In March 2001 the Zakim Bridge was under construction in Boston. Part of the infamous "Big Dig", the Zakim spans the Charles River and feeds Rt 93 into the depressed artery under Boston. Due to its cable construction it changed Boston's sky line in a big way. I was shooting the bridge occasionally with the 8 x 10 but seized on the chance to go to the top with a smaller camera when an engineering student who was studying photography with me and interning for the construction company that built the bridge offered to take a friend and I up. Very scary this as the stairs were metal and part of the exterior scaffolding that encased one of the two towers. It was windy and cold. On the way up I needed to stop a couple of times, frightened and shaking, to calm myself down as heights aren't so easy for me. I realized that I'd be a fool to back down. Soon enough I found myself at the top. There we found three of the crew working to replace a ripped and torn American flag with a new one. Of course, the famous picture by Joe Rosenthal of Iwo Jima made towards the end of WW II came to mind.
First the old flag needed to come down, shredded by the wind. Later, I was amazed to see that the angle of the flagpole was the same in both pictures.
Then the new one went up
Wonder what the view from up there was like?
First up river towards Cambridge
and then of Boston itself, with the incomplete bridge below
And finally, what the bridge looked like a couple of days ago during our first snowstorm
showing the tower I climbed in 2001.
I am glad I went to the top that day, a once in a lifetime chance. And I am pleased to be able to share it with you.
Ever hear of it? Lugano is in southern Switzerland, not far from the northern Italian border. Though it is in CH, its history is that is was part of Italy and so the primary language is, you guessed it, Italian. It is a sort of paradise, being south enough to have palm trees along the lake with a view up to snow covered mountains in the Alps, a couple of hours away.
Why Lugano? Because my ex wife and the mother of my daughter Maru is from there. Though we divorced 20 years ago, back then we went to visit frequently, staying with her parents above Lugano in a little town call Breganzona.
We were there over the holidays in December, 1981. I'd brought the 4 x5, intending to borrow a car and get out to shoot in the area. I did just that, coming back to Cambridge in January to make prints. There was no real intention to make a narrative here, just to photograph what interested me and to end up with a portfolio of prints from the best negatives. The full portfolio is in my studio and the prints are about 11 x 14 inches, toned with selenium, mounted and matted archivally on 16 x 20 museum board.
I don't know that there is always wisdom in hindsight but my take on these is that the pictures mix some rather chaotic places with some of real serenity.
My wife's parents had a swimming pool housed in its own building across the yard from the house. I remember I spent a lot of time there, swimming, reading and photographing. I was reading books like "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard and probably "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Racing" by Robert Pirsig in those days.
In Lugano it could snow one day and then you might wake up to this, rising temperatures, melting snow and brilliant sun.
The pool and the main house are all gone now, along with my in laws. He to a brain tumor in his late 50's and she just last year. The property fell into disrepair after he died and has been sold, most likely to be torn down for apartments or condos.
As an aside, one of the mounted prints has this on the back:
presumably because I had it in a show at some point.
My, how things have changed.
Many of us in December, with one mega holiday just behind us, are busy thinking of gifts we need to get and are consumed with buying the Xmas tree and setting it up, there are office parties and so on. It is a busy time of year.
I have two stories to tell that relate perhaps not so specifially to Christmas but more about giving photographs. I know that my parents got pretty tired of being given photographs by me when I was still a student. I had the mistaken belief that since my photographs were worth so very much now (sic) they would love to have them. Not so much.The first story is about Harry Callahan, one of my teachers and a mentor to me. The second about a portfolio I made and gave away. Both stories have not so such to do to do with Xmas time but a lot to do with gifts.
At one point, probably in the late 80's, Stephen Jareckie pulled together a color show of Harry's work at the Worcester (MA) Art Museum. Callahan's color work for the exhibition came from the Hallmark Collection, as the famous card company was actively collecting photography in those years. Stephen was the photography curator at the museum. I went and hauled along some students as I knew Harry was going to be there. Of course, he was mobbed at the opening. We said our hellos and then moved on to take a look at the work. This was still fairly early days to see color from Callahan as it wasn't widely known that he worked in color until maybe the early 80's. In those days Harry showed principally with Light Gallery in Manhattan and had struck an arrangement to have whatever he chose shipped to Germany to have his color slides made into dye transfer prints, a system so difficult, so laborious and needing such a high degree of skill as to be practically alchemy. At any rate the mostly 11 x 14 inch prints at the show in Worcester were dye transfers and they were superb. I distinctly remember standing in a line of people slowly going down one wall of Harry's photographs, some very famous ones from Morocco and Ireland and Providence. In front of me were Eleanor, Harry's wife, and Eleanor's sister. I remember Harry's sister-in-law saying at one point that Harry had given her many prints over the years. She added that one of the images in front was the same that Harry had sent her for Christmas last year and (I am paraphrasing here) exclaiming that "if he gave her another print as a present this year she was gong to scream!" I wonder how she felt when, after he died, those prints went going for thousands of dollars each. Of course, I would have killed to have a color dye transfer print of Harry's then and now, for that matter.
Gifting your work is always tricky. Is it what they wanted? Or would they rather have that Ninja machine that you saw at Costco with 53 speeds that pulverizes kale so fine you wouldn't even know something so good for you was in that smoothie you just made.
Second story: In 1995 my very good friend Roberta was getting married to Hunter. Roberta and Hunter lived in City Island in the Bronx but Robera's real home and passion was her place in very rural Maine. They would go whenever they could and my daughter and I would go too. I got it in my head I wanted to make them a portfolio as a wedding present. I made a special trip up there to photograph the area for the portfolio. I was working in black and white 8 x 10 in those days so they were mostly made with that. This is what it looked like, as I just saw it again for the first time in many years last weekend when visiting with Roberta and her family.
A boxed set of about a dozen 16 x 20 inch prints on 20 x 24 inch mats. (Please excuse the reflection.)
One of Hunter leaning up against a rock in the field next to the house, set up to shoot paper targets with a 22 rifle.
And the last one of my thirteen year old daughter Maru, mowing the grass with a small tractor
I made that one in 35 mm black and white infrared. Photographs can have this wonderful time machine quality, flashing us back back to earlier times. The marriage to Hunter didn't last but later Roberta married Izzy and they have one daughter, Rosie, who is now 14. They go to their place in Maine every chance they get. I am headed up there just after Chhristmas.
It is a distinct pleasure to be able to announce the publication of something very special. The new book of the Oakesdale Series is just out, as it just arrived this week.
This is the first in a run of small books that are going be printed that showcase my vintage series work from the 1980's and 90's. Each book will have just one series, and will be numbered and signed by me.
The books will be small, 7 x 7 inches, modest and inexpensive but beautifully designed and printed. We are making an initial run of twelve separate books and will offer a slipcased box to hold them in.
Currently either in process or under consideration are the following series:
Peddocks Island, MA
Old Trail Town, Cody, WY
Chaco Canyon, NM
Northampton Fairgrounds, MA
I can't express just how good they look. They are gorgeous. Oakesdale is now out and Hershey is in the final editing phase:
The books will be sold locally in the Boston area and also available online through my website.
If you're interested, please let us know (Neal's email). That way we'll know how many to print in subsequent printings. I believe earlier numbers in this limited edition project will be prized as collectors will want to get in early, as well as lower numbers in the edition will be cheaper. Pricing will be tiered: the first 100 copies of each book will sell for $25 each, with shipping and handling added to that. The next 100 will increase in price and so on. Finally, you will be able to subscribe to all twelve books, receiving one after the other as they are published. Caution: don't order yet. Let us put in place the payment and shipping structure first so that we can get these books to you in a timely and efficient manner.
I like to think of these new books in this way: while most who follow my work will never get to see the original prints from these series, you can, for the cost of a few cups of coffee or a modest meal out, have a signed and numbered copy of a book that is elegant and dedicated to individual series, photographs that constitute seminal work from my career.
These are very beautiful books. Designed by Andrea Star Greitzer, a valued colleague, former student and key friend, Andrea is the force behind most of my publications and is responsible for any branding associated with my name and work.
We look forward to hearing from you.
This is another in the group of blogs I've been posting taking a look at series made but not seen. Well, mostly not seen. The Northampton Fairground pictures were made in 2001. In 2010 I did show some of them at an exhibit I had at Panopticon Gallery in Boston but I'd be willing to bet that few of you have seen them before.
The full series is on the site: here.
These stuck to a prescribed plan, well oiled by this time. Scout area to shoot, load up with several rolls of black and white film, hang light meter on strap around my neck, walk and photograph in a proportion of about 4:1, meaning overshoot and then in editing cut down to about 1 keeper to every 4 shot.
By 2001 the future seemed clear to me. The days of my darkroom printing were numbered. The Fairground pictures are one of the last I made on film and printed with an enlarger using chemistry in my darkroom. While I would stick with shooting film for several more years I would soon be scanning and inkjet printing my pictures.
Of course, snow to a landscape photographer presents opportunities and challenges. It tends to reduce content, emphasize what's above the horizon line and maximize form. These were made mid winter on another of countless "get in the car and drive looking for photographs to make" day trips, very often on Sundays if I was teaching during the week. Northampton is about 1 1/2 hours drive out the Mass Turnpike from where I live in Cambridge. Not being well known had its advantages. Most free days were just that, no conflict, no one calling, no gallery representing my work. Free time to work.
In all these years I've learned to give serious attention to any and all fairgrounds I come across, if I can get in. The Northampton Fairground is gated but on a Sunday morning with a fresh coat of snow, the gate was open.
There was a little cemetery along the back edge of the fairgrounds that got my attention.
This is what Mark Feeney, one of the Boston Globe's photography reviewers, wrote about the above picture:
When a Rantoul photograph includes any effect other than the most straightforward, the result can
be ravishing. A picture of the Northampton Fairgrounds shows a tree in snow, an image of almost Zen
spareness, yet cropped in such a way that a delicate tracery of shadows from the branches fills much
of the photograph.
The words by Feeney have helped me through far leaner and meaner times. Thank you, Mark.
I continued to play with angles, the snow and bright sunlight helping here, removing the ground and allowing work with the shadows.
Then, play with words, culminating in this one below:
And then concluding with:
the first with more darks than lights.
Like something you see on the blog? Wonder if it's possible to look at actual prints? There are two ways. Ask Susan Nalband at 555 Gallery in Boston if you can get a look at a specific series or body of work. Or, coming up soon, check out Allston Open Studios on November 12 and 13 where the work is.
Hope to see you then.