The Good and the Bad

Those that self publish books using on demand publishers like Blurb, Asuka and My Publisher should know that one one of them is going out of business. My Publisher has announced they will no longer fill orders after May 6. This is bad news for us as we have made 6 books with them.

I chose My Publisher because they offered a 15 inch book and printed on heavier stock. This was bad in that the books were expensive, usually costing us anywhere from $85 to $100 to have made, but good as the books were gorgeous, certainly of the highest quality of any of the other publishers I had seen.

So, where does that leave us in terms of filling orders for these books? In truth, we don't really know. The company is allowing downloads of the folders that were used to make the books, leaving us with the existing designs and templates to continue with the books. My Publisher has a sister company called Shutter Fly that can be used but they do not make books of the same size.

So, yes, this is bad news. How will this affect sales of my books? Well, it will effectively end them in their current form. Andrea Greitzer, the designer of these books, and I will work to transform the downloads into new  books with the same  titles and content as before, but yes, they will be different books. 

I can see a couple of upsides to this end of My Publisher. One is that in the efforts to make new  books of these photographs of mine we will work to make them less expensive and more modest. For the new series of books we are making now, to date the Oakesdale, Hershey and Yountville books

we have switched printers from Blurb to a local printer with great success. Our costs are less, there are no shipping charges and proofing takes days not weeks. These are very different kinds of books, of course, small, modest and very cheap at $25 each. I will approach the local press, called Ambit Creative, to see about having them take on the bigger books in the future.

One of the advantages of My Publisher was that I needed no inventory. When I got a sale, I would order the book from My Publisher and have it sent directly to the buyer. This usually took about two weeks. In the new small books we are using the proceeds from the sale of one to pay for the printing of the next, as twelve are planned.

Is there profit here, have I made money from the sale of the My Publisher books? No, not really. That was never my intent. I used the books as a marketing tool to get my work seen in an accessible way. What they really were was a repeatable form of portfolio. I have left books behind to represent my work in meetings with curators, for instance. 

A brief story as an example. Anne Tucker is quite simply the most revered and respected curator in the USA, with a career that spans many firsts in her field. She is now retired but was the curator of photography at the Houston Art Museum for many many years. Several years ago I was spending most of the winter on an extended shoot in Yuma and took a day to see the Rothko Chapel in Houston, a few hours drive away. On a whim I called Anne the day before, asking if I could come see her. I had shown her work many years earlier and she had written a recommendation for me for a Guggenheim Fellowship. She said sure and so, after an hour or so at the Chapel,  I went to the museum with nothing other than my Wheat book under my arm.

This would not be a formal presentation, I wasn't trying to get her to acquire my work or show it, I was just coming to see her and show her something of what I'd been up to recently. We had a great time. She was in fine form, enjoying herself    as her graduate student intern joined us and she was telling stories.  She looked at the book, liked the work and chose two photographs she thought would make a good addition to the Museum's collection. Just like that. No prints needed. I was in shock. She had just accepted two of my photographs into a very prestigious museum's collection from a book I'd shown her. When I got home I made the prints she'd chosen and sent them to the museum. Done.

Wondering if I got the Guggenheim Fellowship? I did not.

So, can you order any of the My Publisher books from me before they close up shop? Yes.Take a look at the "Books" heading on my site, email me and I will place the order and have the book(s) sent directly to you. You will need to send me a check before I place the order. You have until the first week in May. My email is: here 

One more thing. I will be at the Griffin Museum this Sunday, March 26 at their Photo Book Fair from 2-4 with copies of all these books to show and to sell.

For more information about My Publisher closing its doors? Go here

Topics: Books

Permalink | Posted March 23, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 3

I thought I had it all packaged, a known methodology, a series virtually completed, the work and manner of making predictable, all planned, really.  Wrong.

First, a day with strong light, wind and blue sky clarity. I thought I'd head out to just see what I could get in the mid to late afternoon, as many of the past shoots had been in the a.m. What I got was a surprise, what turned into big deal instead of just an afternoons' diversion. Not so much what was in front of me but in how much my thinking had changed, being so all consumed with the thoughts and feelings of this new series. This is obsession, of course, and it is often what we seek but comes with its own penalties too. Last time I shot on the Shrink Wrapped project had been ten days before these. It's as though my mind worked the problem over and over, took me through possibilities and iterations, allowed me to arrive along a path without even making pictures in the various versions, then took me to here, someplace else. This make any sense? Because I am in a very different place now having made these recently.

As I said, someplace different now.  This is new, this phase, and this is the part where I don't know where this comes from as these are from a far more subliminal place.  I feel like a passenger along for the ride.  This is good but a little like vertigo as I am not sure quite where I stand.  On the other hand, this heady feeling I have about these pictures means that I am no longer bogged down with some sort of base, some sort of foundation upon which the pictures reside. Oh no, not at all. So, faced with this new what I did a few days later was to is head up to Maine to find more and, as it turns out, very different boatyards with shrink wrapped boats.

Imagine allowing yourself the permission to strike out on very new ground. Granting yourself the luxury of thought in something new and unknown, taking a leap to jump ahead several steps in some sort of trajectory, a progression to some place quite simply, new. Progress forward without restraint.This bears some relationship to how you define your earlier work, of course. One of my teachers said that it all exists as a continuum, your early work compared to your latest. Easy to diminish the earlier and place the latest on a pedestal as you like to think you know so much more now. But it is all your work, the older and the new, and so as valid and relevant as anything you've done. This is not easy as you really can't negate the time it takes to get here. This is simply paying your dues, putting the time in. But this can be something very new. Giving yourself the permission to take the leap. You want to jump ahead, don't you? You're impatient to be there. In one sense you can do that through study and looking hard but in another perhaps not, no substitute for time in. I think of this as arriving at simplicity, something a younger or less experienced artist might not see as he/she is looking for significance and "meaning". Well, by pushing for that you may find it inaccessible. 

Remember when we started out on this shrink wrapped journey I said that I wanted to delve into the anatomy of a project? Well, we are know in the evolution of the anatomy. 

We will have one more blog next about these stupid shrink wrapped boats (yes, this has become a love/hate relationship). The last one, I hope. Why? Because I did go up to Maine on what turned out to be just one day instead of several. One day because it started to rain which effectively shut me down. Where I found truly epic coastal fog as snow melted and the temp was in the 60's. Where I found whole new kinds of wrapped things I'd never dreamed of. Where the sky and the plastic all melted into one, like being inside a ping pong ball. 

Want to put a little mystery into what you shoot? Wrap it.

Next up: Shrink Wrapped 4.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast,where I live

Permalink | Posted March 21, 2017

INFRARED

1976. I know, another century, way before you were born, archaic pictures from a different time, totally irrelevant to present day photography. Well, you don't have to read this but that's where I am going, showing  you some work I made then. In the mid 70's I had started teaching at the New England School of Photography (NESOP) in Boston and was shooting a lot of 35mm, in earlier days with a Nikon and then a little later a Leica M4. Most summers I spent some time with my folks at Martha's Vineyard where the family home is. Going to the beach I'd bring a camera. We had access to a private beach on the South Shore called Squibnocket in those days. On long afternoons in the hot summer sun I would wander off and explore with a camera loaded with Kodak black and white infrared film and a 25A three stop red filter on the front of a wide angle lens. This below is typical of the kind of picture I'd make, hanging the camera around my neck and setting it on a self timer, my hands sliding into the frame, a desire to interact with what was in front of me, to play a part in the picture:

Way back there as two dots on the water are a pair of swans. This was taken after walking back from the shore and the surf to a private inland pond. I made many more like these in those years, not really knowing why, not able to verbalize well what the motive was, more of a feeling than a thought. I wasn't alone, others were making more personal pictures, extending photography to areas not seen before, putting themselves in the frame. Occasionally I still do this. These from Iceland a few years ago:

I believe this way of working affirms a belief in the medium's inherent malleability, in its capability of being almost anything visual, looking like what is in front of the lens, looking nothing like the reality at all.

At any rate, bringing it back to infrared in the 70's, I had started photographing foliage in the spring and summer with the film, knowing it reacted to the chlorophyll in the foliage, rendering it light, while making blue skies go dark.

These are from Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA near where I live. Mt Auburn has been a source of many of my pictures over the years. These and more I used for a grant application in 1978, which I did not receive.

I wanted to exert controls over the pictures then that would alter the images, make them in strong color (chemically toned black and white prints), using a wide lens (in this case the 21 Summicron lens on a Leica), and making them as big as I could get away with, 16 x 20 inches.

Eventually I found my hands slipping into cemetery pictures locally and as I travelled. These never became a fixed set, just an amalgam of pictures from different locations.

I don't have a strong background in religion and am not religious now. But not believing in a fixed religion doesn't mean you don't have a sense of purpose or that you aren't spiritual in some way. I think of these pictures as speaking to a connection, to empathy for others and a desire to connect on a level that is sympathetic. I've never shown them, until now.

I can cite two friends as influences: Jane Tuckerman, who has worked in infrared her whole career and who was a colleague of mine at Harvard, and Peter Laytin, who first exposed me to infrared and its possibilities. Thanks to you both.

After these I moved on to photograph using infrared at the concentration camp Dachau, in Germany. Let me know if you'd like to see those. 

Topics: infrared,US,Europe,vintage,Black and White,70's

Permalink | Posted March 14, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Color,Wheat,Dunes,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 1

Project: photographs made into a portfolio, a show or a book. A project can be made quickly; over an hour, a month, a year, years, or even a whole career. 

In my own work I've made projects or series in a few hours, walking around a place photographing. But there also are ones that took longer, a few months or a few years. My work called Wheat is a project I started in 1996 and continues still, 21 years later. 

A new winter project, begun in December, has taken longer than I thought it would and now  fits into the "several months" category. I am in the phase now where I can see that this project called ShrinkWrapped will end soon. 

This blog and the next are going to be about the anatomy of a project, an effort to get inside the creative process, in this case mine, as it unfolds to make a new body of work. I am sharing with you what has and is happening as it takes place. I will try not to make strong value judgments, and urge you not to as well, as that is not the issue. You and I will be a passenger on this ride as I work through a new body of photographs, what transpires through these projects I make. Perhaps we can find a few things in here we have in common. I hope so.

Let's go through the progression. If you look at the Wheat pictures on my site, or Salt Lake, or Kudzu or the Dunes pictures from 2012 and 2013 you can see a prevalence of abstraction of form, of decontextualizing.  With the project I am working on now, I had  felt for a while that photographs of plastic wrapped boats in storage for the winter months might be worthwhile. I didn't know, of course, as  I hadn't pointed a camera at them yet. This is the phase of a project that is just thoughts, wondering, questioning, supposing, but not knowing. Of course, many ideas for projects never get farther than that. This is standard teacher to student stuff as well. This "epiphany" students would have, where they thought they'd come up with a great idea.They would show up at my office all excited to tell me about this great group of pictures they were going to make. I'd listen to their idea, this brilliant plan they had and then ask, "Do you have any pictures to show me?" They would answer, "Well no, not yet but I..." I would then kick them out of my office saying go make some pictures and show me next week. Ideas are cheap, but a physical thing, taking an idea and actualizing it into some pictures? Priceless.

So, I took a day in January. It was cold but not brutal. I drove to Gloucester on the North Shore, about an hour away. I needed a boat yard, one that stored shrink wrapped boats in the winter. I don't know much about boats as they are not part of my world. But I found a boat yard, filled with boats covered in plastic, and asked at the front desk for permission to photograph. I was taken to see the manager who said yes without a second thought. No questions asked. Perfect. I went back to the car thinking logistics: what lens? iso? tripod? aperture? access? exposure? background? There are always questions at this stage. I made some decisions, loaded up and headed out, looking. Made my first picture...

which ended up being the portfolio's title page. A kind of survey to what was contained inside, an overview only, there just to place us in a boat yard.

This phase, this exploratory thing we do, probing, wandering, not knowing what's around the corner, what's next, with no clue what we're doing yet, taking a picture, questioning how it's going to turn out or what it will look like, is always a special time. Are we on the brink of some major discovery? Some way of making photographs that is new and fresh? Or is what is there nothing, nothing that holds attention or that somehow it is all wrong? Return another time?  A different day? On your next trip? Or perhaps it came across as a bad idea poorly executed? It is humbling, really, how easy it is to make bad pictures or the inverse, how impossible it is to make really good ones.

But here in this boat yard in Gloucester that day it seemed fine to me, particularly as this was the first day. I found I was pointing up a lot, being on the ground with these boats way high up in the air, sitting there held up by cradles. Let's be clear  this is not a "boats" project. I didn't care much about their hulls, exposed as they were but the white shrink wrapped plastic installed from just below their decks all the way up through to the tops of their wheel houses were something else. Through the camera, in isolation, they looked like snow covered mountains to me.   Some of the pictures I made that day:  

Shapes and form.  For the most part I am not very interested in where they are, these huge things sitting heavy on the ground. But they do seem to fly or take on blimp-like form when put up against the sky. This was getting interesting.

I also took a few minutes to watch a crew unrolling sheet plastic, draping it over a boat, trimming it and then hitting it with a gas powered heat gun to shrink it tight around the form of the boat.

Then I made a discovery. If I walked between the boats, many pressed up against each other in places, this world became one of white on white, a blizzard of shrink wrapped white plastic stretched around the shape of the boats. Most odd and quite wonderful:


Now I was getting somewhere.  I seem to have a pervasive need to abstract things, to isolate and take out of context. This was the engine that drove what I did that day in Gloucester, to get right up in these shapes, to take them out of their surroundings, the function of protecting the boats, this practical requirement to wrap these costly things with sheets of white plastic. 

What a pleasure.

I left that day knowing now that I had a hold of something, excited at what I would find when I opened up these files back home.

I also left that day with many questions. Had I started and finished a project? Or maybe just begun? Had I done well, or was my approach wrong or misguided? It is something if you think about it, this illusive thing we deal with, this effort to make art, some of us throughout our whole careers. After all this time, all these years of working weekly and daily, looking through a lens on the world, that we still don't know what will come out, what might surprise us, what will last and what won't. It is sobering to find that we know so little.

Coming up next, Shrink Wrapped 2, as I find I am not done at all, as I learn getting above the boats isn't what I thought it would be, as I learn that it is challenging to shoot white on white, where I find transparency, as things get very strange indeed and where I find substance in pragmatic forms.

Stay tuned.

Note: As Shrink Wrapped isn't finished yet I haven't placed the series on the website yet.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2017