I know I don't

I know I don't post here so much these days. I guess my head's in a different space.

But I do have a brief observation to share with you that you might find helpful. I have been going through past years files, specifically 2009. That was the year I was on sabbatical leave from teaching at Northeastern. I spent most the of the fall in Italy photographing. So, I've been going through those files, which were originally stored and edited in Apple's Aperture, then later converted and run into Lightroom after Apple no longer supported Aperture (thanks Apple).

Trieste, 2009 ©Neal Rantoul

It's difficult work going though so many files. It's numbing and tends to make me want to go to sleep (whether that's a comment on how boring my pictures are is not for me to say). I need to take frequent breaks and reapproach later fresh of mind and spirit. 

But my point is this: we all have made compromises in the gear we use because we're not able to afford the best. However, in this case, I was sufficiently along in my career and secure enough in my job that I could afford the best at the time I was working. So this work from Italy I made in 2009 still holds up today qualitatively. I am thankful for that.

Italy 2009 ©NEAL RANTOUL

In those years I was using a Nikon D3x, a 24 MP full frame camera that was  expensive but that made gorgeous files. Too big and too expensive ($8000) it was a camera that I grew to love as it never failed and made pictures that hold their own  compared to anything I have done either before or after.

This includes lenses. I had some very good glass in those years as well.  Notable was the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, a huge unwieldily thing that was as good as the 38mm Biogon I'd used for years on the Superwide (Hasselblad). Added to my kit were the 24-70mm f 2.8 and the 70-200 mm f2.8 Nikons. Perhaps not up to present day standards but good enough and state of the art in their time.

If you are a career photographer it makes sense to work with the best equipment  you can. This for today as you make pictures, but for tomorrow as well, as quickly new work becomes past work and sits in a library of imagery you can't know now is important or not. Going through these pictures I made 15 years ago makes me grateful for the sacrifices I made back then to work with top gear for I can't fault the results.

Sistiana Mare, Italy © NEAL RANTOUL

Topics: Italy

Permalink | Posted June 16, 2024

Mistakes I've Made

Mistakes I've made. In photography, too many to list. Some big, some small. From underexposing, overdeveloping, losing negatives, losing files, making unintentionally blurry images from a plane at 1000 feet up, and so on. 

I will share one big one: a trip to the Bahamas in the 80s for a spring break vacation with family, my daughter Maru about 2 years old. Being who I am I brought a 4 x 5 camera and 100 sheets of Kodak Plus-X film. I managed to get away several times and shot most of the whole box, changing out exposed sheets of film each night in a dark closet with fresh sheets so as to be ready to shoot the next day. Back home in my darkroom, I set up to process the film, got my trays ready for development, turned off the lights, and ran my film from the developer to stop to fix and to rinse and then turned on the lights to see how these first sheets looked. As I did this I looked over to my right to see the remaining stack of sheets of exposed but undeveloped film sitting there on the counter underneath the enlarger. About 85 sheets of film: not back in their light-tight box, not protected from the light at all. All now blown.

That was a mistake made once and never again.

Of course, there are other categories of mistakes made over a long career: teaching mistakes, political and strategic mistakes, creative mistakes, exhibition mistakes, and a whole other category I won't go into here: personal mistakes.

For instance, very early in my career, I had a print accepted to a group show at MIT where Minor White ran the program. My image was accepted for exhibition by this great master. I felt honored that my image had passed before his eyes. The evening of the opening I arrived and started looking for my photograph only to find it prominently displayed, upside down!

One of the things all of us who are career artists do is promote a relationship with influential people. This means developing an association with curators, gallery directors, editors, art buyers, and, if working professionally, art directors. For me, this has meant repeatedly showing work often over years to museum curators.  Twice, in a big way, this has affected my career when a curator up and left after seeing my work over an extended period. One went from being a photo curator to the head of the museum while seeing my work once a year for several years. Then having said to me she was giving me a one-man show told me she was leaving to go into banking. All right. In working with her replacement I had a new just-out-of-grad-school curator.  I had someone assigned to show my work who had no understanding of it and no history of looking at my work over a period of years. The show was less powerful and persuasive because of this. 

One more: in making aerial photographs of the Cape and Martha's Vineyard one fall day I flew out of the Hyannis Airport in October at about 3 pm. The quantity of light in aerial work is paramount as you must work with a fast shutter speed combined with at least some depth of field. As it got later, I was losing light, raising my ISO and lowering my shutter speed.  Most of the files I shot that day were blurry. I try to make aerial photographs now in the morning when the light is increasing.

I have always found photography challenging, part of its appeal. There are so very many ways you can screw up. I would often tell students it wasn't the mistakes so much, it was the failure to learn from them that was tragic. There is something so inevitable and final in an image swooping onto your film or sensor. At some fast shutter opening of, say, 1/500 of a second, the image is fully formed, fixed as in stone. What are your chances that this is great? Very low. 

Let me finish with this: what is your intention with your work? And in that process are you specific and disciplined, methodically planning and calculating each step to achieve your goal? Or are you impulsive, working sporadically, haphazardly accruing disparate images over time? I suspect that most of us are a little of both, at times being careful and calculated and at others just picking up our camera and winging it. I would presume one goal would be to make fewer mistakes, and waste our limited time less. Perhaps some planning and forethought isn't such a bad thing?   

Being fluent and practiced is key, of course. The same camera, a known lens so that you can sublimate the gear and work without logistics and circumstances getting in your way. After all, you're trying to be clear-headed and perceptive. Make it as easy on yourself as you can by knowing what you're doing. Being a professional or a career photographer is a very different thing than being an amateur who picks up a camera only occasionally. Photography's hard, as you've read from me before. Figure out ways to make it work better for the materials and situations you find yourself in. Really good photography is made by people who have discipline and understand that this is work. Rewarding work and work that can be really fun, but work nevertheless.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 21, 2024

Next in Line

Not the first time I've shown my work but a show of a different sort: The Poster Show

Over the years, I have had shows where we've made posters. This show at the Acton (MA) Senior Center, will show some of those as well as posters I've made. Although much of my work is in series, as you know, occasionally I've made a photograph that stands on its own. Some of those have gone into posters, made for friends or to hang in my studio or at home. This show will feature some of those too. We will take orders for posters that are in the show and they will be $50 each.

The poster for the show is then, a poster of a poster. 

Hope to see you at the opening March 19, 4-6 pm.

Permalink | Posted February 29, 2024

Today's News

Just quickly, I couldn't help but share this from Petapixel this morning.

Olympus (OM System) with a built-in graduated filter. Newer cameras are going to start including not only this but all sorts of AI. Many of the things that we take for granted our smartphones can do, newer cameras will incorporate. This means a landscape shot of the highlands in Scotland will be enhanced right out of the chute. Will the original un-enhanced image still be there as a reference? Don’t know, maybe not. I for one do not want a camera company interjecting its own controls onto my photograph. Still, I’d be willing to bet that a newer photographer would define the enhanced vs. un-enhanced image as being much better. Slippery slope for sure. Another pin drops in the end of photography as we know it. Ka-ching.

 Clearly a "feature" driven by marketing concerns. Presumably, we'll be able to peel away the AI enhancements as layers to get to the original. I assume some camera manufacturers will promote a more "purist " approach. Leica comes to mind. But in the ever-increasingly tough camera market,  companies will need to add more in-camera options, making the imagery "better" right out of the box.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2024

I remember the time when part 2

This is the second in a two-post piece on my screwup one day photographing the Black Water Dam in southern NH in the late 80s.

I packed the gear in the back of the car and began to drive out to the highway. I thought I might drive into Manchester, a nearby city, as I knew that there was a camera store there. Maybe they would have the Bogen connector plate I needed. Maybe the day wouldn't be a total wash and I could go back to Black Water Dam to photograph.

I drove into town, parked on a side street, got out of the car, and, as I was crossing the street heading for the camera store, looked over my right shoulder to see an older, somewhat beaten-up pickup truck parking behind my car. I could see it was a woman behind the wheel and she was parking a whole space behind my car on the street, which was on a hill. Both my car and her truck were facing down the hill. No problem, right? Well, she got out of her truck, locked it and started to walk down the sidewalk as I stood there and watched the truck quietly start to move forward on its own, building speed as it rolled, heading for my car. Surprising how much speed a small pickup truck can gain when coasting downhill in just 15 feet or so. Bang! It hit my car, launching it forward into the car I had parked behind, which now had risen up on my hood. After all this, seeming like out of a movie, there was now complete silence. I ran over to find my rear bumper shoved into the rear trunk of the car, the rear tailgate glass shattered and the front bumper barely visible under the rear of the sedan that now resided halfway up on the hood of my car. There was a little steam rising from the area of the engine of my car and a small puddle forming on the pavement smelling like antifreeze.

I am sure I was disintegrating right there on the sidewalk in Manchester, NH that morning, unable to cope or maybe even comprehend what was going on. Those of you that know me know I am something of a car guy. Obsessively washing and waxing,  vacuuming and detailing. That's me. My car, which was a pristine and impeccable Nissan 300 ZX 2 +2 had now been hit from both ends in an accident that I had witnessed from across the street in what looked like a slow-motion sequence from a film.

If my day hadn't been shot before this little scene occurred, certainly it was done now. There ensued local cops, the pickup truck woman returning to find her vehicle had caused all the commotion, a call to my insurance company, a flatbed tow truck from AAA, a friend offering to come pick me up and get me home with the camera and gear, a decision to have the car towed to a close-by body shop to my home in Cambridge, and then months of repair and repainting before anything close to normality ensued. 

It seems the gods were not aligned in my favor that day. In all the years of photographing, on the street, close to home, on location, and traveling far and wide, I've never been so confused, disoriented, and displaced by a series of events as I was that day.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted December 30, 2023