Topic: Series (22 posts) Page 1 of 5

Fences and Walls 1979

I have been talking about and showing my series pictures lately in a variety of presentations so they are very much on my mind. While I usually start with the Nantucket pictures made in 1981 (here) there is a series I made earlier that in some ways can serve as a predictor of things to come. It is called "Fences and Walls" and is the topic of this post.

To recap: I finished gradate school at RISD in 1973 and by 1978 I was teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston. By the fall of 1979 I was teaching at Harvard University as well. I made pictures constantly, almost without discrimination, of anything that seemed remotely interesting. I made major photo trips to Europe, to Bermuda (twice), to the American Southwest, and worked locally.

Looking back at that chaotic time, I remember thinking I was out of control, passionate about now being a career teacher and artist but not able to bring clear focus to any coherent presentation or method. One day while in Newport, RI on a photo trip in the early spring I made a discovery. 

I found I was frequently pointing my camera at walls and fences, separators and barriers we use to edge our property or to keep people out and our pets and children in.

This was the beginning, I believe, of my ability to understand what I was making intuitively. 

By combining the new pictures I was making and sifting through pictures I'd made in the past year or so I found a common thread of a preoccupation I'd had that I hadn't been aware of. This was an odd sensation, to find something in my work prevailing that I hadn't seen before and taught me something about the importance of the subliminal and the need to search our own work for answers. It also helped me slow down and look harder at the pictures I had made rather than only shooting and printing at this frantic pace of making but not looking.

The series also split into two other interests, full and empty, as a subset.

If you've followed along with my writing on other series, such as Nantucket, Hershey, Oaksdale, Yountville, Portland, Solothurn (all searchable by name on this blog), you know that we are looking at the series that predates all those others. 

Whether Fences and Walls can really be used as the foundation series of pictures to the subsequent ones will be for better minds than mine to determine.

But I do believe that in my oeuvre of series works, Fences and Walls needs to be counted as a player in the mix. 

One note here: I don't regard Fences and Walls as a contributor to my idea of "narrative" in my work. That wasn't a concept that had coalesced yet. It would take the Nantucket pictures to make that happen, still two years away. 

The full series is now on the site, way down at the bottom of the Gallery page, as it is arranged chronologically from the earliest to the latest.

As always, I welcome your comments:  Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Series,Analog,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 17, 2017

Lugano 1982

Ever hear of it? Lugano is in southern Switzerland, not far from the northern Italian border. Though it is in CH, its history is that is was part of Italy and so the primary language is, you guessed it, Italian. It is a sort of paradise, being south enough to have palm trees along the lake with a view up to snow covered mountains in the Alps, a couple of hours away.

Why Lugano? Because my ex wife and the mother of my daughter Maru is from there. Though we divorced 20 years ago, back then we went to visit frequently, staying with her parents above Lugano in a little town call Breganzona.

We were there over the holidays in December, 1981. I'd brought the 4 x5, intending to borrow a car and get out to shoot in the area. I did just that, coming back to Cambridge in January to make prints. There was no real intention to make a narrative here, just to photograph what interested me and to end up with a portfolio of prints from the best negatives. The full portfolio is in my studio and the prints are about 11 x 14 inches, toned with selenium, mounted and matted archivally on 16 x 20 museum board.

Here goes.

I don't know that there is always wisdom in hindsight but my take on these is that the pictures mix some rather chaotic places with some of real serenity. 

My wife's parents had a swimming pool housed in its own building across the yard from the house. I remember I spent a lot of time there, swimming, reading and photographing. I was reading books like "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard and probably "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Racing" by Robert Pirsig in those days.

In Lugano it could snow one day and then you might wake up to this, rising  temperatures, melting snow and brilliant sun.

The pool and the main house are all gone now, along with my in laws. He to a brain tumor in his late 50's and she just last year. The property fell into disrepair after he died and has been sold, most likely to be torn down for apartments or condos. 

As an aside, one of the mounted prints has this on the back:

presumably because I had it in a show at some point.

My, how things have changed.

Topics: Black and White,Europe,Series,vintage

Permalink | Posted December 16, 2016

11 Days Out

I am now 11 days out from having surgery to replace my left hip (the right hip was done back in November). One of the after effects of having all the drugs in you from surgery is that several of your systems are also put to sleep. For instance, your digestive track may need a kick start to begin working again. So then you are being given drugs to counteract other drugs. In there you sort of lose your mind. Not as though you go crazy but my  mind was reduced to working in a far more primal state: survival. Days are simple; eat, stay warm, drink fluids, rest. Not because you're  being told to do this but because this is all you've got. Gradually I did begin to surface, to be able to think. At about 6 days out I found myself sitting at my kitchen table one morning all alone crying my eyes out. Was I sad, was there some big tragedy on my life? Nope, just strong a wave of emotion coming to the surface having been suppressed by drugs due to surgery. I remember being really happy at this outburst, this catharsis that meant I was able to feel again.

Over the past few days, real thought has been possible. Hell, I couldn't turn thought off. Ideas springing forth, as though some tap had been turned on. Pictures to make, new ways of working to explore, places to go to photograph, past projects to print, or reprint or to bring to the front. In fact, so many ideas that I have to be careful I don't act on them in haste. I could find my condo for sale, a new car in my garage, new lenses arriving even though I have bills to pay, me owning a vacation home someplace. 

But in terms of pictures, these from 2012 popped right up:

In a three or four print series

From a small northern Italian coastal town called Forti Di Marmi.

Painted rental changing rooms on a private beach. Why? Good question. Not the deepest of pictures I have ever made but perhaps more of a sensual delight; strong colors, a fast rendition due to the sweep to the railings and ceilings pulling back to a flat plane, a sense of constancy in design within the group, variety within a common theme. At any rate, there they were demanding my attention, these pictures made  in 2012. The current plan is make large prints of them. I think of them as a sort of celebration.

While I can't show you where I am headed I can show you what I am working on as past projects to fully realize, or in one case, re-realize work made in the past to bring it to the front.

Stay tuned. 

12 Days Out coming up next. 

So, despite that I am still using crutches to walk around and not driving yet, I don't think I'd be going out much to shoot today anyway. This is what my outdoor thermometer said this morning.

OMG!

Topics: Foreign,Color,Digital,Series

Permalink | Posted February 14, 2016

Baldwinville, MA 2015

This is the second time we've shown work on the site by the young photographer Marc S. Meyer. Marc lives near Baltimore but photographs frequently in New England. To read more about him and his work go here.

Marc writes about the photographs:

I’d seen this abandoned building from the road earlier in the fall and marked it on the car’s GPS so I could return. I picked a day in early January where the cloud cover was heavy and there was snow in the forecast. When I arrived the air was still and electric with the coming storm. I worked for several hours in the cold, returning to the car to warm up and look over the pictures on the back of my camera that I’d just made. There wasn’t a soul in sight, only the occasional sound of a car going by on the two-lane road nearby.


The sky was important as it would serve as the drama needed for the pictures but I also wanted it to have visual weight. This was tripod work, as I would combine several frames of the same scene into one image later on in post processing.

Of course, no artist knows if he will be successful if an image or a few of his images will be seen as important in a larger context. One can only hope. But these few large photographs are intended to represent the first half of the equation or analogy, if you will. Man made structures decay if left on their own outdoors. Fact. This large warehouse made to take care of a region’s municipal needs outside the small town of Baldwinville is also a fact. But we seem to have no problem making something, using it and then discarding it when we no longer need it. We do it every week when we take out the trash.

As a large issue this building sitting empty and forlorn outside a small town in rural Massachusetts serves for me as an example of skewed priorities. Used and thrown away.
On a smaller issue and on a more personal scale, I have always found photography’s ability to beautify fascinating. I would doubt if “beauty” came up much when the architects and/or engineers were designing this building. But there it sits; empty, discarded, dismissed and beautiful.


This work is deceptively simple, almost minimal. The prints are large, at 30 x 24 inches and unusual in their depth and tonal range. 

Assigning such nobility to what is, in effect, a piece of junk is of course Marc's point.

But then he takes us inside the structure, almost as though we're headed into a tomb.

and ends with:

That's it. The series seems to end even though it just got started. No frills here. I've said this before but: get in, get it done and get out. That's what Marc did here and the reduction serves the overall purpose of the group of pictures: the force of their impact, their remarkable color palette, their emphasis on containing information both within and without the building.

Marc Meyer seems to be moving on from his rather straight representation of the small world of the Beach Club pictures to a more interpretive and subjectified manner of expression. It's as though he is using the warehouse building in these pictures as a springboard to reflect his changing views and perhaps, to flex his muscles. 

Does it work? Do you find these photographs compelling? Let us know at: Neal's Email

Marc's work is now available for viewing at 555 Gallery in Boston. The Beach Club portfolio and this one (Baldwinville, MA) are in the gallery's flat files. I urge you to take a look at the prints in these two portfolios as this is very strong work. A blog is a wonderful thing but used as a vehicle to look at art? It is is just perhaps the first step. Prints are king.

Topics: Color,Series,Marc S. Meyer

Permalink | Posted January 22, 2015

Nantucket 1980 Part 4

This post continues and finishes a discussion about the original Nantucket pictures I made in 1980. The other posts, Nantucket 1, 2, and 3 proceed this one, if you haven't read them yet.

In Part 4 we'll take a look at the ending to the Nantucket series and I'll let you in on a little secret.

We left off in Part 3 with a picture that changed things structurally within the series. Let's see where the 11th picture in the set takes us:

Here, we're back to the previous structure with the fence sitting in the foreground. The only thing different and perhaps anomalous with this one is that, while the gate is open as we've seen in others before it, we aren't shown where it leads. To be honest, this is is my least favorite picture in the series and were I to do this over I probably wouldn't include it. However, it does serve as an effective hinge to the next one:

which is mostly about geometry, in which I did poorly in school. Maybe this redeems that a little. Triangles and geometric shapes everywhere, even in the sky if you look at the two spaces cut by the roofs. This was fun to make and is still enjoyable to look at.

Here, we're back into barriers and yet with a make up that is far more open than in earlier pictures in the group. Point down with a wide lens and verticals will bow out as you can see on the side of the house on the right. This makes the picture look  a little like being made from inside a fish bowl.

This one's another structure changer, stopping the alley I've set up with a street and a Volvo sitting squarely in the way, almost impeding progress completely. The only way out is the driveway to the right, that really isn't very promising as it looks to stop you behind the bush. I often get questions in lectures as to why I include cars in my pictures. Because they provide scale. We all know how large a car is.

Here we are, closing the series out with a picture that is practically fully closed in, that almost obscures everything. Is this some sort of statement about mankind and how, when we are gone, the natural world will reclaim its prominence? Sure. 

Or is it about disallowing the structure that constrained the previous pictures and defined them as well? Sure.

Or does this picture refute the ones that came before it? Sure.

Why won't I say what this is, this picture? Because it isn't for me to tell you what it is is, it is for you to tell me what it is to you.

Finally, and in the nature of full disclosure, in the printed series the last picture is this, here poorly reproduced as I have no slide of the negative:

(The two light areas are reflections from the bulbs used to make the slide, not in the print)

The print shows us a street, dark foliage above a driveway pulling back and getting lighter as it reaches the background, indicating some open sky back there. A dark foreboding image but with perhaps a ray of hope? That was my intention.

Over the years, as the series has been shown from time to time I have included this last image probably more times than not, although when I made the Nantucket pictures the last in the series was the one before this one, the one with the growth taking over. Why? I can't exactly say, except that one seemed more dire than the other. 

When I printed the series for the first time I was very excited, as I'd made pictures in a fundamentally new way for me and felt I'd made a breakthrough. In showing them to a close colleague at Harvard, she said that they were very depressing. I liked that as she got their weight and maybe their depth. But to end with a picture that didn't allow you out, to not permit escape from these pictures' weight seemed too much at times so I would include the last one with the driveway to indicate at least a possibility of a positive outcome. I always thought of this series as having different endings as in a film where the director has shot different endings for different audiences or markets. The movie Blade Runner was like that. The director, Ridley Scott, shot different versions of the ending.

This finishes my look at the first series I made. I hope you have enjoyed it. As  always, you may contribute to the conversation by emailing me:

Neal's Email

Topics: Analog,Black and White,Northeast,Series

Permalink | Posted March 5, 2014