Topic: Northeast (47 posts) Page 1 of 10

South Shore 1977

Then 1977. Now 2017... forty years ago. Forty Years Ago! OMG! What happened? Shocking.

At any rate, in 1977 I was teaching two days a week at New England School of Photography in Boston and that's it. I was thirty years old and had finished gradate study at RISD in 1973. I didn't start teaching at Harvard until the fall of 1978. I knew this was no way to make a living, one class that met 2 days a week, but I did have a lot of time to work. I remember I worried about money a lot. In January through March that year I packed up my camera and headed to the south shore of Massachusetts from Cambridge, where I still live. I worked on the idea of blue skies made darker with the use of a 3 stop red filter- i.e. in black and white photography, a color filter over the lens makes its own color go light and its opposite colors go darker- at the numerous summer shacks and houses near towns like Plymouth and Situate and at beaches like Scusset Beach. My favorite routine was: shoot am, get lunch, shoot pm til close to dark, drive home, develop film, eat dinner, print, sleep. If it clouded up I'd head home.

I remember these came hard as I wanted a certain look. As minimal statements, they are series work before I made series work. They roughly connect but are not tightly sequenced, they're simply a body of work in my eyes. It wouldn't be until three years later that I would stumble across sequenced series works with the one called Nantucket.

Yes, they are very dark and moody, almost inky in the blacks. Also, they are  heavily toned, with a Kodak toner called Rapid Selenium Toner which was used in the hypo clear tray, after the print was fixed. I used this toner extensively in my  black and white years. I shudder to think how much as it not good environmentally.

I  made this with a Rollei Sl66 (which I still have), a single lens reflex 2 1/4 camera. I learned that I could place the horizon just where I wanted by raising or lowering the center column on the tripod (mine was geared and had a crank for setting the camera higher or lower). I thought this was cool, of course, as it gave me a sort of power over the outcome of the picture by controlling how thick the band of water would be as I put something in front of it.

The prints are about 10 inches square and mounted on 16 inch square museum board.

I remember I was entranced with the look of these when they were done. To be able to get this smooth transition from the darkest sky at the top to the lightest at the bottom still appeals. Yes, I was working on a skill set. The ability to render these with absolute evenness and smoothness then was very difficult. This all concerned the processing of the film in that the chemistry needed to flow across the emulsion in a random but consistent manner so that no one area got more developed than another and that no flow patterns were established. So easy today as digital just renders it as it is, but so hard then. Was this work shown? Yes, many times but only in those earlier years. At the New England School of Photography's gallery, at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA, in a local cooperative gallery, at a bar, and so on.

The full group of them are up on the site now and hold the distinction of residing at the very bottom of the gallery page as they are the first body of work chronologically on the site (the gallery page runs that way: the oldest on the bottom and the newest at the top). They are here.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Northeast

Permalink | Posted January 8, 2017

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 that 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

Zakim Bridge

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.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Northeast,Boston

Permalink | Posted December 19, 2016

About This Time of Year

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. 

Topics: portfolios,vintage,Black and White,Northeast

Permalink | Posted December 9, 2016