Topic: Vintage (27 posts) Page 2 of 6

Southwest 1979

First of all, my primary mission with this blog is to bring attention to work I believe is worth looking at, to bring to the fore work that is under acknowledged, new, or unknown. 

To this end, we are going to take a few posts to examine some work I made in the late 70's on a self imposed sabbatical leave from teaching to photograph in the American Southwest. 

The background and context: 

My first big trip away to photograph was in the winter of 1979. I wasn't a professor yet, and told NESOP (New England School of Photography) I wouldn't be teaching in the spring. After my teaching finished at Harvard in January I took off for the Southwest. This was a self imposed sabbatical of indeterminant length to go make work. I needed to get south from Boston as it was winter and I had friends I could stay with in places like Santa Fe and Houston as this was a trip on a shoestring.

This a quote from the blog titled "Sabbaticals".

The full portfolio is now up on the site and can be seen here.

After some delays that includes a car that needed repair I was gone like a shot in late January from Cambridge and found myself in New Orleans making my first pictures:

I was working solo, with two 2/14 cameras, the Hasselblad Superwide, using panchromatic black and white and infrared films, and the SLR Rollei SL66, also in black and white. I didn't start using color until about 2001...22 years later!

After a week or so in NOLA I drove to Houston,

where I stayed with a friend of a friend, and grew to understand this oil rich boom town a little.

While in Houston I made the discovery of the wonderful Rothko Chapel at Rice University and also met Anne Tucker for the first time, at the Museum of Fine Art. She was then the new curator of photography.

Looking back, these early pictures look much like a warmup as I wasn't really in the Southwest yet, or at least what I thought of as the landscape of the Southwest.

That happened in Alamogordo, NM and nearby White Sands:

White Sands was a revelation to me, just as it has been to many others. The several days I spent there opened my eyes up to the possibilities inherent in a sensibility of reduction and a proclivity as a minimalist.

However, methodology that've been in place for me for decades hadn't coalesced yet in 1979. I was doing much of this for the first time and so this trip was  formative. One of the things is the recollection that I had no idea what the outcome of all this work would be. Of course, I knew of Kerouac, Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, Walker Evans, Lee Freidlander, Steinback, Robert Pirsig, but I didn't model my behavior or artistic aspirations in their vein, I was on my own journey.  Nor was I  photographing with intention for a final result.  I was just photographing. This was work made not so much with the intellect as it was intuition with no known outcome. Apologies for painting this with a big brush, but this trip was loaded for I was risking whether this would take, was this sustaining as a career: avocation and vocation, a life in the arts, and whether I could pull this off. I had no real job, although I liked teaching, it wasn't a firm commitment yet, I was an adjunct in two schools, was single with no kids, could pick up and move and was thinking seriously that perhaps the Southwest might be a place to live.

We will stop here, only really just scratching the surface of this work. I have much more to say about it. I hope you will come along with me. 

Next up in Southwest 2.





Topics: Black and White,infrared,Vintage,Southwest

Permalink | Posted May 7, 2017

SABBATICAL

More accurately: sabbatical leave. As a professor for thirty years I was fortunate to have four one semester sabbaticals and a year-long one.

Very often people outside of academia don't know how it works to be a professor. Sabbatical leaves are commonly awarded to professors in universities to conduct research free from teaching responsibilities. Eligibility is determined by rank, therefore adjuncts are usually not able to apply. Applications for leaves are handled by a committee which reviews applications and awards sabbaticals on merit. They are one of the perks of the job. Frequency varies but commonly, it is every seven years.

Outside of academia sabbaticals also occur occasionally in business and, of course, some people give themselves a "sabbatical" to take a leave to do something they can't do while working. The traditional sabbatical, however, is different in that it includes getting paid while you do it. Like I said, one of the perks.

It is difficult for me to express what these leaves meant for me for the years I ran the Photography Program at Northeastern University. Having the sabbatical in the fall or spring semester meant that I was only at school one semester for that year as it butted up against the summer when I usually didn't teach. Making pictures, practicing my discipline, was always a struggle while I was working. Squeezing in the time to go photographing or the endless hours needed in the darkroom was hard when the job and my family needed my attention. Sabbaticals freed me from one whole large component of my life and were proposed and awarded to support my making art.

Got something you'd like to do? Someplace you're dying to go? Feeling hemmed in by work? Part of being the creative person you are is to be creative in all aspects of your life, not just in the art you make.  Think about how you can make things happen, get a project funded and/or supported, there are many ways. My first sabbatical was called a "pre-tenure" sabbatical in that it was designed so support assistant professors in their efforts to publish or do their research before applying for tenure, a critical time. I applied, got a one semester leave but was not awarded a grant I applied for. So I had no funding to support my rather elaborate plan to travel around England and Northern Scotland with an 8 x 10 view camera making pictures. So, I ended up driving through the American West in my parents motorhome for two months. Although I did fine and made good pictures I learned from that one that a sabbatical leave with no funding isn't so great. Work out the support for your sabbatical before you take off.

As I got tenured and became more senior and knew the system at my university better I was able to be away  more on various projects. It helped that my daughter was away at school by then as well. No longer married, I was free go more often. Funded research trips to study other photo programs, or study new technologies, give lectures, talks, presentations, have exhibitions of my  own work and go to conferences became things I did more. In each of these situations I would photograph wherever I was. I had a discretionary budget, travel stipend and a network of internal grants I could apply for, and did succeed frequently. This meant I needed to have someone back at school holding down the fort that I could trust. Luckily, I had someone for many years in Andrea Raynor in that she exuded capability and excellence in all that she did. In fact, she's still at Northeastern and is the Department Chair.

Did I work the system? I did. Did it benefit me and my work? Yes, it did. Was I dishonest, lining my own pockets with my school's funds, or travel elaborately off the school, buy gifts on their dime or provide these perks to colleagues? No, I did not. 

I also learned this lesson. One of my colleagues, a senior graphic designer, told people she would be in Hawaii the whole time she was on her sabbatical. In reality she stayed home and worked on new projects. She knew she'd get called in to avert some crisis in her discipline if people knew she was close by. Smart. I learned that you must go away in order to cut the thread. 

My first big trip away to photograph was in 1979. I wasn't a professor yet, and told NESOP (New England School of Photography) I wouldn't be teaching in the spring. As I was  teaching at Harvard too, after the fall semester finished  in January I was free to take off for the Southwest. This was a self imposed sabbatical of indeterminant length to go make work. I needed to get south from Boston as it was winter and I had friends I could stay with in places like Santa Fe and Houston as this was a trip on a shoestring. 

Can you picture this? A 33 year old 6'2" Neal crammed into a loaded and aging bright yellow mid engined 2 liter Porsche 914, with rusting heater boxes and paint peeling off the hood, gone for three months, driving endless hours first to New Orleans, then to Houston meeting with Anne Tucker, then Santa Fe staying with my friend Ed Ranney, then Tempe and Tucson to visit with Harold Jones and Todd Walker,  Prescott to see Fred Sommer, photographing daily, back home again with a few days in DC. Me, a box of prints, camera gear, tripod and some clothes. And bags and bags of exposed film when I got home.

Want to see some of the work I made from that trip? On the site: here.

Sabbatical. Take one if you can.

Topics: Road Trip,Black and White,Vintage,Analog,Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 2, 2017

INFRARED

1976. I know, another century, way before you were born, archaic pictures from a different time, totally irrelevant to present day photography. Well, you don't have to read this but that's where I am going, showing  you some work I made then. In the mid 70's I had started teaching at the New England School of Photography (NESOP) in Boston and was shooting a lot of 35mm, in earlier days with a Nikon and then a little later a Leica M4. Most summers I spent some time with my folks at Martha's Vineyard where the family home is. Going to the beach I'd bring a camera. We had access to a private beach on the South Shore called Squibnocket in those days. On long afternoons in the hot summer sun I would wander off and explore with a camera loaded with Kodak black and white infrared film and a 25A three stop red filter on the front of a wide angle lens. This below is typical of the kind of picture I'd make, hanging the camera around my neck and setting it on a self timer, my hands sliding into the frame, a desire to interact with what was in front of me, to play a part in the picture:

Way back there as two dots on the water are a pair of swans. This was taken after walking back from the shore and the surf to a private inland pond. I made many more like these in those years, not really knowing why, not able to verbalize well what the motive was, more of a feeling than a thought. I wasn't alone, others were making more personal pictures, extending photography to areas not seen before, putting themselves in the frame. Occasionally I still do this. These from Iceland a few years ago:

I believe this way of working affirms a belief in the medium's inherent malleability, in its capability of being almost anything visual, looking like what is in front of the lens, looking nothing like the reality at all.

At any rate, bringing it back to infrared in the 70's, I had started photographing foliage in the spring and summer with the film, knowing it reacted to the chlorophyll in the foliage, rendering it light, while making blue skies go dark.

These are from Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA near where I live. Mt Auburn has been a source of many of my pictures over the years. These and more I used for a grant application in 1978, which I did not receive.

I wanted to exert controls over the pictures then that would alter the images, make them in strong color (chemically toned black and white prints), using a wide lens (in this case the 21 Summicron lens on a Leica), and making them as big as I could get away with, 16 x 20 inches.

Eventually I found my hands slipping into cemetery pictures locally and as I travelled. These never became a fixed set, just an amalgam of pictures from different locations.

I don't have a strong background in religion and am not religious now. But not believing in a fixed religion doesn't mean you don't have a sense of purpose or that you aren't spiritual in some way. I think of these pictures as speaking to a connection, to empathy for others and a desire to connect on a level that is sympathetic. I've never shown them, until now.

I can cite two friends as influences: Jane Tuckerman, who has worked in infrared her whole career and who was a colleague of mine at Harvard, and Peter Laytin, who first exposed me to infrared and its possibilities. Thanks to you both.

After these I moved on to photograph using infrared at the concentration camp Dachau, in Germany. Let me know if you'd like to see those. 

Topics: infrared,US,Europe,Vintage,Black and White,70's

Permalink | Posted March 14, 2017

Hershey Again

I know, here I am pushing the new book Hershey, PA again. But bear with me, as I have a reason behind this. BTW: It is printed, it is available and it is very very good. You should get one.

It is for sale at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, MA and also at 555 Gallery in Boston and through me by emailing me at: Neal's Email

This is a very important series in my career and the second of twelve books we are printing that showcase my series works in black and white that I made from 1981-2005. These are elegant small books, 7 inches square and are signed and numbered. They are $25 each plus shipping.

So, now that I have covered the necessaries, let me explain what I believe to be a new business model that is brilliant. Yes, I thought of it myself and no I am not a business person. I am an artist. But how can I put out these books, which I think are important, and not lose my shirt in the process? Print books, sell them and use those funds to print the next one, book after book. Yes, you need some up front funds,  but once the seed money is there, if you are successful in selling the books, you can perpetuate the run of all twelve by turning the funds made into printing the next book.

Let me give you some specifics. As a trial we printed 25 of the first book called Oakesdale, WA.

Big run, right? It sold out quickly, not surprising as we printed only 25 of them. It cost $715 to print using Blurb (an on-demand printer) and we made $625 in sales. Okay, a loss. But with Blurb  if you print more, over 50, you get a 25% discount. So, learning from my loss in the first one, we have now printed 50 of the Hershey book. 

Let me step aside here and address the issue of print quality. I have been making books now for a very long time and have made both traditional offset printing press books and many on demand books with many printers, (Apple, My Publisher, Blurb, Mag Cloud,etc). On-demand books have now reached a quality level that is very high.You have to keep the publisher's nose to the grindstone, however, in that sometimes a press run will come through too dark or the colors not right. You need to send them very good files and follow through to make sure they get it right. No one wants to reprint a whole run of books but occasionally they will need to do this. It is up to you to make this happen.

Is this a model for huge profit? Not so much. Is it an effective way to print several books, one after the other, as a way to get work out to a larger audience? Yes. Is it brilliant? Well, I might be a little biased but I will leave that decision up to you.

Downsides and drawbacks? Yes, Blurb's printing cycle takes two weeks and sometimes longer so there is no quick turnaround. Right now we are printing one or two first to see the book as a proof before committing to a bigger run. This is essential, at least in my case. Each time we do this we catch mistakes in the first run that we can then correct before printing many copies. Add another two weeks or so. Blurb's shipping costs are very high, I believe as a way to make more. And finally, they package poorly, sending the books in cardboard that barely makes it to its destination.

Finally, we now have a design "template" that we can plug the photographs into. This streamlines the design process and makes the design coherent through the run of the twelve books we plan. 

In conclusion, here I am blogging away, revealing all my secrets and my business acumen. Yeah, right. At any rate, my hope is that this might spur you on to use the idea for your own photographs you want made into books. Lastly, we are starting to work with a local printer to see if we can get the same high quality we had with Blurb but for less cost. Trying to buy local. Stay tuned.

Topics: Books,Vintage,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2017

Is It Possible?

Is it possible that we are art while we are making art? Is it possible that the way we move, the way we use our bodies can be part of the art as we make our photographs? Is it possible that our stance, or position, or our fluidity as we place ourselves or react to something we are photographing has a big effect on the result? I think so. This isn't talked about much, isn't acknowledged but making photographs is a physical thing, you out there with a camera in the real world, on a street, in a field, on a train, in a room, in a crowd, in a studio. Where you are and, I would maintain, how you are, affects the outcome in a large way. And yet it is completely counterintuitive for us to try different positions. We tend to make the picture from where we first saw it. Walking down the sidewalk, camera in hand and we see something we want to photograph, we don't move, we stand right there and make the picture. Wrong. What about how our body is, this tool we inhabit our whole lives? What about its well being? Can it move and bend and be flexible to help put us where we should be?

Henri Cartier Bresson, Mr. "decisive moment" would have been right with me on this. He likened the act of photographing to dance, photographing as choreography. You can see this in his pictures, this magic of being in the right place at the right time doesn't just happen by accident.

As an example, I learned the lesson from him early in my career that to to get above and point down is an effective tactic. This states the obvious but to someone who deals with the horizon often in his work a strategy to eliminate the sky has to include getting above things and pointing down.

The result can be a perspective that is both fresh and distinctive. Bresson used this throughout his whole career, as have I.

This photograph used by permission, from my friend Marybeth Groff, its owner.

This one above carries the idea to the extreme. I made this in the 90's with an an 8 x 10 inch view camera hanging out over a railing on a bridge pointing straight down. The photograph from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts is part of what I call the "Down Work"  that includes work from the US, Italy and France, all in 8 x 10. This picture is one of the influencers to me starting to make aerial photos ten years later.

Orvieto, Italy 1992

My point: you can't deny the platform you use to make your pictures. It is your body. Don't deny looking at things from a different position when you make your pictures. Up high, down low, to the right, to the left, standing up on something or lying down on the ground

Moab, Utah 1998

makes a very big difference. 

Part of the art of making pictures.

Topics: Black and White,Utah,Teaching blog,Vintage

Permalink | Posted January 23, 2017