Staggering

Note: In this time of extreme crisis with COVID-19 coming back with a vengeance I urge extreme caution. Wear a mask! Please. 

Talk to other photographers these days and one topic will come up should they discuss their equipment. The shockingly high quality of present-day digital.

Okay. What else?

Along with higher quality comes smaller cameras.

Case in point. I wrote in the last post that I was riding a bike every morning. This is primarily for exercise but also I can't help but see things to photograph along the way. Almost every morning I slide by something that, if I was standing in front of it with a camera, I would make a picture. 

I suppose I could use my phone or a point-and-shoot camera but then I am sacrificing the option of making a large print later (bigger file size allows bigger prints). I can and have used a backpack to carry a camera but this is less than ideal as it is bulky and in the wrong place.

Not any longer.

With this little case, all has changed. It is a handlebar case. What's inside?

The Sony A7R MK IV and the Sony 24-105 f4 G lens. A camera of such high resolving power it is difficult to comprehend its capabilities.

This is what the case looks like mounted on my bike:

I know, a whole post about a bag? The bag is made by Topeak and it is called the Compact Handlebar Bag, appropriately enough. It is well designed and thought out and no, I am not sponsored by the company. It also can be a fanny pack when removed from the bike. Know that it is pricey, though.

I offer this: the image quality I get from this little camera and lens setup is at least as good as anything I ever made with the 8 x10 camera at any print size I like, be it 11 x 17 or 40 x 50. 

This little bag enables me to photograph from the bike with ease. Oh yes, its mounting  bracket allows me to remove it and take it with me.

These made this morning on my ride:

Perfetto!

Topics: Digital

Permalink | Posted July 11, 2020

Field #2

Here goes:

I’ve been riding a lot. There are great bike trails here. I live in Acton MA since early April (the Assabet and Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are right here).

I’ve never been a great rider and hills used to be agony. But with practice, it all becomes better.

I no longer dread the climb out of the little valley I live in each morning. And I am riding longer. This all feels really good. I ride daily now early before it gets hot.

At any rate, I have seen some tremendous material as I ride. If I had a camera would I stop? Maybe I could bring a camera, I thought. Or come back with a car to get close to shoot what I’ve seen? I’ve brought the Sony on the bike a few times, but, although lighter than the Nikon, it is still pretty bulky and fragile so it sitting at the bottom of a backpack doesn’t seem like such a great idea. One time I saw something along the edge of the river, stopped, ran the bike into the woods, got the camera out, started shooting and the bugs found some fresh meat and tore into me. I now ride with Cutters.

Today I did things a little differently. I’ve had my eye on a field for a while. I first discovered it last week at the very end of the Bruce Freeman trail, tucked deep into the woods.

There is another “Field" on my site:

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/field

Made a few years ago behind the Medfield State Hospital. This one made me think of that one. I know we are doomed to repeat past successes but this new field was truly gorgeous and could not remain unphotographed. Both these fields hold rich pasts, histories of events, and uses.

I figured I would do a scouting trip. Bring a camera. Try to drive as close to the field as I could, park, bring the camera and if I wasn’t parked too far away I could hike in. I might make a few pictures. The light was good, it was just after a thunderstorm and the air was thick and the foliage was wet.

I drove around for awhile using as a base West Concord, trying to parallel the bike path and get as close to this field as possible. The field had no road or trail going into it that I could see. I found a place to park near to where I thought the field might be, loaded up the Nikon with one lens, a fresh battery and a tripod strapped to my back and off I went.

About 1 1/2 miles in there it was. Surrounded by trees, it was an old baseball field, some nets for soccer and/or batting practice and maybe lacrosse (?), recently mowed but very overgrown around the perimeter. What had started out as a scouting trip now might prove real.

I walked around and took pictures.

A magical place, resonant with its past use, which seemed to be high school sports. This field belonged to a school that had moved or folded at least moved its athletic field, a mystery here for sure.

After an hour or so, tired from holding the giant of a Nikon, tired of my glasses fogging up, sweating and tired and thinking that I wanted a beer ( a sure sign of waning interest) I turned around and headed out and slogged it back to the car, to ac, to home, to a beer.

I will, of course, have to go back as these are never complete with just one pass anymore. When I was younger I’d blast through one in a couple of hours, sometimes on the road, and never look back. Now, if I find something hot like this, I’ll book into a motel if far away and hit it again the next day, hoping the weather won’t change too much. I used to worry more about continuity.

As there are no rules any more continuity seems like less of an issue.

I will hope for tomorrow for more shooting.

I have over the past few weeks determined that I have a cause. I am tired of good work reaching no acknowledgment. In fact, good work not seen doesn’t exist, really. (There might be a lesson in there for you too). I will endeavor to make my good work be seen.

There may be an opportunity here. Curators not curating, stuck at home. We will see.

Finally: This is a little different, yes? I am showing work in process, something I don't do much. Usually, I show work just completed or go back into earlier work. This is work not even printed yet and maybe not even fully shot. I am trying to show you the process here, not just the end result.

Thank you for indulging me.

Addendum: Since writing this I have been back to the field several times to photograph. Different approaches, different light, different times of the day. The series is now becoming large enough to become a portfolio when printed. Can't wait.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted June 21, 2020

Two Views

-It's all bullshit now. Everything's been done and to death. Oversaturated, oversharpened, unrealistic colors, over the top still lifes, collages, assemblages. Earlier rules and definitions of artistic photography are no longer true. Photography is dead.

-Photography's never been richer, fuller, and more diverse. The breaking down of past rules and barriers has allowed more freedom of expression, experimentation, and advancement of our medium than ever before. It is an exciting time to be a photographer and there seem to be no boundaries. Who knows where photography is going but it is a very exciting time. 

-All the old norms are gone, no one prints anymore and those few do, for the most part, print badly. The "fine print", a work made out of love for the medium and respect for the craft of photography is gone now. No one wants to spend more than a few seconds looking at a photograph. There is little interest in the medium's history or its relationship to the world of art and culture at large. Photographers don't care about precedent, nor do they want training or education. No longer is photography a medium to be studied and a discipline to be learned.

-Now you can pick up a camera or smartphone and become an instant success, knowing little or nothing about how it all works. It doesn't matter, for you are now free to express yourself in any way you want. If your pictures are edgy, flashy, colorful, and outrageous you can get a gallery show or have your work published. You don't need to know anything about photography. No longer are you encumbered by boring courses and hours in a darkroom to learn the craft. You can load in a  program or App like Lightroom,  hit "Auto" in the develop module, pull the saturation, clarity and vibrance sliders to the right and bang, you've got vibrant, strong and aggressive imagery ready to go. That's all you need to do. Finally, you can get your work noticed and paid attention to without all that fruitless labor.  It's easy to enter all kinds of competitions online and win best of show. Finally, it is now possible to express yourself without all that "work".

-The concept of being disciplined and working constantly to keep your skills sharp and your perception keen is irrelevant now. Even if your imagery is brilliant, your eye sharp and intuition finely tuned it doesn't matter for no one is interested in your work and no one will look at it for more than a second or two. Making substantial statements about humanity or commentary on our collective social condition is useless as no one will spend enough time with your pictures to get the point.

-The world is represented in video now, for the most part.  Still photography is relegated to the sidelines and as fine art, more like painting.  Journalism isn't really an important vehicle anymore unless news is recorded in moving imagery.  Anybody and everybody is a photographer now.  Our smartphones are infinitely better than the Leicas and Nikons of just a few years ago. The old masters are just that, "old" and irrelevant. No one wants to see "old shit". It is a new world.

-The acknowledged old masters aren't about to change their ways and methodology. But they are finding less interest in their works. No one cares about pictures that were made 10, 20, 30, or more years ago. Part of that is that new is thought of being best, but no one knows or cares about the context in which the master's work was made, the skill and care with which the work was made, the labor it took to make the pictures, the devotion and finely honed skills to eke out a thing of true beauty or to share am incredible slice in time, the unique light or even how exquisite our world can be. All that can be found online instantly with a "Google Images" search. Why go there physically when you can go there virtually anytime you want? Photography is dead.

-Photography is alive and better than ever.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted June 14, 2020

Another

Another in a series of reprints of earlier posts you may have missed.

This one is called Nobody Cares from a few years ago.

Comments? Neal's Email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 31, 2020

Back, Way Back

Let's go back in time when things were simpler, the world wasn't reeling from staggering numbers of deaths and misery from a pandemic, there weren't riots in the streets because of racial injustice and we were experiencing relative prosperity in the post-war period of the 80s and 90s. I know, all was not perfect, but from this perspective it makes those years look like a kind of heaven on earth.

To bring us down into our world of photography and making art, during those years I was a professor running a Photo Program at a top tier university, photographing constantly, traveling, teaching workshops, running a summer program in Italy, showing my work, and bringing up my daughter. What else? There was a divorce in there, a couple of different apartments, a purchased townhouse, a bunch of cool cars, a few surgeries, a girlfriend or two, and a promotion to associate professor with tenure. 

By 1984 I had sold some gear to buy an 8X10 camera, specifically an 8x10 Toyo Field, a great beast of a metal camera. Why 8x10? Go here. Eventually, I ended up with three lenses, 24 Lisco film holders, two Zone VI  8x10 film holder bags, a Pentax spot meter, a 240mm enlarging lens, and a converted 4 x5 Beseler enlarger. I spent a great deal of my time processing film in trays in total darkness.

In my pursuit of the highest quality processed film, I tried several different approaches over the 25 years I worked in the format.  Earlier on I used Ansel Adams' "The Negative" as a guide with mostly Kodak's D76 as a developer.

Later on Arnold Gassan's wonderful 4th edition "Handbook for Contemporary Photography" became a reference. I never worked with Arnold as his base was the midwestern and I was from the east, but he had a large following. His elegant solution to the problem of achieving smooth results was to vary the dilution of  Kodak's HC-110 developer for contrast control instead of the time. At times I used a chemical called Penakyrptol Purple to desensitize my negatives so that I could develop my negatives by "inspection" with a dark green safelight. Out there, I know. All in pursuit of the best quality. The great thing about using that was that I could teach developing to advanced students visually.

But later on the most amazing of developers I used was PMK Pyro. This was an updated version by Gordon Hutchings of the original formulation called ABC Pyro used by Edward Weston.

If you've ever developed black and white film you know that the basic sequence of chemicals used is developer, stop bath and fixer(hypo). Then the film is washed and hung up to dry.

Pyro is a "staining" developer in that the sequence of chemicals used is: developer, stop bath, fixer and then (you might want to sit down for this next step!) the negative is immersed back in the used developer to achieve its signature stain before final washing and drying.

What does this do? Imbues the negative with a sheen to the highlights, a           subtle glowing look as well as added density to the shadows that made for a flatter (less contrasty) but fuller negative.

I   found it easier to print through the highlights. The results could be remarkable. It is difficult for me to demonstrate the inherent quality of these negatives at 72 dpi on a website but you get the idea. Hutching's manual became my bible and guide, of course. In the last ten years or so of working in analog, I was using his formula to develop my 2 1/4 film as well, usually with an Agfa ASA 100 film.

I chose to write about this now as, due to recently moving, I have unearthed all kinds of stuff, including both the Gassan and Hutching's manuals.  What a treat.

Want to respond? email: Neal's Email

Topics: Black and White,Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 29, 2020