big fun, good times, and no one got hurt, although I recall an unfortunate incident with a piano.”
She returns to campus occasionally for events, and attended the 2014 UMass Boston Commencement with two of her former students, Linda Cheng and Jessica Clarke, who were graduating.
“It was a splendid day, a really grand event. I hadn’t been to a UMB commencement since my own in 1982. It revived many memories, good times, and an enormous sense of pride seeing so many students moving-on, much like myself some 30-odd-years ago, into a new phase of their life’s journey.
She attended Professor Paul Tucker’s retirement on campus just after commencement and had kept in touch with him over the years, enjoying his public art program, “Arts on the Point,” immensely.
Montgomery goes on to name paragraphs of people from UMass Boston who influenced her.
“Who could forget the campus poet laureate Duncan Nelson,” she says. “Really bright, very talented people, all adding to the great mix that was UMB back in the late 70ies and early 80ies. Students just out of high school from Mass. suburbs, like myself, who were the first in their families to go to college, adult- returning-students, (as they were called, but the average age of a UMB student then was 26), single moms, Vietnam-era veterans, inner-city students from every Boston neighborhood, and a world-wide international cohort.”
“It’s an exciting time for the campus built upon a former garbage dump that got a bum-deal on much of the scandalous original construction,” she says. “My hope is for the Boston campus to continue to grow and evolve on the bedrock that has been its first 50 years. I want to be able to continue to be connected with what has always felt like home and proudly say I went to UMass Boston; and it was the single best investment that I made in myself because in doing so I found myself, and the returns have been great.”