Topic: Digital (90 posts) Page 2 of 18

SERIES

Let's talk series. The way I make most of my pictures. Work that sits as a whole, published, or in a portfolio or in a show. Usually sequenced, often all shot in one pass, edited and printed for cohesion; a beginning, a middle and an end. Often a few standouts in there and then a few that are clearly not. The standouts seem to ground the group and the others will hover around it or surround it in sympathetic harmony, or that's what I hope for. An impression formed by the full series that approaches some completeness or comprehensive wholeness that a bunch of single photographs put together can never become.

Case in point, for me an oddly framed and seen, looser constructed series that came from the Cape last month. Beach shacks at an entrance to a public beach, cold and gray, early morning, windy and empty in late November. Shooting with a mirrorless camera which has a different feel for me, looking at the image on the screen depicted back there at arm's length. That wondering, somewhat inquisitive way of photographing that means the subject is being explored, discovered, analyzed, probed, rejected and made into photographs. Toying with whatever's in front of you. Such a wonderful way to work. Not photographing it so much as what it becomes as a photograph. Yes, that's different. Allowing the tool and the process to aid in making the image, working with the medium's assets and liabilities to craft pictures that live in the realm of poetry or perhaps a chamber piece or an  ensemble of players working in a contemporary way, aware of history but moving things forward a little, nudging the medium into ways of seeing not so very straight, not so rigorous and perhaps even a little, I don't know... relaxed. A Cubist principle getting in there to play a part in asking what is seen from this angle that changes the perspective. Not thinking of outcomes or results,  just being in the moment, allowing a career's worth of experience to flow out, comfortable in letting the medium make itself known or perhaps, getting out of the way a little.

"Pictures make pictures"

"Don't think too much"

 "Wonder what this will look like"

"Try this"

"No"

"Maybe"

"What aperture?"

"Don't fuck this up"

"I wonder what's over there"

Some of these short phrases shared with students over the years. 

Inside. My thoughts. My looking and sharing with you. That's all, really. 

All that make any sense?

The pictures:

Boring, right? I know. As an attempt to build a justification for subjecting you to such banality let me try this. As a career professor heading a photography program at a large urban US university of some stature (Northeastern) there was often a stage I would reach with my students. If they'd come along a little and were beginning to grow in awareness of the medium they were studying there might be some interest in my work, as though maybe they could get from me the answer to making good pictures. Some would see this as a shortcut to better grades, perhaps. "Make em like his and he'll give you an A" was their thinking. But some would approach it from a better perspective, as though through understanding my path a little they might find their own. So they would ask, after searching my website or seeing a show or two, "how come you photographed that?" As though the reason for choosing a subject could provide the answer. I developed an answer over the years that I eventually wrote down and it went like this:

Imagine you started photographing in your early twenties and continued right up until yesterday and you'd made pictures extensively, traveling all over the world to make your art. You achieved some success with these works, having shows, your work being collected and published into books. While what you photographed was perhaps the first tier in a person's understanding of your work, with perhaps some more looking and study the second realization would come in understanding how you photographed what you photographed. If that proved meaningful or significant then perhaps the subject or content could be reduced or sublimated to allow the second tier to become more apparent or rise to the surface. This is close to the achievement of photographing nothing. In an experienced artists' hands perhaps the photographs of the banal and unimportant can be raised to a high level, maybe even to something sublime.

This would cause some sputtering, swearing and maybe even some yelling in frustration, which I admit, I enjoyed causing. I learned early that giving an answer was easy but to ask a question that would force their wheels to turn or them to think it through to find the answer to their own question was much better for them, and for me. Of course, this infuriated them. They were paying this huge amount of money to have their professor teaching them and all he would do is ask a question in response to their question. They hated that.

But back to these:

Making pictures of the everyday, the passed over, the discarded, the detritus in our lives is not new. I think of Lewis Baltz's, "New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California" for instance. One of my career preoccupations has been to photograph  places where design, architecture, aesthetic and beauty play no part, where things such as buildings are just put there, where there is no plan, no overarching idea as to the placement. Look at Lebanon, NH as a for instance.

This post has most likely been too long. After all you don't have all day to read this blog, right?

Topics: Digital,Color,Northeast,New Work

Permalink | Posted January 4, 2017

Trees, Sand and Snow

A one paragraph description of a recent day photographing on Martha's Vineyard: 

Book reservation, pack, go regardless of what the weather is up to (mid December-anybody's guess). Stay at friend's, get up at 5 Saturday morning. Catch ferry to Chappaquidick about 7:30, head out to Wasque with a slight delay which was trees hit by sun along the way, the first pictures in the new series. Very cold and still. Shoot mostly stunted oak trees on edge of bluff, epic, go back to car to warm up a couple of times, as hands weren't working. Back over to Edgartown on the return ferry, up to Squibnocket Beach in Chilmark to find very low tide. Look at the beach from the parking lot, get in car, think, get back out of car and look at sand again, thinking "cliche!" Decide fuck it and go down the steps to the beach with a camera anyway and start to shoot, mostly patterns in sand (hence the thinking that goes like this-"this has been done over and over so many times it's ridiculous!"). Shoot shoot shoot sand, stop by Vincent's Beach on the way down island but nothing there, starving, have lunch at 7A in West Tisbury. Done with both Trees and Sand by 4 pm. We go out for pizza and a movie. End of day. Good day. Next morning early drive home.

This was a big day for me, although not unprecedented. Can I pull off two "chapters" from a day's shooting? Let's see. Actually, what I am planning is one series, one portfolio with three chapters, hence the title Trees, Sand and Snow

The third, Snow, being made the next week when back in Boston as I went to Cambridge's skate park under the highway to shoot while it was snowing. This was on a whim really, in between shopping and doing errands. That's not unusual. To throw the camera in the back of the car in the chance I might find something to photograph. Was this a premonition? No, it was simply that I knew from past experience that the weather can affect things for pictures and that to be out in a snowstorm with a camera can be a very good thing. The snow falling on the skate park that morning turned out to be very special, obscuring form with softly falling snow flakes.

There are a couple or more threads that connect these three short chapters in the series, and some things that contrast nicely. Let's see if when shown this all becomes clear to you.

Trees first

Stunted Oaks at Wasque, the very tip of the island of Chappaquiddick, off of Martha's Vineyard.

Next Sand

Squibnocket Beach, Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard

And finally, Snow, here in another one paragraph description.

Know that no one will be there as opposed to normal Saturday mornings when the place is packed, Cambridge's only skate park and still new at a little over a year old. Park car, go around to trunk thinking about focal length, ISO, aperture and then walk over to skate park to find it almost totally obscured by several inches of snow, which is still falling. But then by looking closer see that the park underneath the blanket is sticking some edges, cornices and forms up through the snow. This reminds me of my wheat pictures made in July out west, the waist high and flowing wheat obscuring the ground it grows from. Tricky here as hard to tell where things are and easy to take a header. I try to stick with steps rather than angles and curves. 

One thing is texture, hard to see on your 1 1/2 inch screen on your phone, isn't it?(that's a subtle hint to look at these on your home monitor, the one with a zillion pixels and the retina screen). Another is what I call "planetality", meaning pictures concerned with planes. The plane of the sand or snow as it presents itself to you, either flattened or with depth, whether it lifts up to look like a vertical or if it looks like shot from above straight down. Another is depth and blur and yes sharpness in contrast to blur. The liquid-ness of the form that water takes, fluid and moving, or its movement rendered as a memory of its path back down to the ocean; or frozen and powdery, obscuring almost everything it covers as snow. The tree bark rendered clean and sharp, a history of abuse from wind and ocean air through the seasons, a testimony to survival under extreme adversity, sheer will against the elements. "Stunted Oak" telling all in words what is described in pictures, twisted and knarled but strong and alive. 

Three short chapters, one series. Trees, Sand and Snow. Elemental really. That's the thread, of course. From what we see on line and in many shows and books it is tempting to fall into the "more is best" premise. This confers a kind of monumental character to pictures, implying that each is more grand than the next, a sort of competitive one upmanship that evokes awe at the grandeur and pomp. Sharper, more saturated, more enhanced and better trying to be best. Best contest winner, juror's choice, first place, best of show. Awful really as it negates the real, eliminates the essential and denies contemplation or study.  I am awed by what there is, not by what I can do to something to make it stand out more than the rest. Any ability I have is in just that, being able to see how something is truly miraculous in the everyday or the commonplace. Photography is a medium of selectivity, taking pieces of the world out and putting a frame around them.

Prints are 22 x 17 inches. Want to see some? This is an offer I make often, with literally no takers. Really, that lazy? So very busy? Studio is in Allston, MA. I know, too far away for many of you, but for some, close enough. Hell, you might learn something and enjoy the experience.  If ever there was a test to prove the efficacy of the argument for making prints, Trees, Sand and Snow is it. So far from the small screen. Such a different world of representation. So much better. 

A one paragraph description of coming to my studio to look at prints:

You arrive, access is easy and parking no problem. I greet you. We exchange pleasantries. I offer you a water or an espresso. We settle  in. I ask you what you'd like to see. You tell me. I go and find it, the portfolio sitting on a shelf behind us. I place it on the viewing table, with good balanced light on above us and open the portfolio. There may be a cover statement or there may not be. We begin to look at the prints, arranged sequentially and sitting in a short stack, sliding one print to the side, looking, then sliding another one and so on. Time tends to fold in on itself, the world compressing down into this other world contained in the prints we are looking at. We are transported into these pictures where the white border around each print constitutes a frame into this world in the pictures, containing depth and clarity and revealing details you might not see were you there in front of the real thing, in the actual place. As we finish you may become aware of  sounds or something you hadn't noticed when you arrived as your attention comes back to where we are and what we were doing is now a recent memory. You may choose to have a similar experience by looking at another body of work, or you may not. And so on. We talk a little. We finish and I thank you for coming. You leave.

 Email me: Neal's email

Merry Christmas!

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Northeast,Digital,Color,New Work

Permalink | Posted December 22, 2016

Photographic Fulfillment

In the large movement of the thing we call "photography"where it has become so large as to be pervasive I believe most are looking for photographic fulfillment. Let me qualify: this pertains to those of you that call yourselves photographers.

Sure, perhaps not so much when you're young or just snap shooting but, yes in the world of artistic photo expression, fulfillment. Simple, really. In your list of aspirations, being realistic, are you going to get discovered all of a sudden (whether you're in your fifties or sixties or thirties and forties, doesn't matter) by getting that key slot in the Whitney Biennial this year, the solo show at MOMA, the MacArthur? Probably not. But to derive satisfaction from your work, to be fulfilled by the art you make, well, there's just about nothing better.

So, what is that? This ambition we have? This drive? 

Is it solely because we love what photography can do? I don't think so, although that's in there.

Is it because we have a gift and are sharing it with the world? (Read my post on  Nobody Cares about Your Photography: here.).

Is it because our audience demands it? Again, not so much.

Ah yes, love this one: is it for financial reward? Hah! Very funny.

Is it because we're God's gift? Probably not.

No, I believe it is mostly for fulfillment, or what little spark of completion, resolution, redemption, satisfaction we get when we touch close to this holy grail. Once you've got some years of experience under your belt, once you've lived a while and what serves as wisdom that comes from hindsight is in there, when you're practicing this rather odd thing of going out into the world to make pictures with some tool around your neck, it is fulfillment that sustains.  Complete a new body of work, something that holds to my standards, finish and look back with the realization that I learned something and grew and shared some perceptions that I believe are worthy of your consideration, to add some beauty poetry and music to someone's day, to share in our common human experience. Yes, that's very fulfilling, both to me and to you if the work is good.

But this isn't so easy todo, is it? This work we do, trying to reach something unobtainable or at least extremely illusive, often glimpsed but seldom achieved. That's probably why we keep coming back for more, as abusive as it may seem. For me my specific hot point is something I think of as being "sublime".  There have been many over my career and, I hope, many more. Let me show you a few: 

Nantucket 1981

It is very hard for me to disassociate the single picture from the series it comes from, so I usually don't. However, I certainly can find the one key picture from a series, as in the Nantucket one above, as it launched in essence my whole career.

Hershey, PA 1996

Healsdburg, CA, 1999

There isn't always complete alignment in what I think of as being sublime with viewers of my work. That's okay as each brings their own baggage to looking at work. But perhaps the level is what is most important, that I have raised the bar on a viewer's expectations.

Bermuda, 1980

Professional viewers, curators, collectors, gallerists and critics look at photographs a little differently this way: how the work might fit in the stable of photographers they show, fit into their collection, fit in a historical context, fit in a show they are working on down the line or even if my sex, age or race fit, whether by showing my work or purchasing it will look good in their colleague's eyes, move them up in their own careers, and so on. It is never as simple as great work getting acclaim and being committed to.

 "Mona" from the Monsters series, Fitchburg, MA 2014

Where does this leave us in our pursuit for fulfillment? Well, keep the bar high, of course. Making art is not really about compromising or settling, at least in this context. I also believe we are lifetime students, hungry to learn, progress and move forward. Finally, I don't know that I've ever been completely satisfied by something I've done, content or fulfilled by a a completed series; frequently close, but perfection is illusive after all.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD 2014

It's simple really. Keep working. Ever heard of a retired artist? Artists don't usually retire, they just die.

Near Pullman, WA 2013

One thing is for sure, finding photographic fulfillment while sitting around and not photographing is mostly impossible. When have you ever regretted going out to shoot? Me, never. Something usually happens, some idea forms, some way of looking at things differently presents itself, some perspective on my surroundings shifts a little, opening a door to try something, to click the shutter. Actually, that is very fulfilling.

To close, one of my teachers way back in the 70's was Aaron Siskind. What a great guy and photographer. He called the fulfillment I've been writing about here "the juice", as in how something ordinary like an olive tree or a stone wall becomes elevated to a high level through our eyes with a camera. So true, imbuing something mundane with something special so that it transcends its own existence. One of the things we do, yes?

The Palouse from above, Washington 2016

Topics: Commentary,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 6, 2016

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