Topic: Analog (25 posts) Page 2 of 5

Chaco Canyon

Note: the blog is going to take a look at several series works I made in the late 90's and early 2000's that haven't been on the site before.  I stopped working this way in 1984 and then took it up again in 1996. 

Chaco Canyon. Ever been? Know where and what it is? Chaco Canyon is Anasazi Indian ruins about a 3 1/2 hours drive due west from Santa Fe, NM. It is is what is left of a large complex of dwellings abandoned by the Anasazi Indians as they retreated for unknown reasons in about the twelfth century. They were thriving, building, farming and then they were gone by the end of the twelfth century. A real mystery. Theories abound with the most plausible being a drought that forced the tribe to head north, to become nomadic after more than 500 years in this one valley. 

I've been many times and have even spent the night there, sleeping under the stars. Made pictures there too. 

My series starts off with this one of the large great house called Chetro Ketl, but quickly leaves it as I headed up a trail that carves through the cliff face to arrive at the top looking out on the canyon below and the plateau above it.

Petroglyphs are common here.

Chaco Canyon is strikingly beatuful, accessed by traveling on a dirt road that closes when it rains, hidden away in a valley on a plateau in the desert. It's a mysterious place, filled with ghosts of a time long  gone, of a vibrant community and highly civilized society that simply left and vanished.

Let me provide some context. I made the Chaco Canyon series in 1998. This series came a couple of years after I made the Portland, Maine series (here) and a year after the Oakeksdale Cemetery one in 1997 (here). I was back in the business of making series work after a spell of 12 years or so. I'd concentrated during those years on working in 8 x 10.  That work was far more incidental (individual photographs intended to stand on their own as opposed to sequenced and ordered bodies of work). This was a very prolific time for me as the Oakesdale Cemetery series introduced me to many new ways of making pictures in sequence. My idea behind what the narrative form was also changed during this time. I was seeking now to expand an understanding of a place into many pictures but also to be more directorial as well. Chaco Canyon conforms both to earlier ways of putting pictures next to pictures but also extends it by being a highly specific and intentional journey that was mine alone.

The full Chaco Canyon series is on the site: here


The series concludes with this picture above, carved into the rock floor of the cliff  above the Anasazi dwellings. I was photographing here on a far more subliminal level, trying to convey a sense of a past civilization and a collective intelligence that was staggering. Imagine leaving the home you grew up in but also the whole city around you leaving too.

For me the concept is to imbue my pictures with something of, yes, the place where we are, but also of our perception and emotional reaction to where we are. This is what is missing from so very much of the landscape work we see on line these days. I've written before about "special places", where we find some visceral and personal connection to some place where we are, whether it is something like Chaco Canyon, or something closer and more privately held.

I urge you, if interested, to come to  555 Gallery in Boston to see the prints.

As always, I am very appreciative of your taking the time to look at my work and to read my thoughts about it.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Southwest,Analog,Landscape

Permalink | Posted October 7, 2016

Newtown, CT 3

This is the last in a three part essay on the series called Newtown, CT, a portfolio of photographs I made in 1998.

In Newtown 2 (here), the last picture we looked at was this.

It is a transition or hinge picture in that it is used to get us to the next one, or two really. Before we go there I need to write about the structure as it becomes important as we move on to the next them. Its make up is that it is three horizontal bands, the pavement, the building and the sky one. Yes, it is very simple.

It also is the same way the next pictures are structured:

The same scene made first in sunlight and then with the sun behind a cloud. Also simple.This happened as I was standing there making the first one. A landscaping crew came in, probably before construction started, and clear cut the woods. This pair reinforce that all is not right in this assisted living facility in Newtown, CT. Personally, this was a big event for me as this was, I believe, the first time I did this, to place two pictures like this in a series. I believe it focuses attention on the choice I made and is an effort to draw attention not only to the fact that I stood there, camera in hand, and made a clear choice to make pictures of both sunny and cloud covered. Finally, for more on my thinking during this time it might be helpful to go back to the Lebanon, NH series, which are here. There are also three blog posts on the  series, which start here.

Here we go. A new subset and another new way for me to photograph.

What was I thinking?

Why did I do this? 

These make the core or foundation of the Newtown, CT series.

First of all let me give you some  inside information. These are made with a fixed lens camera, so I either cropped to make these or I just walked up the hill to make them in succession. I did the latter. I also printed them lighter as I made them to emphasize the increasing white in the frames. Finally, I made this subset completely intuitively, having no idea that I would use them in the final body of work. They were an experiment and completely out of the norm for me. 

This is the next to last in this long series and is there to allow us to begin to leave, showing us where we've been to some extent but also to contrast the bright white of the former set.

And this is the last. Remember the picture with the three bushes planted in the grass? Here we are again with three, this time with flowers in pots. But look how dark this one is. We are consumed with black here, so deep we don't really know what is in there. This is a very specific print, pushed way down to make a point and not residing in anyone's definition of a "good print".

We are now done with Newtown, CT. Before I close, let me give you some perspective as I look at these now 18 years later (I am writing this in the spring of 2016). Brutal and severe. That's what these pictures are. With the photographs wrapped in a deceptively conventional package of black and white photography and a late spring sunny day, the underlying message is harsh, critical and angry. I was angry at the inhumanity of the place, the sloppy design and lack of aesthetic that pervaded. This isn't a cost thing, it is a "care" thing. It doesn't cost more to think things through, to design based upon a care for our human condition and what it means to live in a place like this. The designers of this place did not have that concern. Not caring pervades throughout our contemporary times and culture and is a pet peeve of mine.

The methodology I used to make these pictures was both conventional and different for me. Remember that the way pictures like these are usually viewed is in a portfolio and they are seen one at a time, as in pages in a book. This means the sequence I made over several photographs of the unfinished building is unveiled one at a time in a subset of pictures that seem endless and increasingly microscopic as though we are analyzing something very far away with great detail. Exactly my point, like a scapel and yes, brutal. There is also an insider view being expressed here. Part of what we can do as artist photographers is move in on the mundane to analyze in minute detail allowing analogy to larger issues. I was trying to draw attention not only to the place and the living conditions but also to my own way of seeing. As such there is a personal statement contained within the overall structure of the Newtown pictures.This was something of a personal breakthrough for this photographer and I remember being very excited at the time at what I had done, hoping that I could pull it off back in the darkroom when I made the prints.

I hope I've been able to help in understanding these photographs I made. I know they are not pretty and although beauty often plays a large role in my photography, these are something different. I thank you for looking and staying with me through the three posts.

Feel free to let me know what you think. My email address is: nrantoul@comcast.net

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast,vintage

Permalink | Posted April 3, 2016

Newtown, CT 2

This post continues to look at the pictures I made in 1998 of an assisted living facility in Newtown, CT. 

In number 8, the last image in the first post, which is here, we were looking at the backs of the housing units. Here I've walked up to the end of the row of them and turned 180 degrees to view them in the full context of the blasted out rock on the left. This is the third time I did that, turned to face what had been behind me.

My effort here was to show the rock in the context of the village and move us on to new things while paying homage to where we came from.

Now we're really going to look at the units or dwellings. In this case they look stacked up on top of each other like building blocks and with garages predominating. Note the one plant out there in the asphalt jungle of the driveway.

Forgive the digression but I need to write about the printing of the Newtown series. If you've read this blog for a while you know about the importance in my work of the Portland, Maine series, made in 1996. Those are here. I wrote several posts about them which start here. They were a group of photographs that brought me back to a fundamental way of working, which was the sequenced series. They also brought me into something very new and that was the making of series work in bright sunlight. I know, not so earth shattering to you, but to me it was a big concept. So here we are in 1998 two years after Portland, making a series in very bright sunlight. My point is, that the printing of Newtown reflects this: bright whites and deep blacks. Number 11 above does just that, with very bright whites in particular.

Let's move on, to # 12:

Yes, the rock again but with this car parked in front of it. Can we draw conclusions here? Can we use the juxtaposition to associate the timelessness of the rock against something so in the present as a car parked there at the end of the 20th century? Is that too much? And here we are in one of the key pictures in the series, looking at the absolute banality of three recently planted bushes, some rather rough looking grass and some trees, with a light gray sky. Remember the picture of just that rock, number 6? This is the plant-based equivalent and speaks to how caged in this place is. This one also establishes the subset topic for the next few pictures: the planting and surrounding trees.

Here again I've worked to contextualize the photographs, to place the very black perimeter so that we see it as a fence or a barrier.


This one, number 15,is a study in contrast from the previous picture, that one being so very dark to this one being so very light. Funny to think that white in photography, as in a gesso'd canvas, is simply the substrate itself. It is the grays and the blacks around it that convey a sense of brightness. This one looks almost bleached to me and blindingly bright.


Here it is in all its glory, as this photograph shows how the units are positioned in a long row opposite each other, little patio facing little patio, with our rock wall way in the back topped by, again, black trees, bushes planted somewhat haphazardly and an almost out of scale fire hydrant in the foreground. Finally, our puffy clouds again. I'm sure the importance of this photographs hasn't escaped you as this one really does lay it all out.

This will end this second post in the critique of the Newtown series work. 

I remember having some reservations about including this (which is #17) in the 28 print series but kept it in as it brought us back into an emphasis on pavement, at almost half the frame, and the row of bushes planted to ease the bottom of this rigorous structure as a sort of a "skirt". It also repeats number (#15) the light one with the single tree, but time no longer moderated by anything in front of it.

Newtown, CT 3 coming up, and the last.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,vintage

Permalink | Posted March 30, 2016

Hershey PA 1997 Part Three

Light. There was light here, in the flare from the sun trying to break out to the right. As it turned out this was a failed attempt as it went back behind the clouds.

This is the third post I am writing to analyze the series called Hershey, PA, a group of pictures I made in 1997. 

I use lens flare sometimes to connote something surreal or to draw attention to the act of making a picture using a camera, as opposed to this being a literal rendition of a place. It is not. It is an artist's interpretation of a place.  Flare is stoppable usually, by throwing a shadow in front of the  lens. It is what a lens shade is for. Sometimes I'll make two, one with flare and one without and then decide later which one to use.

This is a "hinge" picture in that it is the last time we'll refer to the pictures in the series that are the ones of the barns that were black in any kind of substance.  The barn on the left is the same one we've seen before twice, cut in half. The tobacco shed is over on the far left of the frame, there as a token only, not to play any major role in the photograph.

Once again this picture seems to hint at a way out in that way back there in the haze of the flare is the horizon and it is clearly open country. And, even though there is this big pole in the foreground, it is there to split the picture, not so much to act as a barrier to our progress through to the background.

Last, the building on the right is certainly the same barn we saw bowed out in the previous frame, seen here from the side and the object over there on the wall is closer and perhaps a little better defined but still not front and center. That happens next.

Ribbit. Yes, it was a green froggy. I remember thinking as I made this picture that I probably wouldn't use it. It was too ridiculous in a series like this, where the theme had been sobering and severe, that I couldn't get away with being flippant or light in this context. It would be like farting or belching in church, irreverent. But I did end up using it and it remained in all the ensuing almost 20 years, through shows and presentations and lectures. I like the contrast of it, the sense that we shouldn't take ourselves all too seriously. Why include it? Because it is so incongruous. To me, it tells me that there has been humanity here. Someone had to have placed it there. And I love that. The picture is not without portent, however, as the three windows open to a space that is about as black as black can be. Do you want to open the door to that barn on the left and walk into that space? Not me. Finally, the picture is one that has given us a break from the others that are the main content of the series, a breather, in effect. If you look at the series Nantucket or Portland or Yountville I didn't really do that with those.

Let's move on, as there are three more in the series.

Back to the barn, shown a few frames before. This time rendered straight and not converged as well as showing real integrity in the structure, its function prescribing an elegance. Besides not being willing to leave it so distorted, it is now lighter, not here to just present a bowed out form but to display its texture and surface. The hose reappears for the third time, although it is playing a less critical role and the concrete walkway is here less to divide the frame and more to lead us into the space. Finally, no green froggy on the left as I've moved on and am trying to bring us back into the series, and yes, it's true, it's somber tone.

Next to last. I have brought us back around to our two black forms as an homage to where we were earlier, but now on their back side, as thought we can leave them behind. I like to think of this as a partial completion of walking along the edges of a cube and here we are on the third edge, with the cube on our left. We also have a whole lot of open frame: field, trees and sky in this picture. In some sense we are already out, no longer having to deal with all the heavy stuff contained on our left. For much of the series, we've been on the inside just getting  glances out to the horizon. Here, we're on the outside.To my way of thinking this is a strong statement of being out, of escaping the more difficult and challenging place we've just left. 

Did you have recurring dreams as a kid? I did and the one that this picture refers to was me, riding around the circle of my friend CP's driveway on my tricycle by myself, happy and ignorant of what's going to happen, when the right rear wheel of the trike comes off and flies off over the bushes behind the stone wall.  As I get off my trike and walk over to the wall to retrieve my wheel from the very black bushes behind them I hear a really terrifying growl back there. Each night in each dream as I gather up my courage to get my wheel back, as I get closer the growl gets louder. And each night, of course, I wake up, knowing that this will go on night after night. I'm only about 6 years old but I am trapped in a kind of loop. The barns on the left are definitely someplace I don't want to go and, to my mind, the open field represents freedom and yes, even light as in giving life.

I have to butt in here, close to the end of three posts about this 13 print series, to make a key point. The way I've been writing about this series and many many others of mine is to share with you my sense that these pictures are so highly connected with each other as to be inseparable. Over time, that's how this process has evolved for me. Another way to explain this is to approach it from the aspect of training over a whole career. Although I certainly make pictures that do not directly connect to each other in a sequenced series, working in the manner of the Hershey pictures is where I live as an artist, simple enough. Harry Callahan said that he believed we really only made one picture in our life time.By that I presume he meant that we could only speak as artists with our own voice, that, at its most foundational level, we simply need to be true to ourselves. Easy to say, hard to do, but working in series is, fundamentally, my one picture.

This last one sits in a strange place for me, simultaneously containing but also allowing a visual look at what lies behind the gated fence. Why is it here instead of the previous one being the ending photograph? I think of this photograph as being enigmatic in that it presents a choice, with no answer apparent. To walk up and open the gate to freedom or to remain held in, knowing that there is a whole lot of stuff back there over my shoulder to deal with. Simple enough, really:  go forward or go backward?

That's it, the Hershey, PA series. Prints? Yes, they are about 12 inches square, made in darkroom days, pre-digital, although the negatives are scanned now and the work has been shown as inkjet prints as well as gelatin silver. The originals are priceless, at least to me, but may be seen through 555 Gallery in a response to your request, although I don't know that we will permit your handling them.Vintage series like this do not get split up. Purchase requests must be for the whole series. However, I  allow individual prints to be sold as inkjet prints made from scanned negatives.

I hope you've enjoyed these three posts. I know they take time and study, as I refer to other work and link those to the one I am discussing. Hopefully, you're willing to do that and that you find relevance in the process.

Topics: Hershey,Black and White,vintage,Northeast,Analog

Permalink | Posted January 6, 2016

Rollei SL66 Part 1

I don't usually write about equipment but the Rollei SL66 was such an important camera for me and many others I think it is appropriate. Plus, I just gave one of my two Sl66's away. 

This from the site Rolleiflex SL66

First single lens 6x6 camera by Rolleiflex: the SL66
They conceived a camera based on the construction elements of a studio camera, with the focusing rail on the left side. This was done so photographers accustomed to Rollei Twin Lens Reflex cameras would feel comfortable to find all operating elements in the same places: focusing on the left side, film advance and shutter release on the right side. Weiss and Prochnow had the camera ready, in time for the 1966 Photokina photographic fair in Cologne. Hence the name of the camera, SL66 for 1966 and 6x6, the size of the negatives.
At the time, development of the camera had cost Rollei about 3.5 million German Marks, which, at today's value, would be more than $ 10 million. A very large amount of money for a small company like Rollei this is, and shows how dedicated Rollei was to this new 'super Rolleiflex'.
The SL 66 consists of almost 1,000 single parts, all metal with the exception of only about 10 plastic parts (apart from the leatherette covers).

The Rollei SL 66 with the 40 mm Distagon lens and the grip which helped in hand holding

I bought mine in 1971. In those days, photographers wanting to step up in format from 35mm and still be able to hand hold would look to 2 1/4 (120mm) for higher quality due to the larger negative. Twin lens reflex cameras were made by Yashica, Rollei, and Mamiya. Single lens reflex cameras were made by Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and Pentax. Photographers' highest quality choice was Hasselblad. With Carl Zeiss lenses, superb build quality and a reasonable size the Blad was expensive and a system camera. You could work with different models, format backs, reflex finders, add on meters and a long list of lenses, all at high cost. It was used on space missions by NASA, microscopy, National Geographic and countless studio photographers all over the world. You get the picture: Hasselblad was the Leica of 2 1/4 cameras. Many people think Hasselblad is a German camera. But it's not. The lenses are of German design but the camera is made in Sweden.

The original Hasselblad space camera: the 500 ELM

But the Rollei represented another step up in the line of available 2 1/4 SLR's for it was designed to do many more things than the Hasselblad. 

In the spring of 1971 I had just been accepted to the RI School of Design for study in the graduate photography MFA program. Harry Callahan had been my teacher for the junior and senior years at RISD and had a Rollei. (If you don't know about Callahan and his photography I recommend searching for it on line.) He was making wonderful prints off of negatives shot with the camera and I was looking at buying one, with an 80mm Zeiss Planar, a right angle prism finder and the grip. But I was concerned about the cost. If I remember right this was adding up to about $2000 that I didn't have. I went to Harry and explained I'd bought whole cars for a lot less than that. He asked me if I was serious about making pictures over my career. No one had ever asked me this in such a straight forward way. I answered, "yes." He said $2000 was very little to pay for something that could serve a lifetime, for a tool that I would make my pictures with, pictures that had a place in my heart for me and perhaps others as well. I decided on the spot. I ordered one, had it shipped to a friend's parents in Worcester to avoid the sales tax and waited for what seemed like forever. As soon as they called I jumped in the car and drove right up there from Providence. When I got it I was in heaven, reading the manual, dismantling it, playing with focus and it's tilt function.

The Rollei SL 66  showing the camera's tilt function

Yes, it could tilt its lens 6 degrees up and 6 degrees down. Big difference from the Hasselblad which was always fixed in parallel to its lenses. As I was working on a senior thesis project I began running film through it and making prints for class. But I couldn't get a sharp picture out of it. My classmates thought it was a bad lens so I sent it off to Rollei in New Jersey. It took about a month to get it back and Rollei said all was well. More tests and the same problem. This went on for a while, with me feeling like I'd spent way too much money for something that wasn't any good. No way was I doing the thesis with this camera as the pressure was on to make the final prints. So I shot it with one of the school's 4 x 5's.

Finally we shook loose what was going on. The focusing screen, which is removable on the SL66, was in its housing upside down. Lots of people were handling this camera when I received it as I was the first in school to own one and we never did know if it came that way,  or if someone mistakenly reversed it or if I did. This meant I was focusing on a different plane than where the film resided in the film back therefore guaranteeing blurry results.  All became right with the world when I turned the screen over and shot and processed film. Bingo! I can still remember what that was like. I was in the word of clarity, transparency, depth and sharpness. Life became really really good again.

By the time I started graduate study the next fall I was making pictures that were right up there with my classmates and my expectations for the camera were fulfilled. Odd to think that the tool we use holds such significance in the manner of the work we make but it does. Photography has always been reliant on its tools, its technology. For some the camera is everything. But Harry Callahan taught me that it was important to use the best device you could afford, that this after all, was your work and that the tools we use needed to be bought in awareness to their intended purpose. The best paint brushes, the best and most permanent oils.  An enlarger that is rigid and stable. An enlarging lens that is faithful to the clarity and sharpness of the negative.These days the computer and storage that are up the task of handling files of large size, the display that depicts your work with clarity and depth, the printer that conveys your work in a full range of colors and prints a deep black, and so on. His advice has served me well over now a long career of making pictures. 

Thanks Harry for that.

My friend Gail now has a second Rollei SL66. I was honored to part with it as the Rollei is the primary tool she uses to make her art. And her first Rollei is showing signs of being very tired. 

Funny, I have often sold cameras to buy new or different ones. In 1984 I sold a Hasselblad Superwide that was about as important to me as my right eye to buy the one and only 8 x 10 camera I ever used: the 8 x 10 Toyo Field. 

But I still have my Rollei.

Neal Rantoul, 1972, made with the Rollei and 80mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar lens

Coming up: Part 2 of the Rollei SL66 experience. And some insight into who photographed with one.  Hint: think Aaron Siskind, Ansel Adams, etc.

Note: you can read about more of my early work here.

Topics: Black and White,Camera,Analog,early work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2015