Topic: Color (81 posts) Page 2 of 17

Wheat 2016 Finish

This is the third and last installment of blogs about a trip I took to photograph wheat fields in SE Washington in October/November 2016.

In the last post about the aerial pictures I made I wrote that we were in the air for about an  hour. As important as that one hour was for me and other aerial photographic excursions have been over many years, I spend the other nine or so days while out here by driving, stopping, hauling some camera out of the rental car, often setting it on a tripod, making a few exposures, reversing the same process and driving off, looking for the next picture to make, hour after hour and day after day. Most of my time I am on dirt roads, access roads that are there for the farmers to get their equipment to the fields. These can be treacherous, muddy and slippery after it rains and so dusty in the late summer at harvest time everything you own is covered in a fine powder. I used to have nightmares about this when working in 8 x 10.

To break this down to fundamentals, there are two basic kinds kinds of pictures you can make here, photographs with horizons and ones without. I make both in about equal amounts. In the 18 or so times I've been here to photograph I don't think I have ever felt as though I've run out of material to photograph, as each season brings a different landscape. Drive, shoot, drive, shoot, etc. This is a very limited way to make pictures and needs a very disciplined approach, I know. But I find it fulfilling and rewarding as the pictures I have made now over many years seem to speak to me at some core level.

The principle is extreme simplicity with elegance. This is very controlled photography that must be carried out with a maximum of attention to detail.  There also are some really awful photographs made here: cliche'd, over wrought, and super saturated. Many photo t rips and workshops are offered here. I don't know whatever happened to restraint, refinement and discrimination. Try a Google Images search for the Palouse to see what I mean. Like this:

The prevailing thought seems to be that if the colors are good somewhat realistically rendered then they will be better with the color sliders cranked to maximum. Same with sharpness. Hate that. Free country, I know, and others may do as they wish but for me more is not necessarily better. 

The color palette is determined by the season and the kind of light, meaning mostly the time of day. Mid days are usually not so good, blue and bleached looking. However, cloudy days mean good pictures can be made all day. My general advice is: get up before dawn, work until mid to late morning, eat, take a break midday and then get back to work by about 3 until the daylight is gone.

Tech: Most of my photography out here is with long lenses. Even with a long lens I find I can hand hold at times. Currently, I use two telephoto zoom lenses with the Nikon D810 camera; the Nikon f2.8 70-200mm in second generation version and also the variable f stop Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. The 70-200mm is slightly better but can vignette at long length and the 80-400mm is amazing considering its reach. With both you need to be aware of the clarity of the air. Also at longer lengths a tripod isn't always a guarantee, especially in wind. It is often windy here. This written from personal experience. 

As I write this today, I just got home last night. Don't ask me about flying on commercial airplanes as it is not good out there. That being said, my flights to and from Spokane, WA( the closest real  city) were uneventful and on time. I do advise getting approved for the TSA Pre Check as it does speed things up in security.

In the next week or so, as I begin to work the files, I will post both ground-based and aerial wheat field pictures on the site.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2016

AERIALS WHEAT 2016

Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:


Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Wheat,Digital,Color,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016

Out in Wheat

As I write this I am in Moscow, Idaho on a project to photograph wheat fields. Although I call this wheat fields much else is grown here besides wheat: garbanzo beans, alfalfa, lentils, safflower, etc. It is late October so this isn't a time of flowing golden wheat with a hot sun blazing down from above. The fields are stubble, turned under or lying fallow this time of year.

Why be here now? Because this is a time where the land itself has no covering to soften its contour. This is the much photographed area called the Palouse, where workshops meet, where vans criss cross the terrain filled with photographers looking for that iconic " shot", the one that's a keeper, the one that ends up over a mantle to wow the house guests at the party.  And yes, in July or August at harvest time this is an exquisite place, but in late October? Not so much. 

That's why I am here, to make essential photographs.

I've only been here a few days but working here now is proving challenging. "Dodging rain drops" is how I would describe it, although the fog at dawn this morning was something new.  


I will make good pictures here, for the 18 or so times I've been here have me well prepared, perhaps better than anyone.  I also will not be repetitive. The late time of year helps to insure that, of course, but also I am seeking to do some things here differently than before. 

I am sure you have found this too but to be someplace familiar where you've made pictures before and to think through a different approach, to try something else, to challenge past assumptions seems key to me. Much has been written about how we always make the same pictures, over and over. This is all too easy, to be in front of something with similar light, similar content, and a similar frame of mind to something you photographed in the past with some success and then to repeat that same image. I am trying not to do that while here. 

It would be rewarding sometime to assemble some of the pictures I have made while here that are not of the fields specifically, the outtakes, if you will (hint hint you curators out there). Honestly, how can you not make a picture of an oil tanker sized hay stack three times your height stranded in the middle of nowhere?

So stay with me for the next few posts as I take you through my trip out here in late October 2016. Next up? I flew yesterday with brilliant blue skies and bright sun at 10 am. The first day since getting here that it has been so. We used a Cessna 206, a four seater airplane, with the door removed. I was harnessed and strapped in, sitting in the seat right next to the large opening. It was 45 degrees. Totally worth it. This is me, still strapped in, after we landed.

How did I do, up there at 1000 feet skidding along at 90 knots, pointing down at this amazing landscape? 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Wheat,Color,Northwest,Digital,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 29, 2016

The Americans by Car

No, this isn't a story about a road trip through the US.

The Americans by Car is a new book of photographs by Karl Baden.

When Karl makes pictures he has a way of homing in on something and doing it for a long time. For instance he has made a picture of his face every day for thirty years. I think he has been making photographs behind the wheel of his car for a long time as well. Karl is a Boston-based photographer of long standing and teaches at Boston College.

This small book with few words relies on that amazing ability some photographers have to make pictures before thought and consciousness interrupts to ruin things. This is instinctual work and, I would assume, hugely quantitative to get just a few that work. Baden is also a sequencer in that a given picture will set you up for the next, let you out in one and pull you back in for another.

Of course, the title refers to Robert Frank's seminal look at the USA made in the 50's called "The Americans". Karl pays frequent homage, using American flags liberally, just as Frank did. Also, this review comes at a fitting time as Nathan Lyons died last week at 86 years old. Lyons was one of the founders of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE), the founder of the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY and the author of several books, the most significant to me, named "Notations in Passing" which is perhaps the foundation for the way that Karl works in his own book "American  by Car". Lyons and Frank were both engaged in being out in the world, on the street, inside a bar of cafe. 

Baden's working structure is quite different, however, just as the time is different and the country hugely different. He is always in his car, frequently we see the window frame acting as a frame within the frame. We also often see his rear view mirror pushing us back behind where we are looking, almost as though we are looking over our shoulder at another time, another perspective. 

I particularly like the off handed and informal approach, as though the picture gets made so quickly design and composition take second tier.

Of course, those photographs by Lyons and Frank were in black and white and Karl's efforts here are in color. I can't imagine The Americans by Car being anything but made in color as the photographs make distinctions, analogies and comparisons that rely on color to be effective. 

Karl Baden's work here lies firmly in the tradition of street photography but relies on his unique perspective, and the protection it affords, of being made from in his car.

Friend and colleague Elin Spring also reviewed the book: here.

The book is a superb look at our county in the current times.

The book is for sale from Karl at: 

badenk@gmail.com 

and costs $42. 

Highly recommended.

Topics: Books,Color,Review

Permalink | Posted September 5, 2016

GRAVEL by Marc S. Meyer

(Note to readers: I  have written the following short story about a fictional character named Marc S. Meyer. He simply does not exist. The new photographs do exist and were made by me over the past month or so. Why all this subterfuge? Think of this as an author who writes under a pseudonym. I call this "Photo Fiction" and it allows me to get into the head of a different character and to photograph with a different emphasis. The other two portfolios of Marc's do exist as do the corresponding blogs about the work  and are viewable on the gallery page of the site, listed under Marc S. Meyer.  This is the first time I've come clean with who Marc really is, or isn't. As there are now many more readers of this blog it seemed  disingenuous to continue the pretense. I have just added the pictures to the website and they are here. Needless to say, I am very interested in your reaction to all this. Please feel free to respond at Neal's email)

Marc S. Meyer

I’ve written before about Marc S. Meyer, the young photographer who made the portfolios Beach Club and Baldwinville.

We haven’t heard much from Marc for a couple of years and since I am serving  as his spokesperson for his work I wanted to bring you readers up to date. If you remember, I agreed to take on his work within my site as a way to promote it and allow larger numbers of people to see it. One of the reasons Marc is as private as he is, is that he has a condition that tends to keep him out of the public’s eye. Marc has given his approval for bringing you into this a little as it is important in the context of understanding his work. Just suffice it to be known that part of his condition has a physical manifestation and therefore his privacy is of a large concern to him.

Marc’s condition is also a progressive ailment in that as time moves on he will decline and eventually he will die from it. Despite this we’ve seen the quality of Marc’s work and know his intelligence, drive and devotion. But also, considering the limitation imposed on him by his disease, he has been working to make a body of photographs that is the culmination of his oeuvre, as he knows time is running out for him. In the past couple of years Marc has been very sick a few times so his future is unknown.

In brief, this may be the last complete body of work we will get from Marc S. Meyer.

Let me see if I can accurately characterize Marc’s intentions with this new work. It is fascinating to learn his thinking behind his process. He wanted to work within his discipline of photography to minimize and partially deny content to allow his intent to come through. Obviously, these are emotionally charged pictures but they are made without so much as a hint of emphasis prescribed to the actual subject. He has always been a proponent of the thinking that goes, “What if I…?”, that innate curiosity that makes his pictures so compelling. 

Marc tends to think of the world out there as a canvas in which to make his photographs. Not exactly a blank canvas, but adaptable to what he wants to say, malleable and formable to his intent.

Marc understands that to be a subtle and quiet revolutionary is never easy.

There's really no other way to say this than to lay it out: Marc chose a gravel pit across the way from a new Market Basket supermarket in Athol, MA as his subject. Nothing could be more enigmatic or better. Gravel, dirt, sky and perhaps a little of the surrounding hills in the background. That’s it. The photographs are beautiful, and we expect this from Marc, but they are also empty and carry minimalism to its logical conclusion, while staying firmly within realty-based practice. Is this Marc dealing with the void left after he dies?

Or is this Marc taking us someplace else, perhaps reaching farther than the mundane nature of shopping for food or looking at a gravel pit? No answers are given. But we are forced to place this work in the context of his other photographs, which in review now take on a larger significance, these empty and abandoned places. The new pictures, made in summer on sunny bright days with deep blue skies seem counter to the earlier work but in this context they take on something more sinister.

Marc gave his permission for me to ask his wife, Theresa, for an interview as they are very close, almost collaborators on his projects. I met Theresa for coffee one morning in rural Maryland where the couple lives with their 4 year old boy, Jonah, who was in day care at the time. Theresa is a significant force on her own, trained as a research biologist with a PhD in molecular biological functions from UC Berkeley.

Theresa is clearly very much in love with her husband and it became apparent as we talked that she was as committed to this project as he was. I asked her how it all started. Marc had followed the story about the Market Basket company a few years earlier, a Massachusetts based supermarket chain that was involved in a hostile takeover by one family member over another. This was the case of the Demoulas family, with the company employees striking to disallow the change over as they were loyal to the original owner. It is a case now studied at the Harvard Business School as it bucks present day trends. The company is back in good health with its original owner. In fact, it is expanding. Hence this new store in Athol, a small town a little over an hour west of Boston.

Theresa told me that this turned out to be a perfect site for Mark as he wanted the resonance of the back story of the attempted takeover of the Market Basket to inhabit the pictures he made. Initially he photographed the site under construction, to directly confront both the company’s issues and his own. After obtaining permission to photograph the complex under construction (the company was very helpful in this regard) Marc grew increasingly concerned that this was not the right approach. Remember, he was driving back and forth from Maryland to make these pictures. 

Each trip he would think about what he was about to do and on the return what he had just done. 

The project wasn’t going well and, remember, his health was a constant player in these trips he would take. Theresa said he had a breakthrough one trip. Construction  crews started to clear a site across the way from the supermarket which was almost finished. Graders and loaders were at work to first clear the land but then massive amounts of gravel were being trucked in. The crews were building, what looked like to Marc, mountains of gravel, piles of different types, some almost black, some almost white. He started to photograph them right away.

Theresa remembers that time well as Marc was re-energized, excited to be heading back to photograph every couple of weeks, shocked to see a mountain disappear on one trip only to be replaced by another made of a different kind of gravel. He told her one night laying in bed that he felt he’d found it, he’d arrived at some place in his work that would allow him to share his perception of the actual world and conveying in his pictures something other worldly as well. This, he felt, was what he’d been after all along, to take the inane and ordinary and imbue it with meaning, both personal but also universal.

With thanks to Theresa for talking to me, when I got back home, I next drove out to the site to see what this was all about. As you might predict, what I saw was mounds of gravel in an empty lot. No magic, no universal truth, only gravel, green trees and blue sky. Nada. To think that Marc S. Meyer could get meaning, beauty, substance and universality out of these mounds of rock is just unbelievable to me.

How can you charge or load photographs? Can you build or imbue your pictures with a back story or some context so that they will matter? How do pictures made by a very ill artist of some gravel in a parking lot across the street from a new supermarket in rural Massachusetts make any sense? Is it the nature or the outright enigma that conveys something? Or is it all so anachronistic as to be meaningless?

Of course, the simple answer is that it all needs to be in the pictures, that the true art in Marc’s approach needs to lean little on the conditions around the making of his pictures. Wouldn’t Marc’s inherent abilities suffice?

On the other hand, one thing’s for sure. If you read what I’ve written carefully and retain the story in your mind, then go to the pictures to see what they look like, you are altered in your perception, biased in fact, by what you’ve read. Is that what Marc’s doing here?

I can’t answer all these questions for you but I can urge you to look at the work, to see if you can align his thinking with your reaction. 

Personally, I find the pictures very powerful, as though all that weight of that rock mined from the earth and crushed into gravel makes some kind of bond in an allegory to the weight of Marc’s physical condition bearing down on him. 

Add in some tangent in the story of a supermarket chain’s failed takeover and you have a rich stew of precepts carried into the work, visually pure and minimal pictures about as close to the core of Marc S. Meyer as anything he has done or will ever do.

Neal Rantoul

July 2016

* The Beach Club, Baldwinville and now the Gravel pictures exist as separate printed portfolios and can be seen at 555 Gallery in Boston. Please call Susan Nalband, the gallery’s owner, for an appointment to see these works.

My blog posts about Marc’s work and a brief biography arte here:

http://www.nealrantoul.com/posts/marc-s-meyer-profile

http://www.nealrantoul.com/posts/baldwinville-ma-2015

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted August 9, 2016