Topic: Northwest (23 posts) Page 2 of 5

Benson Grist Mill

On the site: a new series from near Salt Lake City, Utah in September: here.

The Benson Grist Mill is a small tourist attraction of a restored grist mill north of the city. The mill building itself is large, three stories high and was powered by a stream. It dates back to 1842. The project ends up being in black and white as I felt that color would not add to the pictures. Working on these photographs over the past two weeks felt very much like I was working within my own tradition of making series work: black and white, wide angle lens, hand held camera and walking through a place or an area to make a sequential body of photographs. This way of working, what I call "series" work, came about a long time ago in the early 80's. I wrote about this discovery in a few posts starting here:

Over my now long career as an artist, making series work has lived as a core principal for me.

This is a little difficult to communicate effectively but ultimately I am often not so invested in a place that I photograph as what that place means in terms of the pictures I make from it. Another way to say this is to ask the question if I cared about the grist mill's history? What it was used for? The role that it played in the local economy of the time? Not so much. On the other hand, without this content, this subject in front of me that day, what would I have? Nothing. It is this Harry Callahan was referring to when he said that the "subject is everything". 

Let's take a look.

This is the title page. Benson Grist Mill is a sequenced and numbered portfolio of pictures, printed 20 inches across on 22 x 17 inch Canson Photographique Baryta paper, in black and white. 

The first picture in the set is this:

and it establishes that we are in some sort of farm or old village on a very bright and sunny day in the summer or early fall with paved paths, which would reinforce that this is a place for tourists to come see and that is correct. We see the bottom half of a log cabin, a lot of grass, some bushes and a shadow. Of course, in this one the big elephant in the scene is the shadow of a wind mill, which, as it turns out, we never see in reality in the series. This is a prevailing theme throughout this 17 print series. The shadow contained within the picture, without the actual object being shown. This image, were you to see it up close and personal, is sharp and exceptionally clean, the print is open and without color or toning with deep blacks but with detail contained within them,  Zone lll shadows, if you know what that means.

As we go through these it might be helpful if you think of the series as photographs in pairs, with some existing as spaces between the pairs. I will point them out as we go along. For this one we have the same building now described mostly in front of us with strong light on the logs looking almost bleached on this bright sunny day. Notice that the top of the building is cut off. I am known for this and it irritates many but I believe in the device, truncating the top peak as it contains the picture better. There is also something of an "arrow" in the shadow pointing us to the left to the grist mill which is coming up, but not quite next as we have this one before we go there.

Why? For its surface treatment, and for its sheer textural richness and beauty. Notice the shadow again here, never defined as to what it is coming from.

Let me take us off topic slightly for minute. In this set we have nothing revolutionary at all. I am using commonly available materials, am handling single files one at a time to make single pictures. I am hand holding the camera when shooting and am using a wide angle zoom lens. All of this is everyday practice digital photography. But, I am doing all this with as consummate a skill level of rendering as I know how to make based upon my over 40 years of experience as a photographer. Does it matter? I think it does but you would have to be the judge by seeing the actual prints. I would hold this photograph up as an example. Sliding your eyes over the surface of that door, this very old wood standing the test of almost a couple of centuries is a little like looking at the variety and subtleties of a landscape photographed from the air. 

Let's move on, into a sort of trilogy, out of respect for the structure itself, the grist mill that was built originally in 1842, the core of this little assemblage of buildings, shacks and barns, but also because in pictures, at least, it is magnificent.

So here we are at what would seem to be the very center of the series, the pictures of the grist mill itself. But I've gotten there only four pictures into the series. Why is that? Because it is a false center. It really isn't the main point of this series but only serves as a lead in and prelude to some other things I want to say farther down into the series.

So this one, turning things into obliques and angles, gives us a little of the front of  the grist mill but denies us much knowledge of the overall structure. This was really a decision made more in editing than the day I was making the pictures. Because I did stand back and photograph the front full facade of the building but didn't include it as it left nothing to the imagination. I would even go as far to say that it didn't have any "artistry". I know that may seem odd but the image (notice I am not showing it to you) was factual and boring. And you and I both do not have time for those.

So, next up:

Bang. Straight. No convergence as I am standing on a slight hill to shoot it and with a little sky showing along the top edge. A facade based picture with what looks like the sun almost dead on behind me, a little to the right perhaps. On the right, the same steps we saw in the previous frame, what looks like an antenna or a short cel tower in the background place us now in 2015, not 1842 and then the side of the building serving as the springboard to head us back to the ridge where there seem to be some buildings. We are headed there but not quite yet. And finally keep an eye on the fence as it will reappear here:

No longer so straight. Here I am letting the width of the lens have its due, rather than playing it conservative. Clearly the lens making things a little different. I remember working to make that center line of the edge of the grist mill be straight and then letting whatever else was in the frame angle out.

Are we having fun yet? I know I am. Let's do one more and then we'll save the rest for part 2.

Odd. Yes, this is our original log cabin but placed here as though we've looped back around to it from the grist mill. True enough. That is exactly the way it worked. In order to move farther on and end up on the ridge back behind the mill I needed to walk on the path you see to the left to a small bridge that crossed the stream. In terms of the project this is a little like hinting at something, denying it and then giving it to you. As a very poor pianist, I often play against a chord to increase tension and make the getting to the harmony in the cord itself more rewarding and satisfying. Same here. Note the extension cord coming out from the doorway leading to the black frame around which another picture is being framed, the continuance of the pathway in the far background, the verticality of this small one mimicked by the two windows. Finding a way to make a vertical photograph in a horizontal frame? Always fun.

I would think by now you might be mulling over what I said at the start.  About the subject being of secondary importance in relation to the pictures made from it. Another way to analogize about it is this: it might be helpful to think of what is in front of you with your camera as a list of ingredients from which any of us could make a wide variety of dishes for our dinner. As I parked my car and walked into the Benson Grist Mill with no camera, not knowing what it was, and scouted the location for a few minutes, made the decision that this was good and headed back to the car to get my camera I was thinking about logistics, of course (what lens, what ISO, have I got a fresh card, should I bring a backup battery with me?) but also that here I was, once again, about to embark on a series and psyched for the challenge of making pictures that might become a part of my oeuvre. In fact, that's just what has happened.

This is probably a good place to stop this post. I will bring Part 2 in quickly, in a day or so, and hope you will stay along for that one too.

I hope you are enjoying the look at this new work. Let me know by emailing me. Would you like me to continue? 

Neal's email: here

If you want to see the Benson Grist Mill series as prints get in touch with 555 Gallery in Boston. 

Next up: Benson Grist Mill Part 2

Topics: Nantucket,Black and White,New Work,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted December 9, 2015


Is that it? Am I desensitized to new pictures? Or is it that I've been here, the peninsula that starts in Rockland, Maine and ends at Port Clyde, so many times I've done it all before? (I wrote most of this when in Maine in September.)

I was trying to play it out that what I found two weeks ago in Utah was so over the top incredible that it made me less prone to find things to photograph back in New England but I don't think that's it. 

Great Salt Lake, Utah, 2015 Shoot 2

Great Salt Lake, Utah, 2015 Shoot 2

I think it is simply that I have hunted here for pictures so many times. I have rented here for several years, either in Port Clyde itself or where I am now in South Thomaston. Years ago, I also taught for several summers at what used to be called the Maine Photographic Workshops, now called the Maine Media Workshops.

I even came up here a few winters on a grant to study at the Eastman Kodak digital research facility in the early 90's.

No, what it is partially is that I am having surgery in November.

As I anticipate hip replacement surgery in early November the will may be there but the body isn't able to deliver. I find I consider going out to shoot someplace as a balancing of the pros and cons. How much walking? How far? And, of course, is it worth it?

I remember Aaron Siskind having this same dilemma as he got older. Of course, he fell and really hurt himself on a photo trip to Turkey. This was such a life threatening crisis he was flown home to Providence to have a skin graft in the repair of his broken leg. After a long time in recovery he was able to walk again and made these pictures:

not far from his home in Pawtucket, RI. These were nicknamed the "dribbling tar pictures" as that was what they were. Wonderful abstractions and made with the 2 1/4 single lens Rollei that I had as well. In fact, I still have it. One of my mottos, developed over now a long life of massive amounts of physical activities is: Don't get hurt.

For now, my process is: what you can do with what you've got. Working within a set of limitations as a sort of compromise or a deal with myself. 

As young man I didn't think this way, of course. There were really no limits. If I needed to hike with the 8 x10 slung over my shoulder to the top of the cliff in Southern France to get that one picture, I did it. If I needed to schlep the big camera to the bottom of Cava Romana in northern Italy near Trieste to be able to photograph the walls of the marble quarry in 100 degree heat, I did it. If I needed to climb the scaffolding on the outside of the Zakim Bridge in Boston while it was under construction to get the picture of the three guys raising the US flag, I did it. Finally, if I needed to photograph Chetro Ketl at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico from above and hike the trail that took me up there, I did it.

                                                               • • •

As I now conclude this post, back in Cambridge for a few weeks, I am off again to Martha's Vineyard to stay for a bit before heading home to Boston for surgery. Next few posts will be from the Vineyard, which is exceptionally beautiful in the fall, with yellows, oranges, deep purples and rust predominating. Can't  wait.

Topics: Aaron Siskind,Utah,Northwest,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 12, 2015

The Mountain Work

I just added a series to the site called Mountain Work from 1977/78, (here). Hard to believe I was making pictures so long ago but it's true.

Mountain work was series work before I knew most of my career I would be a series photographer. I made them during a very active period when I was carrying several projects at the same time. In truth my single mindedness about making pictures back then looks, from this perspective, a little deranged but there is no doubt I was making good work in there, if perhaps making too much. Mountain Work was a portfolio of 20 black and white photographs made at the top of  "drive up"mountains. I thought then and still do that these are unique places, with wide vistas, huge skies and, in the summer, people from all walks separated from their more mundane lives, placed as though the sky above was a sort of backdrop for them and, yes, presumptuous I know, for me as well to photograph their interactions, joys  and gestures at being on top of the world. I was passionate about the project and went to places like Mt. Tom, Mt Battie, Mt Tamalpais, Mt Washington, Mt Cadillac. The only rule was that this be a destination you could get to by driving to the summit. Tourist mountains.

Wait a minute. Do you realize the exceptional-ness of the last few sentences in the paragraph above?  This from the guy that does not photograph people. Well, I did in this series, so there. From Mountain Work in 1978 to Monsters in 2015 (some 37 years!) being shown at 555 Gallery in Boston in September, I've gone from photographing the human beings in situ to photographing fake people as masks and mannequins. We will see soon if this is progress.

At any rate, before we get to the pictures let me place them in context. In those years I was single, had not yet started a family and was in my early 30's. I began teaching at Harvard in the fall of 78, was teaching summers at the Maine Photographic Workshops, and had been teaching at NESOP (New England School of Photography) for a couple of years. I would, the following winter, take a self imposed leave from both to drive through the Southwest to photograph. This was the trip that changed my life because I spent 3 days with Fred Sommer (posts on that begin here and continue for three more, searchable by typing Fred Sommer in the search field).

The Mountain Work also ushered in something else. The pictures were mostly made with Kodak's Plus-X. The year before I had devised a new and constant film agitating procedure for processing my negatives and was showing that off with these pictures. While these on screen won't show it well, the large expanses of middle tonality grays of skies in the series were smooth and clean. 

I would drive to the top of the mountain, park, get my camera out and stay for hours, watching as the cast of characters changed as they got out of their cars, headed over to the viewing area, pointed out at things way off, took pictures, hung out a little, got back in their cars and drove away. Only to be replaced with others in a steady stream of  humanity in all shapes, sizes and dispositions. 

This was a sequenced series, in that it moved from start to middle to end in a flow. 

I treated vehicles about the same, photographically, as I did the people.

What's the exhibition history of these pictures?  Practically nonexistent. I showed them once, in a show at my niece's non profit gallery in Newport RI in the 90's. Published? Nope. Anyone know about them before now? Pretty safe to say no. The prints are about 12 inches square, toned with selenium and cool in color. This is a little embarrassing to admit but there is only one copy of these prints. Back then, no one I knew printed editions or copies of prints. 

This one, with a Rollei SL 66 that could tilt, made hand held. Scheimpflug through space. Don't know what that is? Go here. Sharp from small bush in foreground, through woman's arm then off to the left through trees and to the horizon. All the rest not sharp. I used this camera quite often that way. I felt it differentiated my work and that I could direct the viewer's path through my pictures.

I always thought this one above predicted my moving into a stage of marriage and being a young parent with a baby in my arms. In fact, I would be a parent four years later.

This one is a favorite: independent activities on the stage of this parking lot at the same time, almost as though choreographed.

As the series moved on it began to reduce the people in scale to smaller and smaller.

Then, in the next to last picture, the shock of three people, the largest yet, and an acute foreground-to-background range through the fog of early morning at Mt Tamalpais north of San Francisco. I always loved that gesture,  someone pointing off to somewhere.

And finally,

with the lone figure standing on the rock way back there, the picture bisected at a 45 degree diagonal.

The full series is here

Let me know what you think, but please, take a look at the full set first.

Neal's Email

Note: this is an extremely poor facsimile of the originals.Want to see the actual prints? This can be easily arranged through 555 Gallery, as they represent my work.

By the way, I made another Mountain Work series of pictures in 2011. They are here.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast,Northwest

Permalink | Posted August 28, 2015

What I've Learned

After now almost two months of working on the new prints called Monsters  for the show coming up in September at 555 Gallery in Boston titled "Wild Thing" I have learned a few things and I thought I'd share my experience with you.

Making prints from a project, be it for a portfolio or for an exhibition, is a process. There are steps, necessary as an evolutionary process, that must be taken. These are things that can't be rushed or corners cut to get to a final result. This is true at least for me. I believe it is very important to set enough time aside for these steps to happen. I started working on the new Monsters pictures around July 4. They are now finished with the last step being to move them to the gallery, unpack them and hang the show. So, my personal process of editing, printing, reprinting, changing sizes or cropping, reprinting, mounting and then framing is now about to go into a more public process of interaction, final editing, and working with the gallery to hang the work. Then, finally, when the show opens my work goes public. But as this progresses from singular decisions and all the results inherent in that to a more public place my role is no longer active. In some sense, the job being finished, my role is over. I just need to show up.

The Monsters show, framed and packed for moving to the gallery.

This is all good, of course. I am honored and privileged to be allowed to take my work through this process and I am indebted to 555 Gallery for the opportunity. For a sense of perspective, much of my career was spent making work with no clear objective in sight, no place to show it, no one expressing an interest in it or, in fact, even knowing it existed. But what I've learned or it seems relearned is that while the gains are large, that I am showing new work soon, there are losses too. This whole "print for a show" thing? In this case, it was all consuming. Not much time off, few new photographs made, few laughs and fun times and, whatever work I did make,  made without enough concentration. 

Where there have been other activities going on they have centered around making a catalogue for the show, sending to press the Essays on Photography book that is being printed now, and some advance publicity for the show. There are now even Moo cards made of  the Monsters work:

Why? For the sheer fun of it. Also, I've been dealing with theses images and more in large sizes for so long it's great to be able to see the cast of characters in cards, as these have become my coconspirators, my friends. Suffice it to say, we are very close. If you see me, ask to see my cards.

While proud of the new work and looking forward to is unveiling, I am missing time spent on making new work. To that end, there is some travel coming up that should put things back on course. Coming up in a week or so I fly to Salt Lake City, Utah to make aerial photographs of the salt flats and the shoreline of Great Salt Lake.Thanks to Google Earth I can show you where I am headed:

Can't wait. 

I'll be back for the opening at 555 Gallery September 12. 

Hope to see you there.

Topics: Northwest,Color,Digital,Aerials

Permalink | Posted August 26, 2015

Waldo Found

A few weeks ago while I was out photographing in the wheat field country called The Palouse in Washington I wrote a post that challenged readers to find a gravestone in a cemetery in Oakesale, WA with the gravemarker "Waldo"

Here's the post:   Here's the Deal

I wrote then that anyone that finds the headstone gets a print from the Oakesdale series from me as the prize.

Well, drumroll please, we have a winner!

It is Susan Nalband from 555 Gallery. 

I know what you're thinking, "Isn't this the gallery Neal shows his work with?"

Yes, it is but I swear this is not a fixed contest. Out of the blue Susan sent me an email this morning:

and here's my picture of the headstone:

How about that?

Of course, she didn't actually go out there and walk around the cemetery to prove she   found it. But she did something better, she found the story behind the marker. 

WALDO ALVIN NOLTING died when he was 28 years old and he was single. I wonder what that story is? Farm accident, disease, ill health from serving in WW I?

Thank you, Susan. Please get in touch soon to claim your print, any of your choice from the Oakesdale Series


And thank you Mr. Nolting. It is sad you died so young. If there is anything at all after we die, you should know that you lie in a most beautiful spot, on the side of a hill, surrounded by wheat fields and with a tree over you for shade from the summer's heat.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northwest

Permalink | Posted July 26, 2014