Incredible

Incredible. 48 years! You hear old folks saying all the time: "Where'd all the years go?" but seriously, where did all the years go?

As a grad student at the RI School of Design, where I graduated in the spring of 1973, I was meant to produce two copies of my thesis, one for the school's library and one for the Photography Department. Some did, others didn't. 

I did.

My thesis was photographs I made in auto junkyards. 

Did I have it in my head that I was making these pictures to speak to issues of our wasteful society, of consumerism run amok, or of protecting our environment? I did not. I liked the forms and shapes of the wrecked cars and trucks, the shiny     chrome, the rusted panels.  In our class, critiquing this work as I made it, no one brought up any of the above issues. The politics of the work was not apparent for this was a far more innocent time. We were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam but not against the lack of awareness in our work.

Photographs were made then for their aesthetic, perhaps technique was discussed, or print size, the paper they were printed on or our use of the camera. The mechanics of photography was a much bigger deal then for good craft was harder. It took skill to make a great print.

But where does 48 years come in?

Last week while out visiting my high school (Darrow School, New Lebanon, NY) I went back to Adler's Antique Auto in Stephentown to photograph in much the same way I did in 1973 in Rhode Island, 48 years ago.

The same but hugely different too. Then: the Rollei SL66 21/4 camera on a tripod with the 80mm Carl Zeiss f2.8 Planar lens and Kodak Plus X film. (I still have this camera) Now: the Sony A7R MK lV camera hand held with the 70-200mm f2.8 G-Master lens.

Then: black and white, printed by me in my basement darkroom on Agfa Portriga Rapid 11 x 14 inch paper.

Now: color, printed by me in my studio using the Epson P9000 inkjet printer with Red River Polar Matte 17 x 25 inch paper.

Of course, this wasn't the same junkyard as in 1973, but over the years I had photographed at Adler's a few times, most notably with the 8 x 10 camera, for Adler's is quite special, a tribute to rust with its emphasis on 40s and 50s cars and trucks.

Adler's Antique Auto, Stephentown, NY


Like going back in time, photographing in an auto junkyard again after 48 freaking years!

Topics: Color,Black and White,Analog,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 9, 2021

Revisit: Thompson Spring

About 10 years ago I made a set of pictures of a mostly abandoned town about an hour from Moab, Utah called Thompson Spring.

I went through them the other day. In 2019 I spent some time with them as I reprinted them. Rare for me, but I wasn't happy with the paper I printed them on originally. They now are as good as is possible, printed on Red River's San Gabriel, sadly no longer offered. A superb paper. 

This is a favorite body of work.

I wrote extensively about the series:

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/thompson-spring-utah

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/thompson-spring-utah-2

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/thompson-spring-utah-3

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/thompson-spring-utah-4

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/thompson-spring-utah-5

The prints are 25 x 17 inches. 

Suggestion:  a cup of coffee, a beer, a glass of wine, some time with no distractions, a computer with a good display, and a look over the series, then reading the posts in sequence, all 5 of them. I think you might enjoy the experience. 

Increasingly, my work is seen on line and also increasingly, with the blog as a companion; the artist's voice, if you  will. For whatever reason, the combining of technological change and an evolving sense of art's role in our lives as we see it and it being read about on screen has us seeing and interpreting art differently than ever before. Maybe not worse, but different. In my long career I've never been able to sit and have a conversation with someone and explain my work, its intention, its success (or lack of) in a show. Now, in effect, I can. You can call up the show anytime you like, read about it, see the work in its proper sequence, the work glowing and lit from behind on a high quality screen and then research it, hear about it from the artist that made it.  In your freaking living room! Tell me that's not new. 

Thompson Spring holds a strong place in my oeuvre, mature work leaning on past bodies created earlier. I wasn't in new territory here, just new content. 

Hope you like. 

Topics: Southwest

Permalink | Posted May 1, 2021

Significant

In the fall of 2019 I took a day to drive up to the Hampton Airfield to fly over the marshes that are just in from the coast near the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in southern New Hampshire.

Gold, bronze, brass, copper, chestnut, russet were the colors that day.

Incredible really and such a vivid contrast to what I'd shot in May a few years earlier of the marshes just south of the NH border near Newburyport and Ipswich.

But why the title "Significant"?

Ever since I began to make aerial photographs the formula for success has been whatever Nikon DSLR I was using at the time, be it the D3X, the D800E, the D810 and now the D850 with whatever generation Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens I was using. So very many successful photographs that it seems impossible to single any out. 

Here are a few:

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/wheat-2019

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/aerial-wheat-2016

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/salt-lake-utah

If you go to the site and search through the aerials, they are all with some Nikon DSLR, except one: The New Hampshire Marshes.

By about 2010 or so I was clamping the Kenyon Gyro Stabilizer to the tripod fitting  on my camera when I was making aerials. Initially, starting with a too small unit, later upgrading to a larger one as my heavy camera needed a bigger gyro to work effectively. This made a tremendous difference in my aerial imagery and brought me close to 90% sharp compared to more like 30% without it. Vibration is no joke from a small airplane.

I won't bore you with the steep learning curve to making good aerials. Email me (nrantoul@comcast.net) and I can steer you in the right direction. 

But, ever since I started with the Sony mirrorless cameras I wondered how things would go using one when making aerials. Initially, I was working with earlier versions of the full frame Sonys known as the A7r's. From the II to the III they were making files smaller than what I was getting with the Nikon, but when I switched to the IV at 61 megapixels I knew I'd need to try it from above. 

The NH Marshes pictures were made with the Sony A7R MK IV and the Zeiss 70-200mm F4 lens. I used the gyro stabilizer on this shoot with internal and lens stabilization turned off.

The end result? A major success. Excellent files, a good percentage sharp and well exposed. Lighter to hold too, as with the stabilizer this is a heavy set up and my arms get tired after shooting for an hour or so.

This one above was in a group show at the Concord Art Association this past winter (2021)at 40 inches across. It looked very good. 

How often can you make pictures for research and have them turn out to be useable for your practice?

Would I photograph aerially with the Sony again? Yes, absolutely. It was just too good. This therefore removes the last obstacle to selling off the Nikon kit, sadly. It is always hard for me let go of gear that has made me really wonderful pictures. The days of the Nikon D850 and a slew of first rate lenses are numbered. Photography has always been dependent on technological changes to making better pictures. From analog to digital and more recently from the single lens reflex to mirrorless. 

Thanks for reading the blog, always. 

Topics: Commentary,Aerial,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 25, 2021

Fort Pulaski

An email from Jeremy Knight, a former student at Northeastern, reminded me of  shooting here outside of Savannah in March twenty or more years ago.

Fort Pulaski has an interesting history and is a state park (Wikipedia) It is situated between Savannah and Tybee Island. I was out cruising around with students on a shooting trip while attending a Society for Photographic Education conference.

I found it irresistible.

By this time narrative series work was my primary vehicle and I was fluid with the form and the language. This was a "walk around series", loosely defined as making    pictures as I discovered them, heading around a corner to make a picture of something I had never seen before.

I was fascinated by the reduction of the place, everything clipped close and manicured, all form. 

I went out the next morning by myself to try to see what else I could see,

under very different light.

This was in analog days and my tool of choice was the Hasselblad Superwide (about the camera) The SWC was a fixed lens camera, distances and scale needed to be right for this very special camera.

Ironic that the blog post before this one was about photographing alone, in isolation (Alone),but, as I wrote, I did photograph with others around at times.

This last one was a sort of addendum, distinguished by the black lines on the edge of the frame. From left to right: Cristina Rivera, Jeremy Knight, Bob O'Connor and Pete Stitt, who I'd asked to point at nothing in particular.

Good times and I miss them all. 

Give me a few days and the Fort Pulaski series will be on the site, accessed by clicking on the Gallery page and scrolling down. 

By early next week I will be fully vaccinated. Is this nightmare coming to a close? I hope so. I wish you well.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Southeast

Permalink | Posted April 24, 2021

The Alone Post

Although I was never particularly uncomfortable photographing with others and would often take students on field trips, either during class but also on weekends or even longer, over my career my best pictures have been made by being alone. A camera, some film, a lens or two, or more recently an empty card and a full battery. But just me, my thoughts, whatever perceptions I may have, leaning on experience and a "what if?" attitude.

Much of my work and over my career has been based on traveling someplace to make my art. Earlier there were countless day trips, necessitated by being very busy, with teaching (many years at Northeastern and Harvard simultaneously) and being a father. I've lived in New England my whole life and it has been a rich environment in which to be a photographer. Also, I couldn't afford trips away frequently. Later, as my daughter grew and went away to school, and my income was better, I could get away, mostly on spring or summer breaks for longer periods, ten days or two weeks, or for many many years, teaching in Italy for a summer term, with free time on the weekends to take off in a rented car, explore and make pictures. I found the Dolomites this way, ski areas high in the mountains with barren slopes in the summer, the city of Trento north of Venice on the edge of the mountains, German and Italian cultures melded together, or on the Mediterranean along the coast.

And over twenty-five years and close to as many trips to the wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington. Really only one reason: to photograph. Get up early and after breakfast, get going. Up from Pullman or my base for years at the Best Western in Colfax. A vast expanse of rolling hills of wheat, lentils, safflower, peas.

In the early years in the 90's, drive, stop, haul out the tripod, unfold the 8 x 10, hang the meter around my neck, pull out the case of holders, swing it all over my     shoulder, walk to where I would make the picture, open the lens, go under the black cloth, focus, adjust, come out, close the lens, point the meter at my subject, set and cock the lens, insert the holder, pull out the slide, click the shutter, reinsert the slide black side out, throw it all over my shoulder, walk back to the rental, dismantle it all so it would fit in the car, get back behind the wheel, drive until time to repeat the process all over again, hour after hour and day after day.

This all got a little easier when I began to take digital seriously in about 2006.

Looking back, I know I wouldn't have made very good company, so inside my head as to be practically non verbal. I wasn't looking for company, I was looking for pictures. Nights were simple as I was so exhausted, that, after unloading and reloading the holders in a closet or a bathroom so I could shoot the next day,  I was often done by 8 or 8:30. Meals were solitary, maybe while reading a paperback I'd brought along. I reread some Hemingway on one trip, For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms, books and ideas not thought of since high school. I often read a Robert Parker novel as it seemed there was a new one every year. I can remember lusting after a cold beer as I worked late in the afternoons on dusty farmer's roads in August heat just before harvest, the wheat like gold, not a barn or a house to be seen.

From a busy and full life, students needing questions answered, help and council,  loving my kid or with family on the Vineyard, long days of surf on the beach, but needing and loving this too, days with not a word, the landscape, the sky, and me, tiny and insignificant, a camera, a tripod, a rented Nissan or Chevy or Ford or Kia or Honda from Enterprise, Dollar, Hertz, Avis, or Alamo from the airport two hours north in Spokane. 

Seems like countless times, the last one in 2019, like coming back to an old friend, a part of this country that simply doesn't change much. There is comfort in that.

Is it the isolation that advocates for the pictures I make?

There have been a few times where a friend or two came out, joined me for a couple of days to roam the hills. It is only possible to understand the power of this, the Palouse, by being there. 

By 2005 I had started making aerials each time I went, a shock sitting so close to the pilot in the small plane I hired. Probably the longest sentences of the trip as I asked him or her to turn right, lift the wing, change the altitude or do a 360 around that, please. Very powerful to capture close to 500 frames in an hour's flight, then head back to the motel room to see that I had done.

Alone with my thoughts, no distractions, reflecting on my plight, yes lonely but knowing that would end when back home. By that I mean I was smart enough to know that while I was making some wonderful work there was much I was missing in life. Alone had its goods and it had its bads. In the 8 x 10 film days, returning from wherever I was I knew I had months of film developing ahead of me before I was to see anything. Digital changed that. The 8 x 10 was a wonderful economy, a full days shooting being maybe 20 frames. But digital was easily several hundreds of frames a day.

As a teacher I learned it was important to say this to students for they didn't know it innately. This thing is hard work and needs a willingness to sweat, hike, push through and stay on course. There are long hours with little visible reward, practice  needed to keep craft and acuity in tune. Lazy just does not work.

I'll leave you with this. In my workshops and adult student teaching over the years I often have people, accomplished perhaps in something else, turning over and into photography, in a hurry to get good very fast. They are seeking a pro's maturity without a pro's history. They wish to be as successful at this as they were at what came before photography. So, these are "know it all" people in the role of being a student. It can be awkward for in photography they know so very little. Often they have all the gear and even the mannerisms down pat, for YouTube videos have given them that. But working in isolation and solo has never entered their heads. Off photographing with a husband or a wife on a nice summer morning they don't know that the partner sitting back there in the car while they traipse around "on the hunt" is a distraction and a conflict to the making of good photographs. They want depth in their pictures but are playing the guessing game of shooting randomly in the hope that something will work out. Taking a trip solo, dedicated to the making of photographs, can be a revelation here, the student understanding that the solitude can lead to seeing through the subject to a deeper meaning.

As I wrote earlier, alone has its goods and it has its bads. 

Want to respond? Not hard: here

Topics: Analog,Digital,Color,Black and White,West

Permalink | Posted April 15, 2021