Topic: Aerials in Louisiana (4 posts)

Inside Aerials

Sometimes writing comes easily. I've got something to say and this blog is my vehicle to say it in. I think this comes from my profession as a teacher as I can remember dreaming up some new course, or curriculum, or a lecture for a specific class where I believed I had something of value for my students and wanted to share it. That was usually pretty straightforward. But writing about my own work or others isn't always easy.

Other times, when preparing a blog to post, it comes hard. Right now, I have got something I am wrestling with conceptually and I am outside my comfort zone as an author to get it out. This is where I admire so much those that write for a living.

At any rate, I am going to take a stab at writing on the inside of the aerials I make, in an effort to address the motivation behind working this way and what the resulting photographs mean to me. This may be answering the question that wasn't asked but hang in there as there may be something coming that you might find useful. Hopefully, by sharing this with you, I can a) inspire you to try it or b) help you understand the pictures a little better, or c) help you understand how one professional artist thinks and works.

I am going to sprinkle various aerials in here to help make my point.

Near Pullman, Washington, 2014

When asked about my aerial pictures I often answer that I believe I am in a some-what unique position in that I go up in a plane to photograph simply to make art. I am reliant on what we fly over, of course, but I believe I am doing something a little different with the pictures I make. Most photographers that work aerially are on assignment, shooting real estate, surveying, etc. Not me. I just want to make pictures from above.

From the Mass Marshes series, spring  2015

I feel like I am late to the party. Let me explain. While I was awed and impressed as a young man with Paul Klee and Franz Kline, Kandinsky, Stella, Pollack, de Kooning, Barnett Newman and others I was also confused and disoriented by their large works; so impulsive, at times so angry and loud. I lined up with Mark Rothko early due to a one-man show of his work at the Guggenheim in New York in 1978 six or seven years after he died that seriously rocked my world. Rothko imposed a kind of orderliness to his work, the vehicle of the rectangle a constant while working for many years within its structure. I could relate to that, or find logic in his pursuit. I also loved what he was doing with color for I was in the language of black and white from my early days in the 60's on up until the early 2000s, while at the same time looking over my shoulder at the Joseph Albers studies, so important to our understanding of color.

But make pictures within the sensibility that is abstract expressionism with my own work in photography? Not bloody likely. I was too indoctrinated and entrenched in the kinds of photographs that worked off the palette of the real world. By that I mean I was anchored to being out in it and depicting in a manner consistent with the mediums' modernist precepts: clarity, fidelity, depth of field, tonality, and yes, even print quality. All the modernist boxes were checked. I was fulfilled and enamored by what the medium could do in front of real stuff, subjects if you will.  Still am. In fact, I had no issues of photography not being enough, or too literal, or not expressive enough. Beginning to work aerially has changed some of that, of course, as there is some really wild form, content and color when photographing from the air. I think that's why my most recent aerial work doesn't depend as much on a real typography as it does with what nature and mankind have done to the land. I don't know if I can write this clearly but my interest is less in physical depth and more in markings, both actual and imposed upon the landscape.

Mass Marshes, 2015

Iceland, 2013

While the aerials embody much that is conventional photography (sharpness, color, etc.) they are separated from it too by carelessness, the denying of foreground to background readability, and the sheer abstraction of things.

This is going to sound a little obvious perhaps but I believe I have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the works of those seminal abstract expressionist painters through making aerial photographs. Bang! That's it, isn't it? So, how did they get there without the aid of hovering over the landscape as I have? I have no idea, but this clearly points to their brilliance and my lack of, I suppose.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

So what does this way of working, photographing from the air, fulfill for me? I do believe I am using aerial photography to serve a different purpose than most. Quite simply, it is to make abstract art.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

The contrast of knowing this is something 1000 feet below the plane spread out and displayed relatively accurately versus the final piece looking like it is marked on paper or canvas, not literally rendered and contained only within the artists' mind is almost too much to bear. 

That's why.

Near Moab, Utah 2010

                                                             • • •

Want to see prints of my aerial photographs? The best way to do that is to contact me by email: Neal's email.  As a start, you might take a look at the gallery page of my site, as much of the aerial photographs are represented there. 

Topics: Aerials,Aerials in Louisiana,Utah,Iceland

Permalink | Posted September 24, 2015


Saltair. What a great word: Saltair. Did I photograph it because I liked the name so much or was the place so good it needed some serious attention and the name was a kind of bonus?

Probably a little of both. But the place was spectacular. The word Saltair conjures up visions of a castle-like building up there on the top of the craggy cliff overlooking the crashing waves below in the North Sea in Scotland. At least it does for me. 

I just returned from a one week trip to Salt Lake City to aerially photograph some of the shoreline of the lake and also the Potash Evaporation Pools that are scattered along the edge of the lake (here). In exploring the area in between flights I found Saltair.

In reality Saltair is a concert venue lying at the edge of the fetid and massively receded Great Salt Lake about an hour from the city. Actually, the "edge" isn't quite correct as the lake has receded in recent years. This occurs occasionally and has hurt previous iterations of Saltair. You can see how far the lakeshore is now from Saltair 

with the loupe showing semi's parked alongside as there was a concert coming that night.

The first Saltair, circa 1893. There have been three versions in the 120 years or so since.

As you can see the lake took over at one time.

Saltair is a club-like venue for concerts and large parties. During the day it seems abandoned.

The first day I drove out there I was the only one around. I really didn't know if this was an abandoned building or if it was still active.  After the first day shooting there I went back a couple of days later, feeling I hadn't quite "got it".

And then began to work  around to the back of the  building.

With this most incredible expanse, mountains way across the lake shimmering in the distance. Only to find a lawn, maybe the most shocking, as it led us out to the shore, which didn't exist.

This was a man with a metal detector taking his dog for a walk.

Oops. No shore. I'm sure the intention here was to lead us to the beach but is in reality very far away, too far away.

Then I worked a little on the building itself and what it reflected back on.

and then finished by working with the extreme nothingness that was this:

which I'm sure on your 1 1/2 inch screen looks a little anticlimactic but as a 40 inch print might have perhaps a little more presence.

Is this a series? No, not yet. Is it sequenced and tightly edited? No. Will it be? I am not sure yet. Sometimes we need a little distance from our work to fully understand it. One way to help understand it better is to put it in front of people. I've done that in this post. Feel free to send in your comments. I would welcome that. My email is here. And thanks for taking the time to look at my pictures.

Topics: Aerials in Louisiana,marshes

Permalink | Posted September 16, 2015

Short Story Long

Redemption: the action of saving or being saved from sin, error or evil.

I'd like to tell this one in short form but simply can't. I am mortified but also ebullient and cannot contain it in a couple of paragraphs. There is good here, an outcome that is genuinely wonderful, but there is also great loss too. In the end, yes, there is redemption. I refer, of course, to redemption from error here, not evil or sin,  although clearly I am a sinner. Evil? Perhaps, but mostly this was just me fucking up. You will have to read on and wait for Short Story Long 2 to get to the "redemption" part as there is an impressive array of screw ups here before all is right with the world. Read on.

A couple of weeks ago I went up, flying out from the small strip in North Andover with Erik the pilot (Eagle East Aviation). Things looked good on the ground. It was a clear and warm morning and it was during a week that was more summer-like than May-spring in New England. I'd done considerable homework on setting up my camera to what I though was correct for aerial shooting. As it turns out the Nikon D810 has two separate focusing systems. As there is no "go to" manual for using this camera aerially, I read up and figured I should use nine point focusing, a little biased towards the closer part of the frame. At the airstrip I looked over the plane, and decided to try sitting in the back, never comfortable, but better suited to shooting things perpendicular to the direction of the plane. I use the Kenyan Gyro Stabilizer clamped to the bottom of my camera. I get in, belt in, put the headset on over my ears, turn on the stabilizer and off we go. Things look like this when looking out of the plane from the back seat:

This also gives you a pretty good idea of what I am shooting. That is Hampton Beach, NH up there along the coast.

Right away we are bouncing in the air currents, which increase as we get closer to the shore. This isn't unusual due to the air over the cooler water working against the warmer air. I open the window to my right as Erik is flying from the left side of the plane. Most Cessna 172's have hinged windows that stay open with air pressure. Once we get over the marshes I start shooting:

The plane is doing its thing, jolting us up and down like a yo yo and I am doing all I can to point the camera in the right direction, let alone frame it carefully. I've got the battery for the gyro over on the back seat on the far left side. That's where the on/off switch for the unit is and I assume it is on as I turned it on when we took off. The battery is tethered to the stabilizer on my camera with a long stretchy cord. But my assumption that the unit was on throughout the flight turned out to be wrong, very wrong. I shoot away hoping for the best. I am using my standard aerial lens, the justifiably famous f2.8 70-200 mm Nikkor zoom lens, generation 2. This is a lens that's famous for its sharpness.When really spinning the gyro makes heat while it works and I notice that the unit is not warm to the touch. I keep shooting as it is very cool in the plane with the window open and I think that's why it is not warm. Wrong.

It might help you to understand my mistake (but not excuse it) to know that things are very chaotic inside this little plane as we fly along at about 100 mph with the window open. Ever stick your head out the window of a car at speed? That's it. Plus during this flight we are really being thrown around by the turbulence from the air current. Erik's strapped in but I am not and am bouncing around in the back seat, holding a heavy camera clamped to an even heavier gyro stabilizer that is not spinning one bit.

Irregardless of whether or not I am getting this, what is down there below is extraordinary. I have kayaked through some of this extensive marsh over the years but never seen it from the air. It is wonderful. 

We make several passes over the expanse of these marshes, which are tidal and then head on back to the airstrip to land. I am seldom queasy in a small plane anymore but I was with this flight. It was that rough. We land and now I am quite sure. The switch to the battery was up against the left side of the plane's interior and in knocking around it must have flicked off. This isn't good, I think, but I've made successful flights with no gyro and so perhaps this one will work out okay. Wrong.

Of course, I get home and download the files and start to look at them on the big screen and there really is nothing that is sharp. As lovely as they may be they simply won't do, as printed any size it will be apparent that, although they may be striking images, they are not at all sharp.

Let's take a look at the above one, cropped and enlarged:

Unacceptable, as you can see if you're reading this on any screen larger than your smart phone (hint hint). I call and book a flight for the end of the next week, hoping if all goes well, we will have less turbulent air and I will make sure the stabilizer is actually on.

Stay tuned for one more major problem to solve before I redeem this mess.

Short Story Long 2 coming up.

Topics: Aerials,Aerials in Louisiana

Permalink | Posted June 8, 2015

Aerials in Louisiana 2

In Aerials in Lousiana I described the first part of my flight above New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta that I made in mid March 2015.

As we flew out into the river delta we left any sense of civilization behind. I had this strange sense of "forever" even though we were sliding along over this bayou of the Mississippi at 100 mph. It seemed endless and like a dessert. It was strangely quiet and eerie even though the plane engine was loud and the open window was blasting air inside the cockpit.

We were now beginning to head back to Hammond, on the return leg of the trip down the river to the Gulf. As we slid along at one point I turned and looked over my right shoulder and noticed the sun reflecting off the water.

I made a picture and thought that this would tend to push the surrounding scene darker. So, I started to work with this idea, asking Ashley to keep us on this heading for a while.

Simple, really, and whether or not profound, "deep" or resonating with you or others remains to be seen but I felt I reached into something more than just what was there. Am I breaking new ground in photography with these pictures? Not so much although I feel I have done this during my career. These aren't going to revolutionize anything, but in my own way I found something in this aerial flight I could claim as a group of pictures I "made" instead of just having "taken" the pictures as factual representations of what was below the plane. If you're an artist, that's it, isn't it?

On the way back I played with the causeway that spans the lake:

Funny to think you can "play" with something as large as a miles long causeway that spans a lake but you can.

The current show at 555 Gallery in Boston is called " I Love Your Space" and it is curator Susan Nalband's ambitious effort to think outside the box. For instance, no work hangs on the walls. It is a fascinating look at some of the possibilities inherent in contemporary photography and I am honored to have a few pieces in it. It is up until April 18. Check it out and let me know what you think. A few already have.

Topics: Aerials in Louisiana

Permalink | Posted April 2, 2015