Creative Freedom

There is no way I can support the premise that these latter years of my life are supportive of major production as an artist. At 74 I still keep my hand in as I derive immense satisfaction in the making of a good photograph, made with intent and responsive to my surroundings, sensitive to an undercurrent of intelligence, with wit, candor, and beauty to boot.

Nantucket 1980

But my major years are behind me, no doubt. That being said, as you age if you retain your mind, you look back more, reflect on the past that contains both mistakes and accomplishments.

If you are a career artist as I am, that reflection tends to focus on bodies of work that struck out in new directions or that took risk, perhaps where I went astray, was sidetracked or succumbed to a false prophet. In contrast, as a positive, those bodies of work that contained clarity, a sense of purpose and extended the meaning of my work to others look pretty good to these old eyes and therefore fill me with a sense of fulfillment I never knew as a younger man.

Portland, ME 1996

Now, looking back over so very many years I can finally see things with some perspective. I welcome that. There is a tremendous benefit to have whole scores of past works right here at my fingertips on the site, available in a click of the mouse to open up and show work in sequence laid out in a narrative form. So cool, that.

Silos, WA 2012 

At any rate, the purpose of writing here in this post is to bring up the idea of creative freedom and what it means. 

I can only do that by citing my own personal journey as an artist. Mine was specifically defined within the context of being a teacher, a professor in a university on a tenure track. What this did was to both restrict personal freedom and expand creative freedom. 

Bluff, UT 1998

I have often described the manner in which one is coached, mentored and advised in academia as being benign. My own creative freedom was that all the university system cared about was the critical acclaim and praise of my work that would reflect positively on the institution. The freedom of that was powerful because the department chairs, committees, provosts, and presidents of NU couldn't have cared less what it was that I actually DID, just that it was successful.  Odd, right?

Imagine! The freedom to create what you wanted, to go off on a tangent, to explore, experiment, put down something, pick up something else. By 1987, when coming up for tenure review,  I was under big-time pressure to show, to publish, to bring my work to a larger audience with absolutley no one telling me what that work should be. 

So, if you could map a career that had creative freedom such as this, where you were required to make work, indeed, were supported through grants and sabbaticals to produce work, what would you do? To some extant that system  of critical review of the body of work I made kept me on my toes, although I can see now that it was fundamentally an academic system. What I did stands in review in the lower section of the gallery page of this site, for all to see. 

The tenure and promotion committees would always send out a dossier of work and supporting materials for peers to revue. In my case this was often museum curators. Popularity or sales weren't so much a requirement, although having a book or two was good. I actually was tenured without a book, as I was given some slack as I was an exhibiting photographer. In those earlier years I did learn to show my work and this served me well later as I have had so many shows throughout my career. I wast taught that you really needed to try to get your work out and I did. 

I'll close here but imagine having the absolute freedom to make your art as you        choose. All I needed to do was make first rate work and then seek to get it exposure. That's just what I did. And, as I have been retired from academia for now almost 10 years, I have continued  within that same system. Make work. and seek to show it, publish it, expose it. Simple, really.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 8, 2021

Concord Art

I don't submit much to group shows. If that sounds stuck up, my apologies. A print or two in a show with many others just doesn't do much for my career. But last spring I moved to a new area, a town called Acton, which sits right next to Concord. So I thought it might be good to submit to an open call:

I applied with these three. Ben Sloat, from Lesley College, the show's judge, chose the middle one. At 46 inches across this will take some serious real estate in a gallery at Concord Art that is not large. Many thanks for including me in the show.

These are above Seabrook, NH taken in the fall of 2019.

On a technical note the work that day was made with the Sony A7R MK lV and the Sony 70-200 mm f4 lens. This was the first time I shot aerials with the Sony as opposed to my usual Nikon D850. Would the quality be okay, would they be sharp, will the gyro stabilizer I use help steady the camera?

The answer is: yes. These are some very good files.

Since then I made the switch to the F2.8 70-200mm G Master lens for the Sony.

Update: The show is up, I've been to see it with my family and it looks super. Great light, with my piece sited well too. 

The Concord Art Show is up until March 25. Highly recommended.

For open hours and more information: Concord Art Show

Topics: show

Permalink | Posted March 4, 2021

Warm Day

The winter of 2021 has been hard. Day after day in the teens or twenties, gray and a foot or more of snow lingering. Massive numbers getting Covid and too many dying. Relentless. Add in a scare I had a couple of weeks ago where I thought I had it, no travel, a sameness day after day. In December we understood this was a winter to get through, to keep our heads up and power through, and we have. As have you, I sincerely hope. 

But here we are towards the end of February and we are in a day from heaven: clear skies, little wind and in the mid forties. What a treat!

So I went out to shoot this morning, nothing specific, just to see if I could see. It felt like life out there, the sun on my face, the air clear and bright. 

Bright white, deep blue, shadows, highlights, always good. 

An old pro, out in the field, bringing the camera to his eye, thinking settings, moving around, looking up, looking down, going through motions for the umpteenth time. Has been too much nothing, too little to see, too long, too cold. I know it is still February and it will all close in again, for March pretty well sucks in New England, but to have the one day, sitting on the back deck in the sun, eating my lunch with a dog basking next to me hoping for a crumb from my sandwich. I ask for no more.

An artist, a real artist, shouldn't separate his/her life, categorize and specify interests and activities into categories. It should all mix together, the  mundane the exceptional, the daily and the once in a lifetime, the good ones and the not so good. This mix, this amalgam is what spurs us and what makes up a genuinely creative person, I believe. 

I've just been learning of "habituation" and"individuation", liking the analogy of first learning to drive a car and then it becoming second nature. That is habituation. For in that mode we don't notice much, or we subsume things in order to pay attention to what's on the radio or to carry on the conversation with a colleague at work.  Individuation is singling out, having an acute awareness of all that you see, all that surrounds you. I was always telling my students to notice stuff, to be aware of everything around you, to be a "trained observer". As visual artists that is our stock in trade. For if we don't notice and pay attention we will miss things and we cannot afford to do that. Some  people go through their lives missing a great deal.

I  hope you have enjoyed this one good day, for I am confident that there will be many more in the days ahead.

Get something from this blog? Let me know, your email can spur me on, encourage me to keep this many-year effort going. 

Neal's Email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 24, 2021

After Fred Sommer

In February 2014 I wrote a series of blogs about the time I spent with the photographer Fred Sommer in Prescott AZ in 1979.





At the end of that most incredible of visits, I said goodbye to Fred and his wife Frances, got back in my aging Porsche 914 and drove straight from Arizona to Washington, DC and, effectively crashed. Staying with friends, if memory serves I slept for a night and a day, and then went out to photograph.

What I did was try to assimilate much of what Fred had told me earlier in the week.

If you've followed this blog for a while you know that it wasn't until 1981 or 1982 that I came across the way of working I call "series work." And yet, there I was making photographs that stylistically look much as the Nantucket pictures did three years later or the Yountville pictures did a little after that.

However, these are "immature" in that I knew nothing about linking my pictures together in 1979. I thought of these simply as single pictures reflecting the time and place and little else. 

Next up? I am working on a new offering, a limited edition portfolio. We don't see so much of these anymore but I am going to make a set of photographs of something very special and will announce them here.

Stay tuned!

Topics: Northeast,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 11, 2021

Gallery Talk

Gallery talk I had with staff at the Museum about my current show:

Permalink | Posted February 9, 2021