Topic: Martha's Vineyard (20 posts) Page 1 of 4

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

Presenting at VCS

VCS? What is that? The Vineyard Conservation Society on Martha's Vineyard.

I have been asked to speak and show slides of my aerial photographs of the island on June 29th. VCS is a long standing conservation non profit on the island and responsible for countless lands saved and preserved. This is a real honor for me. 

BTW: While you may not be able to make it to the talk, my work of aerials from the Vineyard is now represented by the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Aerials

Permalink | Posted June 7, 2016

Working Close to Home

Throughout my career as an artist, primarily as a landscape photographer, but also working in other genres, I have returned countless times to Martha's Vineyard, where the Rantoul family home is. My parents built a house in the town of Chilmark in the mid sixties and after they died I share the home with my two sisters. We rent the house most of the summers and use the house in the spring and fall. As a matter of fact I am there now, writing this post rather than out photographing as it is raining and cold, with a steady fine rain that feels like a long time commitment to me.

While there have been real blocks of time where I couldn't of cared less about photographing here the past few years have resulted in a large amount of work, made both aerially and as ground based series too. 

I find it wonderful to have such a richness of beauty and form right near by. It does inspire me to work here these days, challenges me to come up with new projects and ways of interpreting what is here. Perhaps you have this too where you live. Things close by that you see daily that when seen through the eyes of an artist can be used to make art. I'd encourage this, this looking closer, considering what you pass by everyday as ammunition for your pictures. Your increased knowledge of an area seen daily on your way to work, the macro examination of your backyard, the looking  with a camera at the place where you get your coffee every morning, the different perspective and vantage point to something so taken for granted, so very mundane that it is almost invisible or as you think about that meeting coming up or that deadline approaching or next weekend when there's a camping trip or a reunion with old friends or a first date or.... you know what I mean. As visual artists we are trained observers, nothing gets past us, we are like sharks on a hunt, predators on the prowl, looking for pictures to make. 

                                       • • •

Now I am off island, but I was on the Vineyard last weekend and went up to the famous Gay Head Cliffs on Memorial Day Weekend in the afternoon on a nice day to see what was going on, this the unofficial start of the summer, only to find many many tourists taking selfies and posed snapshots with the cliffs or the lighthouse in the background. Not a camera in sight, all smart phones. I sat there and watched it all unfold, like a changing set of actors on a stage. What a killer this must be to the camera manufacturers who relied on the huge amateur market for most of their revenue for a very long time. Instamatics, Polaroid SX-70's, the Brownie, the Swinger, etc.

Talk about sea change, the smartphone picture is now practically universal with the point and shoot cameras for all intents and purposes gone. Yes, there are specialized cameras like waterproofs, action cams and drone cameras, but the phenomenon of bringing the camera on the vacation is really over. The smartphone rules. The best camera is the camera you've got with you and everyone has a phone with them, all the time.

You can see why the smartphone companies are making improvements to the cameras in their phones. This is a way to create a competitive edge. 

So, did I take these with a smartphone? I did not.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Gay Head,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted June 4, 2016


I just got back from a couple of days on the island of Martha's Vineyard.  The afternoon I arrived went rapidly downhill to an evening that had fierce rain, flash floods and tree-branch-breaking winds. By the next morning the rain had ceased but the wind was still up.  At 8 or so I drove up island to the Chilmark town beach called Squibnocket where all hell was breaking loose.

The waves were pounding into shore in rapid succession.

To photograph this was way out of my comfort zone. I don't usually shoot stuff that  moves. What did I do? Answer: the best I could.

If you've been to Squibnocket, the waves were washing right across the parking lot. 

Of course, I loved all of it.

After that I drove to Vincent's Beach, farther down the south side of the island.

Where the waves had created sea foam, like whip cream. 

While walking in I came across another photographer walking out, camera on a tripod just like me. In an odd sort of way it was like coming across myself. He pointed to his wet pants and said to be careful the waves were coming right up the beach. I thanked him, walked down the beach a ways, plunked my tripod down in the sand, looked through the long lens on my camera and started shooting. Guess  what happened next?

Before I knew what hit me I was knee deep in a wave washing ashore. So much for "watching out."

This is what it looked like that morning at Vincent's:

This beach where the summer people slather on sun block, kids build sand castles, lawyers and stockbrokers waddle out with their Sunday New York Times to soak up the rays and body surf the waves. This high-end beach looking now very different and really deadly. 

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

Permalink | Posted April 10, 2016

The Photographer

The photographer sits at his desk on the island in the house he owns with his two sisters. It is a mid sixties Eliot Noyes designed house with a broad view of the south coast of the island as it is sited high up on a hill overlooking a mile of land before the shore with a view all the way out to the horizon. He has spoken before how this location is partially responsible for an aesthetic long on horizontality over now a career of making landscape photographs. 


Faced with hip surgery soon, he finds himself unable to do things he used to take for granted. He is still able to make pictures that connect and have force, though perhaps the car is parked nearby or the picture is made close to the road, for walking isn't easy. But his fluidity with his medium is due to decades of work looking and making pictures of what he sees.

He has made new pictures at the the other end of the island in a remote place where soil erosion is winning the battle against a stand of trees.The ocean is at its most powerful here and a cut in the point of sand has wreaked havoc where the waves meet the land. 


In several flights to photograph the island over the past three years, he has been struck by how much this particular landscape has been transformed. As the bluff erodes the trees have no choice but to fall, one by one. This time he drove to the end of the dirt road, parked and walked along the strip of trees, looking out at the ocean as it ripped around the outermost bend in the island. 

As is typical for him, he found himself interested in wildly different content looking out and in, a 180 degree metaphor for the external and internal lives we all lead.

This work, some new and some now three years old, is forming in his head as a project that will look at a piece of island land both from the air and also on the ground. This will be his third such project, and seems surprising to him that this isn't done by others here. This sense one has of what the place really looks like from the air as in a kind of survey contrasted with what is perceived of the individual choices he makes as he works throughout the land on foot. One almost objectified and the other highly personal, almost intimate. The place versus his place. Like that.

These two from a series in 2014 that looked at Tom's Neck from the ground (well, actually, from the water as he made these while in a kayak) and from the air.

These are from the island of Chappaquidick near the Dyke Bridge.

The other project made here, the first, is: Spring and Fall

As he sits at his desk as the light fades from the day writing and thinking about these photographs and all his work made here on the island, he finds the challenge of making new work of this landscape to be difficult but also extremely rewarding. One of his teachers long ago, Aaron Siskind, who also photographed here, said to him that the place was only an island, meaning that you would inevitably run out of material here. The photographer has at times worked hard here and at other times not at all but he finds now there are still things to do on this island. 

He is very fortunate to live at least part of the year in a place of such beauty and diversity. 

He chooses to end with these, in black and white now, of the trees that fell and haven't yet been swept away by winter storms. And the last picture, forecasting a very different season approaching.

The photographer is represented by 555 Gallery in Boston. Please contact Susan Nalband, the gallery owner, with any questions about this work or any other by the photographer who happens to be named Neal Rantoul.

Of course you can always email me and I welcome your comments: Neal's email

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Aerials,Color,Black and White,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 24, 2015