I sincerely wonder what this will be like. We are now in production for an exhibition that will open in January at the Martha's Vineyard Museum.

Making prints, framing, titling, labeling, writing an artist statement, ordering frames, sending out publicity, social media, etc. Always a lot to do to make a show ready.

But wait, we are in the midst of a huge surge in a pandemic that is killing us by the   thousands every day! Plus, there are no indications that things will be better in late January or until the vaccine arrives in the spring. Add to that how many people would go to see a show at the Vineyard in the winter months, anyway?

The reality is that this will be mostly a virtual show. We will work to make the presentation of the work accessible to as many people as possible by posting it and making videos for YouTube of the installation. Although most of you won't get to actually see the physical prints we hope to make the show as available to everyone  as possible.

Meanwhile, we'll be printing, framing, titling, labeling, etc just like for any show.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted November 22, 2020


1978. A very long time ago. 42 years as I write this in 2020. Wow! Funny about time, yes?

Last week I wrote a blog about going through old analog work and throwing away most of it: Cold Wet.

In one of those boxes, I came across some work I haven't seen in over 20 years. 14 x 17 inch black and white unmounted prints from Martha's Vineyard that were in a two-person show I had with my mother in an earlier iteration of the Granary Gallery  on the island. (The full show is now on the site: MV Show 1978)

She and I showed together a few other times, but always in group shows. I remember one show in the 80s that included my two sisters and two brothers-in-law.

But this one in the summer of 1978 was just she and I. My mom was a career painter, moving in and out of making work when she could while bringing up three kids and working. One of the things I learned from her was that change was good. From watercolors to oils to acrylics to woodcuts to cut paper she liked to shake it up. The show we had at the Granary was cut up paper, specifically Color Aid, which were silkscreened color pages you could buy as a kind of book with perhaps a hundred or so beautiful colors. She made landscapes out of them layering the colors to take you through to a horizon and a sky. I wish I had one or two to show you. They were beautiful.

My work in that show? I thought you'd never ask. Black and white (that was all I did until about 2002), square pictures, of things I'd found of interest on the island the year or so before.  Not much cohesion except they were all made on the island.

I don't remember the opening very well but am sure it was primarily friends and family. I was single then and hadn't a kid yet, teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston and would begin that coming fall teaching at Harvard.

The photographs are quiet and contemplative, smart in that they are of things that render well as photographs, juxtaposing visual elements with at times a sense of humor or irony but also real love for what I saw.  My response to seeing them now, so many years later? They hold up all right. These were made a few years after graduate school by a young artist still working to find his voice and shirking off influences. I believe your work is your work. To put down earlier work because now you're " so much better"  denigrates and diminishes rather than simply looks at art from the time in which it was made. Context is all.

This one, the last in the show, needs a little explanation. About 1976 the Fogg Museum at Harvard had a show of some recent photographs by Robert Frank. Rough, blurry and scratched, many of the prints were from Mabou Mines where he spent time with his wife June Leaf. It is where he made several of his films and by then he no longer considered himself a photographer as he'd moved on to making films. One set of pictures in the show were of a post, some gray sky, some land, and the ocean. Minimal and spare.

These from Lines of My Hand, photographs by Robert Frank

He made them in response to getting the news that his daughter Andrea had been killed in a small plane crash in Guatemala. It was her winter coat he placed on the post. I had been moved to tears when I saw his pictures that day at Harvard. When I saw this single pole sitting on the bluff near a lighthouse at the Vineyard I thought of Frank's pictures right away. So I made a picture in tribute and out of respect to him and the tragedy of losing his daughter (Thanks to Michael Hintlian for setting me straight about this).


Finally, as I write this in November 2020, I am beginning work on a new show of my work to be at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in late January 2021. These will be color aerials, some made in 2012 and 2013 and some made in 2019. The work I donated to the Museum this past fall will also be included in the show. More details to follow soon. 

So there are three generations of my work from the island: the show in 1978, the work I donated this fall to the Museum shown in 1995 and this new show coming in January. How cool is that?

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted November 19, 2020

Cold Wet


Darkroom prints. Black and white from the late 70s and 80s.  All on 14 x 17 inch Kodak Polymax paper. Over a thousand or so. 

All of them printed by me in my darkroom in Cambridge. Each one from a negative loaded into the negative stage of the enlarger, focused, a contrast filter inserted, the timer set, the paper put into the easel, the exposure made, the sheet slipped into the developer, the print agitated for 1minute 45 seconds, slid over to the stop bath, then fixed, then rinsed, then added into fixer remover which had rapid selenium added to it, and then final-washed for an hour or so, squeegeed, and placed on drying screens overnight. Print after print, year after year: literally by the thousands. 

Now headed for the dumpster. I kept maybe 5%  of what I went through. I found that for the most part, I could place where each image was from and what I was up to when I made it.  Amazing that we don't lose that. 

I am of two minds. One, it's all bullshit; the compulsive, maniacal work ethic that drove me to make countless images of things insignificant and unworthy of my or anyone else's attention. Boring and banal. Two, that the sheer quantity and constant activity was necessary to see through to things there were substantial. That all those prints, all that shooting made me fluid and fluent, that I was completely immersed in seeing and therefore going deeper when it all did work. That the quantity was necessary to get the quality.  

I don't know, from this position it all looks futile. And such a waste! 

My conclusion? I find myself admiring in retrospect those that weren't so obsessive about the medium, colleagues that were more laid back and open to other impulses and influences, to those that looked at other forms of creative expression that would serve as excellent input into their education and progression as artists. And perhaps have more fun or enjoy their time more. Smell the roses, so to speak.

As an addendum, let me add that the prints I just threw away from the 70s and early 80s were made during a time when I knew I had a problem. I was shooting roll film, often handheld, in 2 1/4. By 1984 I had stopped this practice, selling cameras to be able to afford to buy an 8 x10 camera to slow the process and me down, to put an emphasis on a more contemplative and meditative single image. Did it work? Yes, I  believe it did.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 13, 2020

SNOW Again

Four years ago I made some pictures during the season's first snowstorm in Cambridge, MA where I lived at the time. They are: here.

Later on, I folded some of those into some other work made that winter into a book I called Trees, Sand and Snow

Well, here we are almost four years later on almost the last day of October and we've just had our first snowstorm. Of course, I went out and made some pictures.

The last time I photographed snow it was close to home and this time was too. I no longer live in Cambridge but moved last spring to Acton, a western suburb about 40 minutes from Boston.

By March all this will be the worst, we'll be fed up with snow, everything will be colorless, frozen, and dead-looking. But this early and the first of the season I can't imagine anything more beautiful than fresh snow.

BTW: the first one, of the swamp? I photographed there throughout the summer.

Stay safe and well.

Topics: Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 30, 2020


Audience: a broad term, of course. Evokes all kinds of responses. Since this is a photoblog I am referencing the audience that sees our work. In this very odd and terrible of times, I find that having no audience for my photographs is very difficult.

In my teaching, I always told students that photography was a process of communication. That making photographs but having no one see them was missing a critical part, the follow-through if you will. But here we are in a                  time where there is no one to see our work. Yes, I know, there is online and remote, "virtual". But, really. In no way is that real, in no way can I expect anyone to get my imagery on a screen. What present-day photography is capable of is a far cry from what we see on our screens, be it 30 inches on a high-end monitor or 2 inches on a phone.

As a career artist and exhibitor, I find it hard to find my sense of purpose. Make a picture: what for? I know, for myself as that is what drives me, my need to make work. True. I am doing that. But having other eyes see it, as a physical thing, in a portfolio, on a wall or in a book is what completes it. Not for praise or only to purchase, just to see it. After all, I've made the photograph in the first place to share an insight, to put out a perception or something I believe is worth communicating; be it beauty, irony,  texture, depth, my aesthetic, perspective, a comparison, empathy, tranquility, chaos, solitude, humor, quality of light and so on. The craft of the thing is important to me too, what materials I have chosen and what decisions I have made in terms of tonalities and contrast and yes, the size of the print.

Combine all this with the inability to travel and I find myself effectively shut down. For many years I have been, for the most part, an artist dependent on travel to make my work. Since I can't fly (or won't: no way am I sitting in a metal tube for hours with strangers breathing each other's air) I am stuck, watching the hours and days slide by, my life clock ticking, wondering if our world will ever go back to some semblance of what it was before. I know: wait, be patient. I definitely understand "COVID fatigue".

Duino, Italy 1990. From an 8 x 10 negative, print: 40 x 30 inches ©Neal Rantoul

So here we are today in this country finding ourselves in deep shit: increasing numbers of cases of COVID, a staggering number of deaths, a massively disturbed president who could be re-elected in a couple of weeks, and no vaccine right around the corner. I know: hang in there. And I will, as will you.  Hard times. 

Stay strong, try to stay healthy, and let's hope we all see each other on the other side.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 22, 2020