Topic: Northeast (50 posts) Page 2 of 10

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

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

Northampton Fairgrounds

This is another in the group of blogs I've been posting taking a look at series made but not seen. Well, mostly not seen. The Northampton Fairground pictures were made in 2001. In 2010 I did show some of them at an exhibit I had at Panopticon Gallery in Boston but I'd be willing to bet that few of you have seen them before.

The full series is on the site: here.

These stuck to a prescribed plan, well oiled by this time. Scout area to shoot, load up with several rolls of black and white film, hang light meter on strap around my neck, walk and photograph in a proportion of about 4:1, meaning overshoot and then in editing cut down to about 1 keeper to every 4 shot. 

By 2001 the future seemed clear to me. The days of my darkroom printing were numbered. The Fairground pictures are one of the last I made on film and printed with an enlarger using chemistry in my darkroom. While I would stick with shooting film for several more years I would soon be scanning and inkjet printing my pictures. 

Of course, snow to a landscape photographer presents opportunities and challenges. It tends to reduce content, emphasize what's above the horizon line and maximize form. These were made mid winter on another of countless "get in the car and drive looking for photographs to make" day trips, very often on Sundays if I was teaching during the week. Northampton is about 1 1/2 hours drive out the Mass Turnpike from where I live in Cambridge. Not being well known had its advantages. Most free days were just that, no conflict, no one calling, no gallery representing my work. Free time to work.

In all these years I've learned to give serious attention to any and all fairgrounds I come across, if I can get in. The Northampton Fairground is gated but on a Sunday morning with a fresh coat of snow, the gate was open. 

There was a little cemetery along the back edge of the fairgrounds that got my attention.

This is what Mark Feeney, one of the Boston Globe's photography reviewers, wrote about the above picture:

When a Rantoul photograph includes any effect other than the most straightforward, the result can be ravishing. A picture of the Northampton Fairgrounds shows a tree in snow, an image of almost Zen spareness, yet cropped in such a way that a delicate tracery of shadows from the branches fills much of the photograph.

The words by Feeney have helped me through far leaner and meaner times. Thank you, Mark.

I continued to play with angles, the snow and bright sunlight helping here, removing the ground and allowing work with the shadows.

Then, play with words, culminating in this one below:

And then concluding with:

the first with more darks than lights.

Like something you see on the blog? Wonder if it's possible to look at actual prints? There are two ways. Ask Susan Nalband at 555 Gallery in Boston if you can get a look at a specific series or body of work.  Or, coming up soon, check out  Allston Open Studios on November 12 and 13 where the work is.

Hope to see you then.

Topics: Northeast,vintage,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 23, 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