Topic: Aerials (19 posts) Page 2 of 4

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

What I've Learned

After now almost two months of working on the new prints called Monsters  for the show coming up in September at 555 Gallery in Boston titled "Wild Thing" I have learned a few things and I thought I'd share my experience with you.

Making prints from a project, be it for a portfolio or for an exhibition, is a process. There are steps, necessary as an evolutionary process, that must be taken. These are things that can't be rushed or corners cut to get to a final result. This is true at least for me. I believe it is very important to set enough time aside for these steps to happen. I started working on the new Monsters pictures around July 4. They are now finished with the last step being to move them to the gallery, unpack them and hang the show. So, my personal process of editing, printing, reprinting, changing sizes or cropping, reprinting, mounting and then framing is now about to go into a more public process of interaction, final editing, and working with the gallery to hang the work. Then, finally, when the show opens my work goes public. But as this progresses from singular decisions and all the results inherent in that to a more public place my role is no longer active. In some sense, the job being finished, my role is over. I just need to show up.

The Monsters show, framed and packed for moving to the gallery.

This is all good, of course. I am honored and privileged to be allowed to take my work through this process and I am indebted to 555 Gallery for the opportunity. For a sense of perspective, much of my career was spent making work with no clear objective in sight, no place to show it, no one expressing an interest in it or, in fact, even knowing it existed. But what I've learned or it seems relearned is that while the gains are large, that I am showing new work soon, there are losses too. This whole "print for a show" thing? In this case, it was all consuming. Not much time off, few new photographs made, few laughs and fun times and, whatever work I did make,  made without enough concentration. 

Where there have been other activities going on they have centered around making a catalogue for the show, sending to press the Essays on Photography book that is being printed now, and some advance publicity for the show. There are now even Moo cards made of  the Monsters work:

Why? For the sheer fun of it. Also, I've been dealing with theses images and more in large sizes for so long it's great to be able to see the cast of characters in cards, as these have become my coconspirators, my friends. Suffice it to say, we are very close. If you see me, ask to see my cards.

While proud of the new work and looking forward to is unveiling, I am missing time spent on making new work. To that end, there is some travel coming up that should put things back on course. Coming up in a week or so I fly to Salt Lake City, Utah to make aerial photographs of the salt flats and the shoreline of Great Salt Lake.Thanks to Google Earth I can show you where I am headed:

Can't wait. 

I'll be back for the opening at 555 Gallery September 12. 

Hope to see you there.

Topics: Northwest,Color,Digital,Aerials

Permalink | Posted August 26, 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


I flew yesterday. Another flight over Martha's Vineyard. This one had some specific destinations in mind. I'll get to those but I wanted to share what else we flew over. I fly with Mike out of the Katama grass strip airfield outside of Edgartown. Mike provides biplane rides for tourists wanting to see the island from above. When we fly though, he pilots a Cessna 172. Why? Because for aerial work you need the wing above you not under you.

Today's flight was simply wonderful: clear skies, little wind and cool but not cold temperature. I'd been trying to go up for about 10 days but the weather was not cooperative. Yesterday it was perfect.

This one, directly above, is on Chappaquidick Island and is where there has been a great deal of erosion over the past couple of years.

This one above is from 2012. Quite a difference.

If you've been reading the blog for awhile or are a subscriber you know this isn't the first time I've made aerial photographs of Martha's Vineyard. Actually, the photographs I make of the island are part of a larger project of photographs of all the islands off the Cape. So, why keep going up to make pictures? Because, as time has gone on, I am now thinking of and using aerial photographs differently. Initially, I was just going up to see and shoot what was interesting, beautiful, striking or alarming. Now, I am mostly working on a specific project to photograph one area at a time. This approach started in Iceland while I was on a residency in 2013 and has continued on the Vineyard. I photograph the same area from the air and on the ground and pair the two in one series. Why? Because our take away from these two vantage points is vastly different in each case. Each one informs but alters our comprehension of the other. The challenge for me is to shift slightly our understanding of landscape photographs and, ultimately, how we look at them.

I hope you like these. 

 You can reach me at: Neal's Email

BTW: Reminder that there is an opening at 555 Gallery in Boston this Saturday evening from 5-8 pm. The 16 photographs of mine in the show are from the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and the Spallanzani Collection in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Some are new prints, in color, that are gorgeous!

See you there.

Topics: Color,Northeaster,Digital,Aerials

Permalink | Posted October 7, 2014

Route 2 Trilogy PT 4

Wait a minute. Can a "trilogy" have four parts?

Well, maybe. Read on.

The overall concept is to photograph Massachusetts Route 2 from the air starting about Rt 128 near Boston on out to where it stops at the western border with New York.

As I can only photograph about 1/3 of the state at a time the project broke down naturally into thirds, hence..."trilogy". But I have now photographed 4 times on the project, hence the "PT 4".

Thanks to new friends Jerry Muller (pilot) and Charlotte Richardson (plane owner) I have now flown twice to work on the Rt 2 Trilogy (Aerials) project on their kindness alone and I am most grateful. We take off from the air strip at Stow, MA and head west along Rt 2.

Today's flight was a little shorter than last time and by the time we were close to home the day was clouding up and it would rain soon. 

Mid summer flights like this in New England are lush with vibrant greens, particularly if it hasn't been too dry. Today was like that, with a carpet of green trees everywhere.

Without dwelling too long on "tech", I was interested to see how a new camera would handle this very challenging way of photographing. I have just changed from the Nikon D800e to the new Nikon D810, a camera with the same size sensor but some significant improvements, one being a better, less vibration inducing shutter. The results from today are a clear step of improvement from the previous camera. I also tested a lens I haven't used for aerials before, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S NIKKOR and found that it works very well but that it is so big and long it tends to stick out the window of the plane, never good when you're flying 100 mph. These flights are in a Cessna 172, a plane so small that it is difficult to turn sideways and shoot out of the open window at about my right elbow.

Thank you both Charlotte and Jerry. I am most appreciative and grateful for your support of this project.


As we landed and were taxiing the Cessna up to the gas pumps to top off the tanks, we were confronted with this:

Which I learned later was a Beaver Float Plane with retractable wheels, that had been flown east from L.A. by the tenor saxophonist Kenny G, (who is the one on the right holding the sandwich). 

As we pulled up, he hopped back in his plane and took off, lunch on board.

How cool is that?

Next up? I need to print the ones made today and last April to complete the series.

And I need to post them on the site.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Aerials,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted August 7, 2014