Topic: Analog (28 posts) Page 1 of 6

Swiss Portfolio 1981

We're going to go back to another century, another era. It's been awhile since I've written about an older body of work but this one just reappeared this past week, photographs of mine I hadn't seen since the early 80's.

Let me explain. Micaela, my wife to be and the mother of my daughter, Maru, was from Lugano, Switzerland. We were visiting that summer, 1981, at her parents home in the small town of Breganzona, just above Lugano. We did some traveling throughout Europe, 1 1/2 years before Maru was born. I was photographing with the Hasselblad Superwide, working mostly handheld. The work in this portfolio is disparate, meaning that the prints were made in different locations under different circumstances, reacting to new surroundings and impressions. When back home I made Miki's parents a set of prints that I called the Swiss Portfolio and gave them to them. Life moved on and circumstances changed: a kid, a new house, a new job, a separation, a divorce.Things changed. I never gave the Swiss Portfolio another thought.

Flash ahead in time: Miceala's father dies tragically not so many years later, her mother lives for many more years. Within the past few the mother has died, the property in Lugano was sold and the art collection they had was split up between my ex-wife and her brother. Then some of the works came to my daughter, Maru.  While at Maru's family for Christmas last week I opened a boxed set of prints of mine I hadn't seen in 36 years: the Swiss Portfolio.

I am in debt to Micaela for seeing to the work's return and to Maru for letting me have it.

Quite the build-up, yes?

So, let's take a look at the work,  both because I believe it is worthy but also because it forecasts photographs of mine to come.

First off, I was photographing using regular black and white emulsions but also in black and white infrared. I'd developed a system of using a 70mm Kodak aerial infrared film that I loaded into 15-foot rolls for the Superwide.

I was also consciously pointing the wide lens of the SWC down frequently. This seems telling to me as much later I would work aerially, 1000 feet above the landscape. Additionally, nine years later in 1990, I would start to work in a similar manner in 8 x 10, hanging the big camera over railings on bridges in Europe to look straight down. I called those photographs the "Down Work". 

Salzburg, Austria

Of course, this was much easier to do handheld with the SWC, as the three above demonstrate.

Another interest at the time was to look at surface and space when in the same tonality. This had been a preoccupation of mine when making the Bermuda Portolfio (a limited edition portfolio of twelve in a boxed set, of which one remains) the year before. I carried this over to the work I was making that summer in Europe. 

How does photography distinguish between a smooth surface and say, the sky,  when they are exactly the same tonality or degree of reflectance? It turns out that it isn't always clear where one ends and the other begins.

So, where am I here? I am almost ten years out from grad school, fairly sophisticated in my approach, heavily immersed in photographing and exploring new ideas and approaches. I've had some shows by now: a one man at the Addison Gallery in Andover, MA, and several at colleges: Tufts, Hampshire, Dartmouth, MIT. I will start teaching in the fall of 1981 at Northeastern University, a job I will hold for the next thirty years. I was teaching two days a week at Harvard as well.  Add to that Micaela was about to start graduate study in Photography at MIT. Heady times and in a new relationship as well.


This last one, of the family's German shepherd Exxi, in the backyard in Lugano:

Specifics: prints are on 14 x 17 inch Kodak Polymax paper, toned with selenium and printed by me. Want to see the portfolio? My studio is always open to people wanting to see my work. If you're local, easy. Email me: here.

Full series is on the site's gallery page: here.

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Topics: Analog,Foreign,Black and White

Permalink | Posted December 29, 2017

Facades

I have had a preoccupation with facades, which, for me, includes fences and walls, for a very long time. In fact, in 1979 I made a series of pictures called Fences and Walls that was my first cohesive group of pictures after finishing graduate school in 1973. Fences and Walls was the body of work that formed the foundation for this way of seeing.

From Fences and Walls 1979

This same approach carried through to some of the mall work I did in 2009-2012.That series was called Mallchitecture and looked at buildings designed for a purpose and function practically devoid of an aesthetic.

Facades played a key role here. My earliest awareness of this interest was a show my work was in at MIT called, oddly enough, "Facades", about 1977. This was when Minor White was still alive. I met the white haired photographer and guru a couple of times and was in awe of his reputation and the depth of his approach. The fact that he had deigned my photograph worthy seemed as if from the hand of God at the time. In those days White curated a concept show every year or so with titles like Light (to the 7th power), Octave of Prayer, Be-ing Without Clothes. 

Photographs of facades, surfaces, fences and walls have been part of  my photographic agenda for a very long time. Was I aware in these early career years I was looking at the world through this specific lens?  That I was consumed by an agenda not on everyone else's list? No, I was not.  I wonder how many people new to the arts are so self aware they know their stock in trade or can access the uniqueness of their point of view in those earlier years? Few, I believe. I also believe this then becomes one of the primary roles teaching needs to play. To acquaint the student with just what it is they are doing, how their work fits into the overall scheme, what precedents there are and the relevance of the premise.

There is another prevailing aesthetic I can track over my career and that is what I call: "Planetality". I know, I've even made a word for it. This is the need, desire or prevailing characteristic of making pictures that exist in planes, most prominently in parallel planes. Stand in front of a building or flat surface, preparing to make a picture of it. Will you make the picture at an oblique angle or point up or down? What drives this in you? Do you not care care that lines converge or that one edge of the building will bow out or in? Or do you wish your pictures to reside in the relative neutrality of not having imposed a specific directionality to them? Again, stand in front of the building, keep your camera level and center yourself so the left and right sides are equidistant and parallel to you holding the camera and you have a picture that is far more neutral, thus allowing the building to dominate, not the signature of the picture of it. Imagine in current times this being a concern! But how you do this affects the outcome.  If the building is too tall or there is too much foreground in your picture? Well, that's what a view camera is for or, in these days in the digital world,  "lens corrections" in Photoshop or, last, a PC lens. The principle is to keep the camera parallel to the surface and shift the lens to raise, lower or slide left or right.

At any rate plane to plane is important to me, not always, but often.

Most of the photographs in this post are from the series called Mallchitecture.


Topics: Digital,Color,Northeast,Vintage,Analog

Permalink | Posted May 19, 2017

SABBATICAL

More accurately: sabbatical leave. As a professor for thirty years I was fortunate to have four one semester sabbaticals and a year-long one.

Very often people outside of academia don't know how it works to be a professor. Sabbatical leaves are commonly awarded to professors in universities to conduct research free from teaching responsibilities. Eligibility is determined by rank, therefore adjuncts are usually not able to apply. Applications for leaves are handled by a committee which reviews applications and awards sabbaticals on merit. They are one of the perks of the job. Frequency varies but commonly, it is every seven years.

Outside of academia sabbaticals also occur occasionally in business and, of course, some people give themselves a "sabbatical" to take a leave to do something they can't do while working. The traditional sabbatical, however, is different in that it includes getting paid while you do it. Like I said, one of the perks.

It is difficult for me to express what these leaves meant for me for the years I ran the Photography Program at Northeastern University. Having the sabbatical in the fall or spring semester meant that I was only at school one semester for that year as it butted up against the summer when I usually didn't teach. Making pictures, practicing my discipline, was always a struggle while I was working. Squeezing in the time to go photographing or the endless hours needed in the darkroom was hard when the job and my family needed my attention. Sabbaticals freed me from one whole large component of my life and were proposed and awarded to support my making art.

Got something you'd like to do? Someplace you're dying to go? Feeling hemmed in by work? Part of being the creative person you are is to be creative in all aspects of your life, not just in the art you make.  Think about how you can make things happen, get a project funded and/or supported, there are many ways. My first sabbatical was called a "pre-tenure" sabbatical in that it was designed so support assistant professors in their efforts to publish or do their research before applying for tenure, a critical time. I applied, got a one semester leave but was not awarded a grant I applied for. So I had no funding to support my rather elaborate plan to travel around England and Northern Scotland with an 8 x 10 view camera making pictures. So, I ended up driving through the American West in my parents motorhome for two months. Although I did fine and made good pictures I learned from that one that a sabbatical leave with no funding isn't so great. Work out the support for your sabbatical before you take off.

As I got tenured and became more senior and knew the system at my university better I was able to be away  more on various projects. It helped that my daughter was away at school by then as well. No longer married, I was free go more often. Funded research trips to study other photo programs, or study new technologies, give lectures, talks, presentations, have exhibitions of my  own work and go to conferences became things I did more. In each of these situations I would photograph wherever I was. I had a discretionary budget, travel stipend and a network of internal grants I could apply for, and did succeed frequently. This meant I needed to have someone back at school holding down the fort that I could trust. Luckily, I had someone for many years in Andrea Raynor in that she exuded capability and excellence in all that she did. In fact, she's still at Northeastern and is the Department Chair.

Did I work the system? I did. Did it benefit me and my work? Yes, it did. Was I dishonest, lining my own pockets with my school's funds, or travel elaborately off the school, buy gifts on their dime or provide these perks to colleagues? No, I did not. 

I also learned this lesson. One of my colleagues, a senior graphic designer, told people she would be in Hawaii the whole time she was on her sabbatical. In reality she stayed home and worked on new projects. She knew she'd get called in to avert some crisis in her discipline if people knew she was close by. Smart. I learned that you must go away in order to cut the thread. 

My first big trip away to photograph was in 1979. I wasn't a professor yet, and told NESOP (New England School of Photography) I wouldn't be teaching in the spring. As I was  teaching at Harvard too, after the fall semester finished  in January I was free to take off for the Southwest. This was a self imposed sabbatical of indeterminant length to go make work. I needed to get south from Boston as it was winter and I had friends I could stay with in places like Santa Fe and Houston as this was a trip on a shoestring. 

Can you picture this? A 33 year old 6'2" Neal crammed into a loaded and aging bright yellow mid engined 2 liter Porsche 914, with rusting heater boxes and paint peeling off the hood, gone for three months, driving endless hours first to New Orleans, then to Houston meeting with Anne Tucker, then Santa Fe staying with my friend Ed Ranney, then Tempe and Tucson to visit with Harold Jones and Todd Walker,  Prescott to see Fred Sommer, photographing daily, back home again with a few days in DC. Me, a box of prints, camera gear, tripod and some clothes. And bags and bags of exposed film when I got home.

Want to see some of the work I made from that trip? On the site: here.

Sabbatical. Take one if you can.

Topics: Road Trip,Black and White,Vintage,Analog,Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 2, 2017

Fences and Walls 1979

I have been talking about and showing my series pictures lately in a variety of presentations so they are very much on my mind. While I usually start with the Nantucket pictures made in 1981 (here) there is a series I made earlier that in some ways can serve as a predictor of things to come. It is called "Fences and Walls" and is the topic of this post.

To recap: I finished gradate school at RISD in 1973 and by 1978 I was teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston. By the fall of 1979 I was teaching at Harvard University as well. I made pictures constantly, almost without discrimination, of anything that seemed remotely interesting. I made major photo trips to Europe, to Bermuda (twice), to the American Southwest, and worked locally.

Looking back at that chaotic time, I remember thinking I was out of control, passionate about now being a career teacher and artist but not able to bring clear focus to any coherent presentation or method. One day while in Newport, RI on a photo trip in the early spring I made a discovery. 

I found I was frequently pointing my camera at walls and fences, separators and barriers we use to edge our property or to keep people out and our pets and children in.

This was the beginning, I believe, of my ability to understand what I was making intuitively. 

By combining the new pictures I was making and sifting through pictures I'd made in the past year or so I found a common thread of a preoccupation I'd had that I hadn't been aware of. This was an odd sensation, to find something in my work prevailing that I hadn't seen before and taught me something about the importance of the subliminal and the need to search our own work for answers. It also helped me slow down and look harder at the pictures I had made rather than only shooting and printing at this frantic pace of making but not looking.

The series also split into two other interests, full and empty, as a subset.

If you've followed along with my writing on other series, such as Nantucket, Hershey, Oaksdale, Yountville, Portland, Solothurn (all searchable by name on this blog), you know that we are looking at the series that predates all those others. 

Whether Fences and Walls can really be used as the foundation series of pictures to the subsequent ones will be for better minds than mine to determine.

But I do believe that in my oeuvre of series works, Fences and Walls needs to be counted as a player in the mix. 

One note here: I don't regard Fences and Walls as a contributor to my idea of "narrative" in my work. That wasn't a concept that had coalesced yet. It would take the Nantucket pictures to make that happen, still two years away. 

The full series is now on the site, way down at the bottom of the Gallery page, as it is arranged chronologically from the earliest to the latest.

As always, I welcome your comments:  Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Series,Analog,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 17, 2017

Hershey Again

I know, here I am pushing the new book Hershey, PA again. But bear with me, as I have a reason behind this. BTW: It is printed, it is available and it is very very good. You should get one.

It is for sale at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, MA and also at 555 Gallery in Boston and through me by emailing me at: Neal's Email

This is a very important series in my career and the second of twelve books we are printing that showcase my series works in black and white that I made from 1981-2005. These are elegant small books, 7 inches square and are signed and numbered. They are $25 each plus shipping.

So, now that I have covered the necessaries, let me explain what I believe to be a new business model that is brilliant. Yes, I thought of it myself and no I am not a business person. I am an artist. But how can I put out these books, which I think are important, and not lose my shirt in the process? Print books, sell them and use those funds to print the next one, book after book. Yes, you need some up front funds,  but once the seed money is there, if you are successful in selling the books, you can perpetuate the run of all twelve by turning the funds made into printing the next book.

Let me give you some specifics. As a trial we printed 25 of the first book called Oakesdale, WA.

Big run, right? It sold out quickly, not surprising as we printed only 25 of them. It cost $715 to print using Blurb (an on-demand printer) and we made $625 in sales. Okay, a loss. But with Blurb  if you print more, over 50, you get a 25% discount. So, learning from my loss in the first one, we have now printed 50 of the Hershey book. 

Let me step aside here and address the issue of print quality. I have been making books now for a very long time and have made both traditional offset printing press books and many on demand books with many printers, (Apple, My Publisher, Blurb, Mag Cloud,etc). On-demand books have now reached a quality level that is very high.You have to keep the publisher's nose to the grindstone, however, in that sometimes a press run will come through too dark or the colors not right. You need to send them very good files and follow through to make sure they get it right. No one wants to reprint a whole run of books but occasionally they will need to do this. It is up to you to make this happen.

Is this a model for huge profit? Not so much. Is it an effective way to print several books, one after the other, as a way to get work out to a larger audience? Yes. Is it brilliant? Well, I might be a little biased but I will leave that decision up to you.

Downsides and drawbacks? Yes, Blurb's printing cycle takes two weeks and sometimes longer so there is no quick turnaround. Right now we are printing one or two first to see the book as a proof before committing to a bigger run. This is essential, at least in my case. Each time we do this we catch mistakes in the first run that we can then correct before printing many copies. Add another two weeks or so. Blurb's shipping costs are very high, I believe as a way to make more. And finally, they package poorly, sending the books in cardboard that barely makes it to its destination.

Finally, we now have a design "template" that we can plug the photographs into. This streamlines the design process and makes the design coherent through the run of the twelve books we plan. 

In conclusion, here I am blogging away, revealing all my secrets and my business acumen. Yeah, right. At any rate, my hope is that this might spur you on to use the idea for your own photographs you want made into books. Lastly, we are starting to work with a local printer to see if we can get the same high quality we had with Blurb but for less cost. Trying to buy local. Stay tuned.

Topics: Books,Vintage,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2017