Robert Pirsig 1927-2017

Dead at 88 years old. One of my heroes, as he wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I read in about 1977. Perhaps you read it too. I didn't understand some of it, but the idea of turning a road trip across America on a motorcycle into to an existential pursuit of self and the meaning of life sure did appeal.

Along with Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and a few others, including Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski and On Photography by Susan Sontag, these books formed a foundation of pursuit, enquiry and aesthetic maturation for me and, I am sure, many others from my generation.

Because of this blog and the need to go back into my creative life and its projects, I am able, for the first time, to see my own development taking place in my work. This is now reflected in the talks and presentations I give and in my writing for the introductions to the series works books we are making.

But Pirsig rocked my world. I remember this wonderful description he gave us of assembling his 4 x 5 view camera, placing it on his tripod and trying to capture the grandeur of the expanse of a Kansas field with 360 degrees of open sky and flowing wheat, then packing it up and riding away with no pictures made, understanding the medium's limitations and his struggle to put his feelings into photographs. 

That story from his book certainly was in my mind as I was making this picture in 2009 in the Palouse in SE Washington.

Apologies for this odd sort of eulogy but I offer it in the spirit of the loss we have suffered in his passing. I owe Mr. Pirsig a debt of gratitude for his generosity in sharing his thoughts and experiences and am thankful for the richness of what he wrote. 

Rest well, Robert Pirsig.

Topics: Books,Commentary,eulogy

Permalink | Posted April 26, 2017

The Responsibility

The responsibility of preserving quality. The responsibility of knowing that people are reading and seeing what you are presenting. The responsibility that some know the projects well, have read about their genesis, progress, culmination, maybe even the ensuing criticism. Not something you want to overtake your thoughts and, to be honest, not on my radar when I began the blog several years ago.

Be careful what you wish for, Neal.

This is what I think. Whatever exposure and success the work has had, it resides in some very small room in a very large house. The end game of the process, this public part of the trajectory of work invented, researched, made and then somehow put out there was never seen by me as something much to think of. Because, to be truthful, for much of my career there was little consequence to my work being shown and seen. So is this because the work is large in importance, deserving recognition? I'd like to think so but this isn't for me to determine. Or is it because my work has been swept along in the increasing ubiquity and importance of photography in general? Probably a little of both.

This is what I know. These days meeting another photographer it's not uncommon to hear them say "oh, I know your work, I read your blog". This freaks me out, for I've poured my heart into the blog, explaining, questioning and wrestling with my work's issues, only to find a complete stranger is coming along with me every step of the way, as though we are partners in these projects. But here is the disconnect, most aren't referencing the work from shows or looking at prints. The blog and perhaps the series on the gallery page are it, all they know of it. While I appreciate their role, it is essentially passive, an audience choosing to read my piece, clicking to something else if I am not holding their attention. It is telling that when I offered to show the actual prints to anyone interested a few months ago, one person took me up on my offer. One person! It has not escaped me that we consume this kind of content on the same type of screen as we do our 337 channels of TV, switching channels after a second or so, searching searching but seldom  fulfilled.

This is what I feel. I have worked hard throughout my career making photographs. It has been my all consuming passion. It still is. But so much has changed around that constant. Traditional models no longer pertain. For instance, photography is no longer a print-based medium. For artists, print-based photographs play a key role for the sheer fact that they are then used as a commodity, something salable, collectable, marketable, purchasable. But most of photography will never be seen in print form.

I will stop here as I've thrown out quite enough. I am now in Baltimore on the last leg of this one week road trip.  This is a driving trip and the car becomes home when you're in it hour after hour, every day. I like cars. What you drive can predispose your reaction to your surroundings on a trip like this, your decision to stop or not stop to photograph, your mood and your outlook on life, even. I am driving a 2016 Audi TTS and it is wonderful; small, reactive, fast and very comfortable. I bought it for its sports car handling and because I like to do track days. I never dreamed it would be a wonderful road trip car. But it is. I've learned that it is simply one of the best cars I've ever owned. 

Postscript: I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago and am only posting it now. I just signed up for a track day in the TTS at Pocono Raceway in PA in early May. I have done many track days on many tracks but never Pocono and never in a car like the Audi. Zoom Zoom.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 20, 2017

Fences and Walls 1979

I have been talking about and showing my series pictures lately in a variety of presentations so they are very much on my mind. While I usually start with the Nantucket pictures made in 1981 (here) there is a series I made earlier that in some ways can serve as a predictor of things to come. It is called "Fences and Walls" and is the topic of this post.

To recap: I finished gradate school at RISD in 1973 and by 1978 I was teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston. By the fall of 1979 I was teaching at Harvard University as well. I made pictures constantly, almost without discrimination, of anything that seemed remotely interesting. I made major photo trips to Europe, to Bermuda (twice), to the American Southwest, and worked locally.

Looking back at that chaotic time, I remember thinking I was out of control, passionate about now being a career teacher and artist but not able to bring clear focus to any coherent presentation or method. One day while in Newport, RI on a photo trip in the early spring I made a discovery. 

I found I was frequently pointing my camera at walls and fences, separators and barriers we use to edge our property or to keep people out and our pets and children in.

This was the beginning, I believe, of my ability to understand what I was making intuitively. 

By combining the new pictures I was making and sifting through pictures I'd made in the past year or so I found a common thread of a preoccupation I'd had that I hadn't been aware of. This was an odd sensation, to find something in my work prevailing that I hadn't seen before and taught me something about the importance of the subliminal and the need to search our own work for answers. It also helped me slow down and look harder at the pictures I had made rather than only shooting and printing at this frantic pace of making but not looking.

The series also split into two other interests, full and empty, as a subset.

If you've followed along with my writing on other series, such as Nantucket, Hershey, Oaksdale, Yountville, Portland, Solothurn (all searchable by name on this blog), you know that we are looking at the series that predates all those others. 

Whether Fences and Walls can really be used as the foundation series of pictures to the subsequent ones will be for better minds than mine to determine.

But I do believe that in my oeuvre of series works, Fences and Walls needs to be counted as a player in the mix. 

One note here: I don't regard Fences and Walls as a contributor to my idea of "narrative" in my work. That wasn't a concept that had coalesced yet. It would take the Nantucket pictures to make that happen, still two years away. 

The full series is now on the site, way down at the bottom of the Gallery page, as it is arranged chronologically from the earliest to the latest.

As always, I welcome your comments:  Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Series,Analog,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 17, 2017

I Love Art

I have a confession: I Love Art.

A blog about how art invigorates, inspires, teaches and can share the very best of humanity.

I am just back from a short road trip with stops overnight in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Lots of driving, some serious rain. I went the other day to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Glass entrance to new a wing, white walls, a city-funded policy of free admission, classes of kids with docents explaining and showing; old art, new art, ancient art, book art, video art, 3D art and, strangely, very little photo art but nevertheless, wonderful, transcendent really.

Hit it right and you can be empowered in the presence of art.  So very much vitality springing off the museum walls, thoughts, passions, ideas, travails and triumphs, history and freshness. Imagine Trump wanting to defund the arts. Clueless. What an asshole. 

Want inspiration? Go look at art. Just the thought that my work is somewhere in this mix, this cauldron of creative expression throughout the ages makes me feel proud, if perhaps humbled too.  You too if you make art, what an esteemed thing to do. 

Back to Baltimore and its museum. Excellent representation of a broad array of art, well displayed and not too teacherly. I took pictures, sorry about no indentifications,

although this one of the columns is by Anne Truitt.

Your day got you down? Are the skies dawning gray and life is hard? Lost your positive outlook, lost that Joie de vivre? Go look at some art.

In yellow, Any Warhol's Last Supper silkscreens.

This last one, these school kids getting being taught about some art making process by the male docent while in the presence of this looming and glowing vibrant red Mark Rothko on the left.  How great is that?

Baltimore Museum of Art... worth going. Looking at art made my day. It will make yours too.

Topics: Commentary,museums

Permalink | Posted April 9, 2017

Short Road Trip

After what seemed like an endless winter that included a sinus infection that lasted forever and three Three Amigos supper parties at the studio that were absolutely wonderful but also a lot of work, several new locally sourced series of photographs, including the big one called Shrink Wrapped, and various other things that kept me local I am back on the road again on a short six day road trip to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Why those? I could get to them in a day or so, didn't know them and they were a little south and inland, meaning it would be warmer and greener this first week of April.

I am having a blast, although looking out my hotel window in downtown Pittsburgh just now it is raining. 

My first leg was to drive all day Monday so as to arrive Tuesday morning at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright's 20th century masterpiece of modern architecture, for a two hour tour. This was wonderful, informative, thorough and allowed photographing. Rain's got to be a player this time of year and, in fact, my Falling Water day it was raining the whole time, which only made it better.

The picture on the left is of Mr. Kaufman senior, the original owner of the house.

I'd seen the house in the late 70's before the new welcoming center was built and the sagging end hanging out over the stream was reconstructed in 2003 with high tension cables imbedded below the living room floor. I learned on this trip that the house is now seen by 181,000 visitors a year!

What a way to kick off spring. Highly recommended but get your reservations in as this is a very popular spot. If you need to get to the area the night before as the long tours are at 8:30 a.m. know that there isn't much of anyplace to stay at nearby. I spent the night before going in Donegal, about 30 minutes away in an undistinguished but adequate Days Inn.

Next, after two nights in Pittsburgh with some sun I am driving to Baltimore today in the rain.

Topics: Road Trip,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted April 6, 2017