In The Show 1,2,3,4, I gave some perspective on photographic prints I was donating to the Martha's Vineyard Museum from a one-man exhibition I'd had on the island in 1995.
In this, the addendum, I'll share with you the handing over of the 21 prints to the Museum.
On a bright, sunny, and very windy day in early October 2020 my daughter Maru and I arrived at the scheduled time, prints in hand, and masks on. As it turns out the Museum is open but restricting the number of visitors.
Photos are by Maru:
We put the two portfolios out on white tables and went through the prints one by one with Bonnie Stacy, the Museum's curator.
Taking masks off for a second, we held one up I took of Keith's Field in 1993.
We then went upstairs to the library for me to sign a donor's form.
This gave me a chance to ask some questions of Bonnie: how the prints would be stored, whether they would show them, and so on. She showed us a couple of galleries that would be suitable for my work and said they were considering some ideas about putting them on display.
I then signed the "Deed of Gift "form ceding the prints to the Museum, giving permission to use them in any way they wished, including selling them, but I retain the copyright. This simply means that while they now owned the original prints from the show 25 years ago I retained the rights to use and own the imagery.
Then we left. Thanks to Maru for her help throughout this project
So that's the end of the story of donating prints I made 25 years ago to a museum on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
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As a career photo professor and a professional "intro to photo" teacher, I got this question a lot. "Irony" was often an early assignment in my beginning photo classes. Took students a while to grasp exactly what this was. Hence: "hey Neal, is this irony?"
What got me thinking along those lines is that something happened today that was ironic. I am on Martha's Vineyard for a couple of weeks and bought one of the island papers (The Vineyard Gazette) this morning while food shopping. Reading it over lunch I turned to page 2 to find this:
(apologies for print-through)
An aerial I made a few years ago of the small island called No Mans Land off the Vineyard's coast on a flight from New Bedford. The paper paid me $25 for the picture(!).
There was my picture of No Man's Land in the local newspaper and where did I find myself this afternoon? Shooting No Man's:
albeit from a slightly different angle. Of course, I didn't make the connection until I'd downloaded what I shot. (This shot with the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 on an RRS tripod, at f8. Nikon D850.)
IRONY: happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this: [with clause]: it was ironic that now that everybody had plenty of money for food, they couldn't obtain it because everything was rationed.
source: Apple dictionary
Photo can be so cool. Love comparisons, analogies, multiple images to make a statement, create a line, draw attention, or tell a story.
This post will conclude the series of articles about a show of my photographs at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in August 1995.
I applied for and was granted a sabbatical leave for the fall semester in 1994 and chose to spend it on the island. I rented a place just a few miles from the family home, choosing independence over staying with my mother. It was a good decision. Up early each day, out shooting all day, back as the light died, unloading and loading film holders when it was dark, only to repeat the next day. I was in heaven. One of the lessons I learned that fall was that if your source for making pictures is close by you can get more done.
By this time I had finished the VOLF project and was photographing on my own, knowing the show was coming up the next summer. That fall I probably shot 500 or 600 sheets of 8 x 10 film.
All that work edited down to 21 prints for the show in 1995. No way is that representative of what I did over the years 1988-1994. Just the very tip.
Finally, after the show I worked over the next couple of years to process and print my best images of the island from that period with the intention of getting the work published into a monograph, to no avail. One publisher said that the book was of "regional interest-only" and felt there would be too small a readership for a national press. Another didn't buy the tie-in with Atget's work of Paris in the early twentieth century. It was never clear to me that he'd ever heard of Atget's work.
Now the 21 prints from the show will go to the MV Museum for their archive. I have hopes for stewardship that will care for them, that will respect the work and my intention to make photographs that showed the island at a certain time in its history and development. I also hope they will store them well. I will mourn the loss of this work from my collection but, as we age, it is incumbent on us to part with work that can have a life under others' care.
Thanks for riding along on this journey about my work shown on the island of Martha's Vineyard in 1995.
Any comments welcome: Neal's email
In The Show 1 and The Show 2 I wrote about an exhibition of my photographs at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in the summer of 1995.
The show itself was modest, set off from the other exhibitions in its own room with good light but low ceilings. My family was on the island for the opening and, as some are from California, this made the event more meaningful.
During the six weeks the show was up, Harry Callahan, my teacher from RISD, and his wife Eleanor flew to the Vineyard as Harry was giving a talk on his work. I'm going to quote myself here as I wrote about the evening of Harry's presentation a few years ago on this blog:
Harry was invited to Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1995 by Carl Mastandrea of the Boston Photo Collaborative to give a presentation on his work. I was on the island for part of that summer and had a show of island landscapes at the MV Museum up at the same time. The day for his talk arrived and as the afternoon faded into evening the sky was darkening, a storm approaching. It was hot and humid, the air lifeless. As the crowd arrived at the Chilmark Community Center where Harry was to talk, the sky had turned very black and we could hear thunder in the distance.
Harry began his talk, standing up front at a lectern, speaking into a microphone.The house was packed with the overflow standing in back, kids crossed legged on the floor in front, Harry talking about his work in the darkened room, slides thrown up on a big screen. Crack! Came the thunder, the wind picking up as the storm approached. Harry continued, now his voice was competing with branches thrashing outside. The windows were open, the wind blowing things around, the audience was getting concerned and edgy while Harry continued. All of sudden lightning stuck the building, the power went out- Bam! - and Harry was standing there in the dark hall, the lightning having arced up the microphone cable and right to where Harry was standing. For an instant the crowd was in shock, immobile in surprise. Was Harry hit by lightining? Was he all right? For several minutes the power was out, the battery powered emergency lights were on and people were fussing over Harry to see if he was okay, the room bathed in a dim glow. Harry was standing there seemingly all right but very quiet, appearing to be wrestling with what just happened. A few minutes later the power went back on but, as the microphone was toast, people were asked to come forward to be able to hear Harry speak. The whole dynamic of the presentation changed then, Harry loosened up and the crowd was now experiencing something warmer and more intimate, as though in a conversation between friends rather than in a formal lecture.
Harry and Eleanor flew to New York the following day to visit with Eleanor's sister. Harry had a massive stroke a few days later in NY that knocked him back and that he never fully recovered from.
Harry was in his eighties that summer and we never did know if he'd been struck by lightning or not. I always felt there was a connection between the lightning storm that night in Martha's Vineyard and Harry's stroke, but I never knew for sure.
Images from the show "A Special Place" 1995 Photographs ©Neal Rantoul
Harry died in 1999.
I had driven Harry that afternoon of the day of his talk to see my show. I remember feeling very proud to get him there, to have my former teacher see my work.
Was this show in a small gallery at the Museum in August a big deal? No. Viewed mostly by tourists there to see exhibits of the island's whaling history and lighthouses it received a review in the local paper that praised some of it but was critical that some of the prints were too dark.
As the culmination of over four years of work, I considered the exhibition mission accomplished. The show was an acknowledgment that the work was valid and worthy of being seen. And I had aided VOLF by making pictures they could use for their needs.
No one contacted me during or after the show came down. No one wanted to see more work. No one wanted to publish a book of the work.
So it goes.
Next up? The Show 4. Where I will bring us up to date and look at where the work is going 25 years later, in the fall of 2020.
In The Show 1, I wrote about making pictures for an exhibition I had on Martha's Vineyard in 1995. In this one, we'll take a look at some of the work and I'll explain the foundational logic I used in making the pictures.
As the years accumulated I photographed sites built and unbuilt that were being managed by VOLF. In the properties where there were no buildings yet, I began to feel that there was a larger reason for the photographs being made. After all, my photographs would have historical importance as a record of what the land looked like before anything was built on it. While I still photographed the beaches and along the shore I found myself exploring much more of the interior of the island. Plus, VOLF was providing access to some incredible sites that otherwise I couldn't get to.
The very poor and very old photographer Eugene Atget photographed "his" Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in reaction to increasing industrialization. The Paris he knew well was being changed forever by the automobile and electricity. He took on the task of documenting the city to record it for posterity. They are some of the most poignant and heartfelt photographs I have ever seen.
I carried in my mind many of his indelible photographs as I photographed all over the island. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time of massive increases in building on the island. I was now on a mission to document parts of the island before they were changed forever.
Plus I was using the current day equivalent of the camera he had used, a large-format 8 x 10 camera on a tripod, making black and white pictures by developing a few sheets of film at a time and printing the pictures in my darkroom.
This was a new and heady experience. Using my photographs for something more than self-expression, meaning that these pictures were far less about me and more about my subject and the photographs' place in time.
Let's stop here. Let me set the stage for the next one, The Show 3. I'll bring us to the exhibition that opened August 2, 1995, in Edgartown at the Martha's Vineyard Museum and some of the drama around it.