On The Road to Pinnacles

While in Northern California in February 2018 my sister suggested I make a visit to Pinnacles National Park near Soledad.

So I packed up my gear and drove down from San Jose early one morning, about an hour and a half away. Little did I know.

The story about photographing at Pinnacles itself will have to come another time. What I wanted to show you was what I found on the road to Pinnacles that blew me away.

I know: not spectacular, no flash, no super saturated colors here. California hills in mid-winter: just a little green starting to show under the trees, a few cows here and there, some gray sky. Perfect, at least for me.

I know, "single trees on the hillside" is over the top cliche', right? So what! This was gorgeous.

I have worked to represent this stretch of road heading east to Pinnacles in its natural state, not with color sliders, saturation and sharpness cranked to the max conveying a falsely romantic syrupy-sweet utopian version of a place.

This certainly didn't need that, this rather pure and elemental landscape that morning on Hwy 146 to Pinnacles.

Finally, let's take a look at cause and effect. I had just driven up from the Ventura area where I'd spent days photographing fire and mudslide damage, both on the ground and from the air. I was also frequently driving two hours up to Santa Rosa from San Jose to photograph the extensive fire damage and destruction there. Take a look at the blogs  Disaster and Catastrophe if you haven't.  Some beauty and serenity was a good thing for me at that point. My heart swelled up in my chest as I was making these pictures (and is doing so now as I write this). Let's not forget why we do this, this making art (sounds pretentious, I know). We express ourselves through a heartfelt desire to share what we believe are perceptions that others may sympathize with. Can I bring a little peace and some form of slight joy to your day or world as you look at these? I hope so. Because this is what I do: make pictures to share.

Comments? Always welcome. Go here

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 14, 2018

Shooting Square in San Jose

If you are a photographer from a certain age you probably know just what this means. Otherwise, not so much.

Shooting square refers to the film size used, 120mm and 220mm film. Think Hasselblad, Rollei, Yashica and even Plaubel (although this one used the same film, it framed a rectangle). It was also larger format in that it inherently rendered in higher quality due to its negative size: 2 1/4 inches wide. This allowed bigger prints but also a broader tonal range and better sharpness when enlarged. Less grain too. The cameras tended to be bigger and bulkier, so not as fast as 35mm. But people did use them out and about, as well as in the studio. I was one of those that used them almost exclusively outdoors. 

Made zillions of pictures this way. Go to Nantucket, Yountville, Solothurn,  Portland, Westwood Village, Portland, Oakesdale, Bluff, Boston, Fences and Walls, Mountain Work, Bermuda Portfolio, Southshore, Nelson and on and on. Scroll to the bottom of the Gallery page on the site and you'll see them there, all in squares.

Slip up to present day, last week, actually, to our now highly evolved way of making pictures digitally, to the Nikon D850 where, for the first time in my knowledge, Nikon has provided a camera with an image area called "1:1". So, when gearing up to shoot in downtown San Jose, CA I set the camera for an image area of 1:1 and then converted the shot files to black and white in Lightroom and made a series, just like I did in 1982. In fact, I just printed them.The first series of pictures from a month-long shoot in California.

Next, I will put them on the Gallery page of the site.

Quite simply they are of such astoundingly high image quality that they certainly blow away anything I ever did in 120mm with an analog camera and they most likely are a distinct improvement over anything I ever did in 4 x 5, let alone 8 x 10. I made the prints 14 inches square.

I can hear you asking, if you are a photographer, "What lens, Neal?" The Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8, a lens of now legendary quality and certainly the peer of the famous Carl Zeiss 38mm Biogon mounted to the Superwide Hasselblad, first surfacing in 1956.

Here I am, making pictures now that look very much like ones I made in my darkroom in 1979. But in a whole different world: digital and inkjet. With   quality unimagined, holding the camera in my hands, no tripod, no lightmeter hanging around my neck, no changing film every twelve exposures. No film agitating, drying, snipping and cutting, dusting off, placing in the enlarger, focusing, making an exposure, slipping the paper into the developer, the stop bath, the fixer, toning, then washing and squeegeeing, placing on a drying rack to dry overnight.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Series,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2018

This Saturday

I am back from California and am giving a talk at the Griffin Museum in Winchester on a workshop I am teaching at Martha's Vineyard this coming June. 

We will discuss the workshop and I will show slides of some of my work on the island over the years. Hope you can come.

11 am this Saturday, March 10 at the Griffin Museu of Photography, Winchester, MA. FREE

Information on the workshop:here.

Topics: teaching

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2018


The Northern California Firestorm


We flew out of the airport at Santa Rosa a couple of days ago, about an hour north of San Francisco, in late February, from an airstrip on an old military base. I figure a Cessna 172 needs about 10% of the length of this old runway designed for transport planes. ZIP, we were up and almost right away flying over unspeakable misery, loss, pain, and death.

See all those yellow patches back there? That was a large development of several hundred homes. Gone.

From Santa Rosa, across the 101, and east to the ridge,  a cottage I rented 4 years ago, now burnt to dust the photograph at about 1000 feet above it, going about 85 mph in the Cessna, window hinged on the top is open, staying up due to wind pressure. 

Lived there for about a month, the one on the right. The foundation on the left is where the owners lived.

Trying to keep the camera steady as the plane is jumpy due to turbulence. The spinning gyro clamped to the camera helps. Gorgeous day, 2 pm perfect, not a cloud.

Now we're over some of the worst. A whole housing development of hundreds of homes now completely gone, only dust and scorched trees remain. 

Up the valley again, this time following the road.  Now there are single family high-end homes with pools, gone, left to dust. Trees are still there, skeletons, most to be felled by a chain saw, for they 're already dead. 

180 degrees back towards town and more devastation. Shooting shooting shooting, picture after picture while fighting back tears. Earlier in the day I had talked with a family standing in their now empty plot. The dad spoke of 70 mph wind,  horizontal flames, embers high in the air only to land and start a new fire someplace else. Across the road? Across the highway? From a neighbor? Of being woken up by firemen hammering on the front door, saying get out and you replying, "20 minutes" and them yelling back, "No, right now!" As you run out of your house that is now in flames behind you and look around you are in the middle of a war zone. Firetrucks hosing down roofs nearby, EMT's and police everywhere, rescue workers, teams trying to save lives and get people out. Chaos, and as you drive away looking back to see your house now fully engulfed in flame. That front hedge you trimmed last weekend? The new plantings around the pool? The baby's room, ready for the new arrival next month. That picture in the hallway of the four of you that weekend in the Sierras in 1997 when you realized you were in love? All gone to dust.

We're getting close to being done. I know I could make more but it seems somehow disrespectful to keep pointing at it. So much misery, so much loss.

We land and I am almost giddy, relieved to be free from looking at it all from above. A look at destruction on a massive scale.

Topics: Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted February 27, 2018

Creative People

Creative People. Different? Just like anyone else? Gross generalizations are always dangerous and unfair too. But by and large I think creative people do have a few things that make them different.

And no, I am, for once, not writing about myself. I have spent my life teaching many many highly creative people, both young and in college but also adults in various workshops and classes. 

Of course, everyone's creative in some way or another. Creativity can evidence itself at work or in a hobby or in a parent being creative in bringing up a child. I always  think of the office worker, slaving away in their cubicle, day after day, coming up with a new way to manage something or direct something to make for better efficiency or less cost or more quality in: whatever. That's creativity too. But being an artist places creativity at the top of the stack and being a professional artist makes being creative practically an all consuming activity. This gets us into thinking about talent, a word I don't have much use for. Talent presumes it all flows out on its own, as in "she was so talented". Talent also implies that there isn't much effort needed, that work isn't necessary. Bullshit.

I tend to think of creativity as being an asset that needs nurturing and hard work too. Writers must write, musicians must play, artists must make their pieces. I also believe ideas beget ideas. As a teacher this was an almost constant refrain: "go shoot", I would say. The student would reply they didn't know what to shoot. I would say it didn't matter. Doing is better than not doing. Acting is better than just thinking. I would say: "Pictures make pictures."

Creative: Inventive? Curious? Innocent? Driven? All of the above and much more. Artists of all kinds need these in their arsenal along with drive, motivation, a big work ethic, determination, little fear of failure, thick skins, wearing blinders (focus), joy in the making, self sufficiency,  single mindedness, passion, love, humor, ability to borrow, steal, assimilate, emulate, plagiarize (learn from others) and the ability to be sensitive to others' reactions to their works, to be able to hang in there in the face of criticism, bad reviews, or lack of public support, to be okay being alone. In my experience most artists are introverts, although this isn't universal. Also, most seem to be observers, standing on the edge of the circle, looking in. 

Very often artists will have a rich variety to their upbringing. Quirky parents, being moved around a lot, an important grand parent or relative. Almost always there is someone in their past that "gave them permission" to be themselves, to follow their own path. Late bloomers are also frequent: those that took awhile to find their art, perhaps trying many things first. But then, of course, there are the prodigies, the naturals who just seem to have been artists from day one. I always sought those out in the classes I taught because a prodigy could show the way for others new to making art. Very often someone so comfortable in their role as an artist could demonstrate that there really were no obstacles in the way. 

It's hard for artists to have bosses, I believe. Mentors, maybe. Those that they can see have placed creativity as key. But someone telling them how to do something, how to behave, what to do? Difficult. Creative people tend to want to be self directed.

Work. I would often tell students to work. That artists work. Talent's got nothing to do with it. I had no room for laziness in my classes, particular when our classes were often wait listed. For artists really do work. Visit an art school, a dance studio, a rehearsal hall, or a place like Penland in North Carolina and you'll see welders, potters, painters, glass blowers and yes, photographers, working away at all hours. 

Selfish. That's a hard one and something creative people need to look at. For, yes, artists can be selfish, in their own heads, not as aware of others' needs around them as they are of their own. Narcissists are really a pain, the need to be in the spotlight.The worst. Big egos can run rampant here. For many the concept of empathy and sympathy will need to be a constant refrain. I spent my whole career being around people that were artists and teachers. One one hand: a life involved in one's self, one's sensitivities and creative output making to create art work shown in galleries and museums. On the other hand a career where the teacher is really the least important. One a "take"vocation and the other a "giving" one. My teaching colleague Andrea Raynor would often say: "Teaching isn't about you, it is about them".  So very true. For me, as someone who tends to be in his own head and thoughts, teaching is a wonderful balance between the "me me me" side and the "all about them " side.

Lastly. What about fulfillment? Is making art a meaningful and fulfilling way to go through your life? Absolutely! But also frustrating, challenging, for most not a path to wealth, a career that can be lonely, and so on. 

It can be helpful to think of what the desired outcome is if you're an artist.  More on that later. As always, thank you for reading I can be reached at my email: here.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2018