I miss

(Late July 2020) As the weeks and months go on, as the virus maintains its grip on our world, as our government fails in so many ways, as I work to stay safe and wear a mask, I am missing many things, as I know we all are.

I miss travel. In many ways, the core of my work over the past 20 years or so has entailed travel. The vast majority of trips I took were to make photographs, the locations and time of year chosen to make certain kinds of pictures; Washington for wheat, California for so many things including damage from wildfires, Utah for its incredible landscape, Europe and Italy for, well, all that is so wonderful about it, and the American South where I teach frequently but also because of a four-year project photographing one town: Spruce Pine in North Carolina. I would be there again in a New York minute if I could.

A small town, nestled into a valley just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. The town is past its prime of being a center for feldspar and mica mining and has suffered from several arson-set fires that were set in 2007. 

My photographs from four years of photographing in Spruce Pine while teaching at Penland School of Crafts a few miles away are not flashy and no single pictures stand out. The work is tightly sequenced within each year and constitutes a survey of the town and my perception at a certain period in its history and as such, serves as a symbol of many small towns across the south, caught at a crossroads between its past and an indefinite future.

I've written several blogs about the work and have tried several tactics to get the work shown, all unsuccessful. Take a look and see what you think:

Spruce Pine 2012

Spruce Pine 2013

Spruce Pine 2014

Spruce Pine 2018

I always wonder if people actually do click the link to see the work. Does that take too much effort? I am sure you'll let me know: Neal's Email

Topics: Southeast,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2020

So Little

There has been so little art going on in my world. I am sure for many of you as well. No museums, galleries, workshops, classes, portfolio reviews, showing work, preparing for shows, hanging shows. Hard, as art is at the core of me.

This happened today in the parking lot of a local museum:

I handed over the Pulaski Motel series (here) to Rachel Passannante, the Collections Manager at the Danforth Musem in Framingham MA.

This unorthodox way to turn work over to a museum's permanent collection was necessitated by the pandemic, of course. 

The history of this body of work goes back to 2013, and to Jessica Roscio the curator of the museum. Jess is one of a number of curators I show work to every few years. Come to the studio, take a look at a few portfolios, make no commitment, be under no pressure; clearly a prerogative of a photo curator and hopefully one of the pleasures of their job, looking at work.

Time and again, Jessica would reference the Pulaski Motel series when she came to look at work, often asking to see them again. These black and white photographs, made during a trip to teach at Penland in the spring of 2012 are made up of a walk around an abandoned motel in rural Pulaski, Virginia one very hot afternoon. No pretty pictures these, they present a dystopian view of a world not quite right. In the context of the present pandemic, they may have been predictive in that there are motels across the country that have gone dark over the past few months.

Foreboding and flat, oddly still, dark and a little creepy; right up my alley. I am very pleased for these photographs to have a new home. 

Pulaski Motel has never been shown, in fact, most don't know the pictures exist.  I have a hunch that will change for Jessica wants to show them. No artist wants his/her work unseen.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Southeast

Permalink | Posted July 16, 2020

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