Topic: Northeast (51 posts) Page 1 of 11

Shrink Wrapped 4

In Shrink Wrapped 1,2,3 we've looked at the early phases of a new project and then what happened as it matured.  I've worked through various issues in the effort to make  pictures that are involving and expressive from boats wrapped in plastic during the winter in coastal New England.

Shrink Wrapped 1: here

Shrink Wrapped 2: here

Shrink Wrapped 3: here

In this, the last post on the subject, I am sharing the most recent pictures made on a warm and very foggy day in Maine in late February.

Once again, I learned things and was surprised everytime I turned around.

The fog was a friend that day, before it started raining. Levitating these heavy objects free off the ground, floating them up into space, freeing them of their weight, constraint and even their purpose.This time on this shoot in the fog things went pretty far out there. Odd shapes, new forms, juxtapositions, feeling like a movie set with the fog machine turned up to high. Remember the maze scenes shot at night towards the end of the Kubrick film the Shining? Like that.

Once again, the project now had gone someplace else, this time into real abstraction, no longer bound to the ground or anything real.

What a completely haunting and mesmerizing experience, walking around these boatyards in the muffled quiet of a still and foggy day along the coast in Maine in late February. I felt alone, very small, isolated in these shrouded spaces.

The whole time on this project I've sought to elevate these things, these expensive, heavy and often massive boats, held in stasis, preserved, protected, wrapped mummies in plastic sheeting stretched tight. 

I now believe the photographing part is done. To give you how this works for me:  I've been editing the files and making small prints (19 x 13 inches) to see what these pictures look like. There are over 60 prints this size. I try to make the prints first quality at this stage as I think there is no point in anything else.  I then live with these, shuffling them around, categorizing and sequencing, making chapters or headings or sections. But in this case I don't regard Shrink Wrapped as a series that has a necessary flow or narrative, meaning that I think of these as single pictures put together into a group.  From those, taking the ones I believe are worthy and/or demand attention, I print  larger on 30 x 24 inch  paper. This at times is ludicrous as here I have to reprint sometimes and then, a humbling admission, print again to get them right. So far I amclose to 20 of these "finals" and have begun to show them. This is a phase of projects in the making for me. This week I showed the big prints to Susan Nalband, who is the owner of 555 Gallery where I show my work, and to my long time friend and colleague Andrea Greitzer, who has designed most of my books. Just a few days ago I showed them to Hanna Richman, my studio assistant. I value these opinions a great deal, indeed, opinions from everybody. And so it goes. I listen hard to people who look at my prints, shuffling them back and forth. I watch carefully too, their body language telling me about boredom, excitement, engagement, frustration. This is seeing  work through other's eyes, and is tremendously important. In between, when I have time, I go back into printing again after seeing some prints flawed through their reactions. This most likely means that I compromised on a print when I shouldn't have. Particularly true with this project I feel privileged to have the time and resources to dedicate to this work, to refine it and to mold it into just what I want it to be. How I ever managed to make concentrated bodies of work when I was younger, being a dad, working in a demanding job, I don't know. But I feel very fortunate now to be able to give a project like this total concentration.

One more thing before I close and that is my tremendous admiration for the quality of tools we now have. This, quite simply, is a project I believe would have been impossible in the days of film, chemistry and darkrooms. The smoothness of transitions, the capture of exceptionally subtle tonalities and distinctions in color are outstanding. These large inkjet prints are magnificent; subtle, luminous, expressive and evocative. 

So here we are at the end of four posts about this new Shrink Wrapped project. I thank you very much for coming along. Good work? You tell me. Done with it? Won't know for sure for a while yet, but probably.  Plans for the pictures?  Again, not sure. Usually the amount of effort I spend on getting the work out and seen is proportionate to the degree of enthusiasm I have for the work. In these I have once again stepped off a cliff, as in series like the Mutter Museum pictures, the Cabela's ones, Monsters and so on. Taking risk isn't new, in fact, I believe we all need to do this, take a chance, push ourselves out into unexplored places, whatever our field. I will continue to refine these pictures, showing them to people and gathering information about them. But, at some point and not too far away, I will need to leave them, say to myself, they are now done, box them and move on. This is the hardest part as to give up something you've worked so hard on and immersed yourself in so much is difficult. I need to lean on experience in this phase, to allow myself the permission to let go. When something is finished it is an emotionally hard time for me as I thrive on being in my projects and to be without one feels weird and disorienting. On the other hand, working on something like Shrink Wrapped is all consuming, where what I see is like tunnel vision, only looking for this one thing, therefore missing so much else. So soon, coinciding with the remarkable thing in New England called spring, along with nicer weather, I have plans to try some new projects, to point my camera in some different directions, to become a student again, to do something new.

I hope you'll come along.

Stay tuned.

Note: When I originally wrote this blog, I hadn't placed Shrink Wrapped on the site yet, but it is there now. I am showing some of my portfolios at 555 Gallery in Boston the afternoon of April 15 and pledge here to bring these along if you'd like to see them.

Topics: Northeast,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted March 28, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 3

I thought I had it all packaged, a known methodology, a series virtually completed, the work and manner of making predictable, all planned, really.  Wrong.

First, a day with strong light, wind and blue sky clarity. I thought I'd head out to just see what I could get in the mid to late afternoon, as many of the past shoots had been in the a.m. What I got was a surprise, what turned into big deal instead of just an afternoons' diversion. Not so much what was in front of me but in how much my thinking had changed, being so all consumed with the thoughts and feelings of this new series. This is obsession, of course, and it is often what we seek but comes with its own penalties too. Last time I shot on the Shrink Wrapped project had been ten days before these. It's as though my mind worked the problem over and over, took me through possibilities and iterations, allowed me to arrive along a path without even making pictures in the various versions, then took me to here, someplace else. This make any sense? Because I am in a very different place now having made these recently.

As I said, someplace different now.  This is new, this phase, and this is the part where I don't know where this comes from as these are from a far more subliminal place.  I feel like a passenger along for the ride.  This is good but a little like vertigo as I am not sure quite where I stand.  On the other hand, this heady feeling I have about these pictures means that I am no longer bogged down with some sort of base, some sort of foundation upon which the pictures reside. Oh no, not at all. So, faced with this new what I did a few days later was to is head up to Maine to find more and, as it turns out, very different boatyards with shrink wrapped boats.

Imagine allowing yourself the permission to strike out on very new ground. Granting yourself the luxury of thought in something new and unknown, taking a leap to jump ahead several steps in some sort of trajectory, a progression to some place quite simply, new. Progress forward without restraint.This bears some relationship to how you define your earlier work, of course. One of my teachers said that it all exists as a continuum, your early work compared to your latest. Easy to diminish the earlier and place the latest on a pedestal as you like to think you know so much more now. But it is all your work, the older and the new, and so as valid and relevant as anything you've done. This is not easy as you really can't negate the time it takes to get here. This is simply paying your dues, putting the time in. But this can be something very new. Giving yourself the permission to take the leap. You want to jump ahead, don't you? You're impatient to be there. In one sense you can do that through study and looking hard but in another perhaps not, no substitute for time in. I think of this as arriving at simplicity, something a younger or less experienced artist might not see as he/she is looking for significance and "meaning". Well, by pushing for that you may find it inaccessible. 

Remember when we started out on this shrink wrapped journey I said that I wanted to delve into the anatomy of a project? Well, we are know in the evolution of the anatomy. 

We will have one more blog next about these stupid shrink wrapped boats (yes, this has become a love/hate relationship). The last one, I hope. Why? Because I did go up to Maine on what turned out to be just one day instead of several. One day because it started to rain which effectively shut me down. Where I found truly epic coastal fog as snow melted and the temp was in the 60's. Where I found whole new kinds of wrapped things I'd never dreamed of. Where the sky and the plastic all melted into one, like being inside a ping pong ball. 

Want to put a little mystery into what you shoot? Wrap it.

Next up: Shrink Wrapped 4.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast,where I live

Permalink | Posted March 21, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Color,Wheat,Dunes,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 1

Project: photographs made into a portfolio, a show or a book. A project can be made quickly; over an hour, a month, a year, years, or even a whole career. 

In my own work I've made projects or series in a few hours, walking around a place photographing. But there also are ones that took longer, a few months or a few years. My work called Wheat is a project I started in 1996 and continues still, 21 years later. 

A new winter project, begun in December, has taken longer than I thought it would and now  fits into the "several months" category. I am in the phase now where I can see that this project called ShrinkWrapped will end soon. 

This blog and the next are going to be about the anatomy of a project, an effort to get inside the creative process, in this case mine, as it unfolds to make a new body of work. I am sharing with you what has and is happening as it takes place. I will try not to make strong value judgments, and urge you not to as well, as that is not the issue. You and I will be a passenger on this ride as I work through a new body of photographs, what transpires through these projects I make. Perhaps we can find a few things in here we have in common. I hope so.

Let's go through the progression. If you look at the Wheat pictures on my site, or Salt Lake, or Kudzu or the Dunes pictures from 2012 and 2013 you can see a prevalence of abstraction of form, of decontextualizing.  With the project I am working on now, I had  felt for a while that photographs of plastic wrapped boats in storage for the winter months might be worthwhile. I didn't know, of course, as  I hadn't pointed a camera at them yet. This is the phase of a project that is just thoughts, wondering, questioning, supposing, but not knowing. Of course, many ideas for projects never get farther than that. This is standard teacher to student stuff as well. This "epiphany" students would have, where they thought they'd come up with a great idea.They would show up at my office all excited to tell me about this great group of pictures they were going to make. I'd listen to their idea, this brilliant plan they had and then ask, "Do you have any pictures to show me?" They would answer, "Well no, not yet but I..." I would then kick them out of my office saying go make some pictures and show me next week. Ideas are cheap, but a physical thing, taking an idea and actualizing it into some pictures? Priceless.

So, I took a day in January. It was cold but not brutal. I drove to Gloucester on the North Shore, about an hour away. I needed a boat yard, one that stored shrink wrapped boats in the winter. I don't know much about boats as they are not part of my world. But I found a boat yard, filled with boats covered in plastic, and asked at the front desk for permission to photograph. I was taken to see the manager who said yes without a second thought. No questions asked. Perfect. I went back to the car thinking logistics: what lens? iso? tripod? aperture? access? exposure? background? There are always questions at this stage. I made some decisions, loaded up and headed out, looking. Made my first picture...

which ended up being the portfolio's title page. A kind of survey to what was contained inside, an overview only, there just to place us in a boat yard.

This phase, this exploratory thing we do, probing, wandering, not knowing what's around the corner, what's next, with no clue what we're doing yet, taking a picture, questioning how it's going to turn out or what it will look like, is always a special time. Are we on the brink of some major discovery? Some way of making photographs that is new and fresh? Or is what is there nothing, nothing that holds attention or that somehow it is all wrong? Return another time?  A different day? On your next trip? Or perhaps it came across as a bad idea poorly executed? It is humbling, really, how easy it is to make bad pictures or the inverse, how impossible it is to make really good ones.

But here in this boat yard in Gloucester that day it seemed fine to me, particularly as this was the first day. I found I was pointing up a lot, being on the ground with these boats way high up in the air, sitting there held up by cradles. Let's be clear  this is not a "boats" project. I didn't care much about their hulls, exposed as they were but the white shrink wrapped plastic installed from just below their decks all the way up through to the tops of their wheel houses were something else. Through the camera, in isolation, they looked like snow covered mountains to me.   Some of the pictures I made that day:  

Shapes and form.  For the most part I am not very interested in where they are, these huge things sitting heavy on the ground. But they do seem to fly or take on blimp-like form when put up against the sky. This was getting interesting.

I also took a few minutes to watch a crew unrolling sheet plastic, draping it over a boat, trimming it and then hitting it with a gas powered heat gun to shrink it tight around the form of the boat.

Then I made a discovery. If I walked between the boats, many pressed up against each other in places, this world became one of white on white, a blizzard of shrink wrapped white plastic stretched around the shape of the boats. Most odd and quite wonderful:


Now I was getting somewhere.  I seem to have a pervasive need to abstract things, to isolate and take out of context. This was the engine that drove what I did that day in Gloucester, to get right up in these shapes, to take them out of their surroundings, the function of protecting the boats, this practical requirement to wrap these costly things with sheets of white plastic. 

What a pleasure.

I left that day knowing now that I had a hold of something, excited at what I would find when I opened up these files back home.

I also left that day with many questions. Had I started and finished a project? Or maybe just begun? Had I done well, or was my approach wrong or misguided? It is something if you think about it, this illusive thing we deal with, this effort to make art, some of us throughout our whole careers. After all this time, all these years of working weekly and daily, looking through a lens on the world, that we still don't know what will come out, what might surprise us, what will last and what won't. It is sobering to find that we know so little.

Coming up next, Shrink Wrapped 2, as I find I am not done at all, as I learn getting above the boats isn't what I thought it would be, as I learn that it is challenging to shoot white on white, where I find transparency, as things get very strange indeed and where I find substance in pragmatic forms.

Stay tuned.

Note: As Shrink Wrapped isn't finished yet I haven't placed the series on the website yet.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2017

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