Topic: black and white and color (3 posts)

The Right Picture at the Right Time

Perhaps because I am a senior photographic  person I find I have been thinking about the concept of what pictures we make at what periods in our lives. Looking at something I made in my mid 20's (Take Me Back) and comparing it to something I made recently (Spring and Fall) I can safely say that there was no way I could build a structure around a body of work back then like I do now. It was far simpler when I was young.

Photography was a lot simpler back then too. Besides all the technical changes photography has had, it is a medium much more aware of itself now than it was in the mid 70's. We know more about it and what it can and cannot do than we did then. It would have to be, after all that we've seen coming out of it in the past 40 years.

Of course, what perspective does someone have at 20 years old? Certainly little on himself/herself, but for most people none on much of anything. 

This then leads me to the core concept: making art that is age appropriate. By age appropriate I really mean something a little larger, that it is emotionally and intellectually age appropriate. Can this be boiled down to developmental changes? i.e. when we are younger we make work that is impulsive, reactive, intuitive, often simpler, emotional and self centered. When we are older we make work that is contemplative, intellectual, considered, knowledgeable, refined, careful. Simple enough, right? I mean that we should use what we've got and at my age I have a great deal I can use for I've been doing this so long. On the other hand, I can't go out and on an impulse make a huge body of work of a brand new idea, putting life and limb at risk and hang over the edge, so to speak. While I am physically constrained due to my age, I just can't because I don't think that way now.

As usual, I am thinking of a photograph I made that references my point. This below is at the Grand Coullee Dam in Washington.

I made this in the 80's. I am standing at the top of the dam with the tripod of the 8 x 10 view camera leaning up against the wall and the camera tilted over the wall and pointing straight down. My left foot is pushed up against the back tripod leg, keeping the camera from plummeting down the dam into the water and I have stretched myself tall as I can to see up at the ground glass to focus the image under the dark cloth before inserting the film holder to take the picture. This is high risk stuff. This is a photograph made a long time ago.Would I do this now? I think you know the answer.

Finally, how does one take a passion that is still as deep and resonate as it was when  younger and make art that is relevant and meaningful today? There is a catch, of course, and that is to not make the same pictures over and over again. Without moving on and relegating our done work to past work we fall into one of many traps, but the trap of repetition is to be avoided at all costs. Move on!

Also, as a rule it appears that later work may be as ambitious as earlier work but perhaps more thought through, in that the artist seeks to use the materials to his/her purpose as a device to make the point. In earlier years I would come across a place or an area and think to make a series of pictures from it that could compose a whole, be it a story or a thread or a concept. I would photograph the place, putting all my eggs into one basket, to focus whatever insight I had into a cohesive group of pictures to make a complete set in a short period of time. While I still do that occasionally, much of my work now is done over longer periods of time, with perhaps multiple shoots to get to the end. Slower because of being older? Yes, partly, but also slower  because I am aware of more things going on, more subtleties inherent in something I am photographing.

So, are you making pictures now that are symphonic? Large in scale, grand and extroverted? Or are you making more modest pieces, intimate and reflective, emotional and heartfelt? And does age play a role here?

I for one am still making the latter but am also involved in larger pieces too, assembled bodies of works that span time and often place. Why? Because I am thinking less and less of single pictures existing on their own. Maybe laying out and making books has taught me ways of connecting pictures to pictures more. At any rate, I am now involved in three larger series:

The Route 2 Trilogy:

a look at Massachusetts Route 2 as it heads from the suburbs west of Boston to the border with New York State in three parts.

Hofsos Trilogy:

a look at the small town of Hofsos, Iceland from inside and outside perspectives.

and Spring and Fall, a body of work of Martha's Vineyard that encompasses pictures made of the same area made on the ground and also made from the air:

Not to get morbid, but there is the phenomenon of classical composers final and unfinished bodies of work becoming their own requiems after they are gone: Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler and Faure' to name a few. You probably know others. 

Just saying.

The right picture at the right time.

Topics: black and white and color,Iceland,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted May 6, 2014

Spring & Fall

I've posted a new series on the site called : Spring & Fall. This is a body of work that I wrote about on my blog called New Way and New Way 2. In the New Way posts I was wrestling with a group of pictures in the making, trying to figure out if I had a new series, thinking through how to make them and so on. I am learning that the blog can serve as a kind of guide for me. A way to put something out as a test, to see if it has viability. Please understand, for me to post a series on the site, to give it that level of public exposure, I want to be firmly committed to it. As I've spent the last two weeks printing these pictures I find I am committed to the body of work.

"Spring & Fall" uses the two seasons as metaphors for early life and late life, life in ascendency and a life in decline, meaning my own. While I would argue that I am very much in this life, active, involved and astute, I cannot deny that more of my best work lies behind me than ahead. So, this series reflects on this fact. I have subtitled the series, "Sun" for the spring half and "Setting" for the fall part.

I refer you to the site for the full series: Spring & Fall

Spring

Fall

The work has several layers, several structures imposed upon it to give it definition and purpose. I don't believe I will destroy the series by giving you some of mine, but you may find others. Color for spring,  black and white for fall. I have been doing this for a while now, putting color and black and white pictures together in varying ways. This is strictly against the old rules but we are in a different world now and the old rules definitely no longer apply. If you've been following what I've been writing you know the title must be a metaphor for all the pictures in the series were made in the same two week period in May. It may be a stretch but it is one I have made and that is that the color aerial ones imply an "above" character, a flight above the ground, which is light, weightless, free and without limitation. The pictures imply freedom to go anywhere and do anything, which I associate with real youth. Whereas the black and white pictures I made on the ground, in fog, are firmly mired in the ground, without much of an ability to escape, to get out, to be free or, in fact, to go anywhere else. Pretty dire, right? But the black and white pictures are also a far more evolved and thought through group of photographs. This is another thing I associate with older people. They know more! And can understand subtlety and nuance that goes right by most young people. The two ways of photographing are so inherently different this too serves as a way to emphasize the speed, quickness and "flighty-ness" (sorry, I couldn't resist) verses the grounded, perhaps somber nature of the old, moving ponderously and with deliberation. 100 miles an hour skimming 500 feet above someplace verses walking around looking , thinking, analyzing, placing. Too much? You decide. But getting older is much like that. Ones aspirations may be great but ones ability to do things is increasingly severely limited. Why use the subtitles  "Sun" and "Setting"? To further indicate the path through the pictures and reinforce the actual title. As an aside, I have never wanted anything I have written as titles or as texts hanging along with my work in shows to be anything but clarification and this is true here with this series. I hate the texts in museums that hang next to the piece explaining, presumably to the clueless, what the work is all about. It seems condescending and overly educational. I will most likely write a blog about titles and what they can mean and what I believe is good practice for titles and what is not.  But suffice it to say here that the title for this work provides the key to the work. Important? Very.

Thank you for following my work and for being subscribers (if you are). I am grateful that I have people that care enough to look, read and think about what I make. Please feel free to respond via email.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,digita,Color,black and white and color,Aerial

Permalink | Posted June 16, 2013

Black and White And Color

Over the past year I have made two series of photographs that combine black and white and color in the same images: Salton Sea (Salton Sea) and Grain Silo (Grain Silo).

Gimmick or a valid approach? I have now shown these two portfolios to enough people to get a sense of where the answer lies but perhaps you should judge for yourself.

First up : Salton SeaThis is the first image in the series and it is just black and white. I am not going to go through the whole set here as they are represented on the website in their entirety. But, as the series unfolds, it becomes clear that I have laid a ground rule or two. One is that water, in this most barren of desert places, is represented in color:

But not just color but as the colors were as I was standing in front of this landscape, as they would be represented were I making a full color print. The Salton Sea is a fetid, dying place with dead fish littering its shores and the ground water so polluted as to be unusable.

As the series progresses, and as I moved around the site, the color that is the water is  less or more evidentso that finally in the last two frames I decided to give two renditions of the same  photograph, one in black and white with the final being in color:

Besides the obvious commentary that points to how we interpret color pictures and black and white pictures differently with changes in emphasis that are spacial, textural and in form,  I also was working off a more internal precept. From the time I was a student until the early 2000's I was a black and white photographer only. My whole career for over thirty years was this way. It wasn't until I started making pictures using digital tools that I started making color photographs. At first this was  by still shooting film, scanning the color negatives and making color inkjet prints, then, as digital capture got better, I started making color photographs from start to finish, as I do now.

Let's take a look at the second of this way of working, the Grain Silo series.These don't "ramp up" as the Salton Sea series did, they start right out combining  both black and white (the silo) and color( the surrounding wheat fields and landscape). Why? To emphasize the essentially black and white structures that are man made and placed in a natural environment and to therefore reflect on just how much color there is in this blue sky day in the wheat fields of eastern Washington in August.

I have believed for now a long time that photography is often at its best when it is presented as a comparative set of values. That we can draw attention to something better by comparing it to something opposite or contrasting. Sharpness next to blurriness, light next to dark, textural to flat and formless, etc. These two series are my way of showing that same principle but making a statement about color by putting it next to black and white in the same picture. 

Gimmick or valid approach? I think you will answer based upon your desire for pictures to look "real"as in what something would look like if you were standing in front of the subject. But I am an artist, not a documentarian, and think of it as only secondary that my pictures look like what was there in front of me and my camera.

I wonder if this post will spark some controversy. Please look at both series in their entirety and remember that you can always email me at: Neal's email and that all of these photographs posted here can be seen larger by clicking on any one of them.

Topics: Washington,black and white and color,California

Permalink | Posted December 20, 2012