The photographer and owner of Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession talks about “Moonlight in the Gates: 150 Years of Lake View Cemetery in a New Reflective Light.” The exhibition opens from 5 to 8 p.m. July 23 at the Cleveland Heights gallery and will remain on view through Aug. 31. Related outdoor works will be on display throughout Lake View Cemetery from July 22 through fall 2020.

What can visitors look forward to from “Moonlight in the Gates: 150 Years of Lake View Cemetery in a New Reflective Light”?

Simply put, the intrigue of historic Lake View Cemetery by moonlight. Really, here’s the recipe: Take a 200-acre, 150-year-old unlit cemetery. Put an artist inside its locked gates at night by moonlight in all different seasons and conditions and you come up with a wholly new, creative interpretation of a rather well-known place. “Moonlight in the Gates” is an unfamiliar view of the familiar. Many people in Cleveland know Lake View Cemetery — its gorgeous rolling acres, its famous gravesites and monuments, and its personal spaces where family members are buried — but few people have seen it like I have.

“Badram 08-27-18 02:56 79°” ©Michael Weil 2019

In addition to what’s on view at your gallery, there’s a component at Lake View Cemetery itself. Will you elaborate on that?

When I began this project, I was doing it for personal, artistic reasons. By the second full moon visit, I realized this was something special, and I shared some images with (president and CEO) Kathy Goss at Lake View. We decided these images should become a unique component of the cemetery’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2019-20. So, we worked out a way to display large prints outside in various locations throughout the cemetery for a year beginning this week (July 22). Now, visitors will have a chance to see my moonlight images in situ, so to speak — in the location where they were made.

What inspired this artistic pursuit and how long had it been in the works?

As a child, my father took my siblings and me to Lake View to visit the gravesite of his father and mother. Our family connection grew when my father-in-law was buried there in 2004. My wife and I walked there regularly with our children at different times of year. I began to wonder what this massive, eclectically ornamented garden cemetery would look like in moonlight. Would it be scary, captivating, alive, quiet, inspiring? I’ve long loved great works of art made by the inspiration of the night and the moon (particularly photographs by Edward Steichen and Bill Brandt, paintings by Ryder and Blakelock, Greek vase painters — pretty much every artist lassos the moon at some point). After our younger son, Josh, passed away and his grave was placed next to his grandfather’s, our visits to Lake View took on a whole new meaning. Again, too, when my father passed away in 2015. My son Josh knew about my interest in photographing the cemetery at night — he thought I was crazy. I just couldn’t let go of the idea. After some cajoling and persistence, I was given the key to the gates on Jan. 2, 2018.

What was it like to spend nights locked inside Lake View Cemetery?

Well, let’s see. I’d lock those massive gates behind me then head into 200 acres of unlit gravestones, monuments and crypts, massive trees, and sloping hillsides. There was darkness infused with strange noises, creaking branches, swaying shadows, owls whizzing by — and not a person in site. In other words, completely and totally alluring. I watched the moon highlight the back of the Haserot Angel, and then from the Garfield Memorial porch, I watched it set into the Cleveland skyline. I experienced a midnight snowstorm that blanketed the west side of every monument and tree. I listened to coyotes remove the night’s silence with their otherworldly chorus. You know, Edward Hopper once said that all he wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house. I was able to photograph moonlight on the side of Wade Chapel. Priceless. 

“What Can Be Seen at Night 09-24-18 02:45 57°” ©Michael Weil 2019

Was there a particular night or particular scenario that stands out above the rest and was captured in one of your photos? If so, what was it?

The second full moon in January beckoned on a cold, clear night. When I made my way to the upper portion of the cemetery, I looked out beyond the Wade Monument in Section 3 and saw what appeared to be a rainbow in the sky, at midnight! I was dumbfounded. Sure enough, there in the southwestern sky was a spectrum of colors hovering above the trees in front of a midnight blue sky. Was this the northern lights in Cleveland? I think I let out a profanity of joy. Actually, as I stared at this meteorological phenomenon, it began to disappear. I literally was holding two tripods and two cameras at my sides as this spectral evening cloud of color was vanishing. Fortunately, I got my head together and set up the cameras. This was not the most moving artistic experience in the cemetery but it was the most phenomenal, otherworldly one. I thanked Josh for it. The next day, I contacted the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for an explanation. We never did resolve exactly what it was I saw that night. CV

Lead image: “Black Moon Light 02-28-18 03:55 50°” ©Michael Weil 2019

Michael Weil at his “Prinstagrams” show in Cleveland Heights. Photo | Carlo Wolff

Photographer Weil phones in fresh visions

By Carlo Wolff

The south shore of Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo | Michael Weil

The south shore of Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo | Michael Weil

More than 100 “printstagrams” pop off the walls at Foothill Galleries, Michael Weil’s showcase in the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.

Hung like drying prints, they document the Weil family travels, purveying images as disparate as a friend trumpeting joy from his Cadillac convertible the detail in a Dutch master painting, riotously gory fish innards, kids playing in historic places. The printstagrams sell for $65 each.

There is no apparent rhyme or reason to this show, which is very different from “Rend,” Weil’s 2015 Foothill debut. That honored his son, Josh, who with Josh’s friend Alexander Doody, lost his life in a car accident in May 2015.

While “Printstagrams” speaks to the Weil curiosity, it also expresses the joy Weil, an adjunct professor of art at the Cleveland Institute of Art and a historian of photography, takes in using a ubiquitous and increasingly versatile device: the cellphone.

Armed (or is it pocketed?) with an iPhone 6 and a Galaxy S6, Weil took these pictures all over the world, then printed them on archival paper with enough cotton content to give the curved hangings a kind of bisque-like quality. These prints, in editions of 250, sell for $65 each.

While their capture seems evanescent, the prints feel solid, permanent. They attest to the power and precision of the cameras inside the latest cellphones and to Instagram, the wildly popular mobile phone app that enabled Weil to customize his images, lending some a hint of patina, bordering others, tinting yet more.

Instagram is said to have more than 500 million users a month.

Two boys at El Escorial, Madrid. Photo | Michael Weil

Two boys at El Escorial, Madrid. Photo | Michael Weil

Encouraged by Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art, following his participation in the 2012 CMA exhibit, “DIY: Photography & Books,” Weil began to take more and more cellphone photos, keeping up with technological improvements in cellphone cameras and in the Instagram app.

“The message here is that the cellphone camera is something we have wherever we are,” Weil said. “We have it with us so there are endless image possibilities wherever we are.”

That portability “technically gives us a high-end, really well-performing camera in real time,” said Weil, who attends Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “The term, ‘point and shoot,’ existed already, ever since the Brownie camera. But the cellphone has made it pocket-size and totally portable. You don’t have to have a strap around your neck or a tripod with you.”

While the cellphone doesn’t replace a high-end camera, “what I’ve been enamored of is the way Instagram allows us this portable darkroom through which we can process images on the go.”

People share pictures all the time through social media, and cameras have become communications devices, Weil said. Where kids used to write voluminous letters from camp and drop a picture or two into the envelope, it’s the reverse today, as words increasingly take a back seat to images.

He said he agrees with a classic photographer like Alfred Stieglitz, who didn’t believe the photograph was a complete work of art until printed, matted and framed. At the same time, he considers these “printstagrams” art.

“I really want this to be something that kids come to, young adults, people who are using this Instagram program,” said Weil of his show, adding he may give classes on the app. “As a photographer and artist and photo historian, to me, always the print is paramount. It is so great to be able to share images digitally; I love that, I love I can see what my son is up to, or that my mother can send me a picture of her with her dog. But that is not an art form, but a form of communications. I still want to see the print. This show has given me the opportunity to turn the Instagram app into fine art.”

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Dec. 20, 2016.

Lead image: Michael Weil at his “Prinstagrams” show in Cleveland Heights.  Photo | Carlo Wolff


Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil

Grieving father creates exhibit at Cleveland Heights gallery as eulogy for son, best friend

By Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

There is damage. There is numbness, shock. There are wounds that tell you you’re alive, that even keep you alive. And there are wounds that cannot heal, grief so deep it becomes a thirst that cannot be slaked.

Then, too, there is tranquility, in an image so beautiful it hurts, like “Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations,” a photograph Michael Weil took of his son, Josh, on a lake in the Adirondacks. It’s almost gauzy, its core an impression of Josh in his canoe fading into the dawn mist. Josh is actually on his way into the deepest recesses of his family’s heart.

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

Josh Weil and his friend, Alexander Doody, were killed in an automobile crash May 14, 2015. They were seniors at Hawken School in Chester Township. A benefit in their memory is planned for May 28 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Cleveland. All proceeds from the event, set for 4 to 11 p.m., will go to the Catch Meaning Fund at the Cleveland Foundation.

Michael Weil, his wife, Meredith, and Sam, their other son, came up with the notion of “catch meaning” to emphasize the importance of squeezing all the juice out of every living moment, as Josh did.

“The meaning of (my) life is to help others find the meaning of theirs,” Weil said, citing Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a book in which Josh was interested.

For now, there’s “Rend,” Weil’s memorial to his youngest boy.

An adjunct professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Weil has been taking photographs for years. His tools are a Canon with Leica lenses. His pictures in “Rend” have heft — literally. Because they’re printed on cloth, they’re three-dimensional.

Little did Weil know his public debut would be a eulogy for Josh and Alex, his best friend.

“Beyond” is one of 18 images Weil assembled for his moving debut at his own space, Foothill Galleries. That picture, the very distillation of loss, may be the most personal in this gorgeous and resonant display.

“Rend” is a photographic cache of varying tonalities that is both profoundly inviting and profoundly sad. See where the family went, from Iceland to Israel, from Canada to California. There are images of the Grand Canyon, Masada, the Colosseum, Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert. The photographs, each uniquely torn, speak of emblematic places. They also carry on the unfinished business of the heart.

Weil effectively prepared for “Rend” by reading Leon Wieseltier’s book, “Kaddish,” a meditation on how Wieseltier grieved his father’s death. “I’ve been trying to say kaddish daily for the past nine months,” Weil said in a March 1 interview, “and it became a very powerful concept, the idea of rending as an expression of grief.”

“A rend is a physical expression of grief, like a tear meant both ways,” reads part of Weil’s opening statement on the entrance wall at Foothill. “Jacob rent his clothes, so too did Job. These 18 images are torn because our memory and hope of being here with Josh is torn. Eighteen for his life and his holiness and his steps beside us among these hills, rocks, spires, dunes, trees, walls, and waters.”

“I don’t know if the notion of healing is realistic in this regard,” Weil said at his gallery, which opened Feb. 11. He spoke of the myth of Prometheus, a figure in Greek mythology who comes to view the eagle that gnaws at his liver daily as his only companion. Since Josh died, there’s been a lot of gallows humor in Weil’s life, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to be healed.

Losing a child is the “worst imaginable thing anybody ever has to get through,” said Weil, an art historian who has turned sorrow indelible. CV

On View

WHAT: “Rend”

WHERE: Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession, 2460 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights

WHEN: Through May

INFO: Call 216-287-3064 or visit


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 17, 2016.

Lead image: Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil