Topic: Analog (33 posts) Page 1 of 7

Magical

Ever feel you were in a place that was somehow magical? That, for whatever reason, things colluded to make where you were something so very special as to be once in a lifetime? I am sure you have.

Orvieto, Italy 2009

Ever happen to be there with a camera? Were you able to capture that special circumstance? Take advantage of this gift? I am sure you have.

Arsenale, Venice, Italy 2007

I know I have. There is the sense of tread lightly here and speak in whispers as this is so incredible you could shatter it in an instant. That feeling of OMG I just have to get this, all I have to do with this camera in my hands is to bear witness to this beauty, this sublime place, this other worldly quality. This is both a powerful concept, to be able to make something truly sublime out of what is in front of you, and humbling for it is such a transient thing, this picture you are making.

Oakesdale Cemetery, Washington 1997

Isn't it this at least part of what we seek? It is often what we are looking for as artists reliant upon the world around us to make our pictures. To find a circumstance, a unique combination of weather, place, light and use of a creative frame of mind that will combine together something perhaps mundane into something truly extraordinary. Very empowering, this. The feeling that it may be put there for you, arranged and choreographed as a display for you to photograph. Odd, yes?

Bermuda 1982

Two things: one, you can't have this "ah ha" moment, this ultimate reward, without being out there with a camera, a lot. You need to be in the world, seeing, looking, being a photo predator, on the "hunt" for pictures. Two, experience should be your guide, your practically instinctual director of future success. This is where your intellect is effectively useless, perhaps for logisitcs only, for it is your intuition, your heart, that will lead you down that path, over that rise, around that corner to find the sublime, the magical.

Vignole, Italy 2006

I am most fortunate to have had this kind of experience numerous times over my career. I can't assume it or take it for granted but I can be thankful when it comes and accept it for the gift it is.  

Topics: Italy,Black and White,Europe,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 18, 2018

Finding Your Bliss 3

In Finding Your Bliss (here) and Finding Your Bliss 2 (here) I wrote about a Sally Mann photograph and compared it to this image I made in 1976, not in content but in intent.

As I conclude this series let me please pause and thank Sally Mann for starting this extended conversation. Her photograph pushed me to go back in my own work and dredge up the two swans photograph and remember what it meant then and what it means now.

But what happened to my work after I had this big moment, this realization that with my photography I now had a deeper understanding of inherent possibilities, paths, and directions? Did I go back to the family picnic that afternoon and announce my discovery? Did my family and friends have any clue that I had gone deeper and seen farther into my life's work as an artist. Nope, nor did it come out later. This was my discovery, my "ah-ha" moment. I felt somehow that this experience was not relatable or at least that I couldn't share the power of the realization effectively, or, at worst, that they wouldn't care.

I would say that, while I didn't go on to become a "hands or body parts in the picture" photographer I was better informed to the inherent possibilities and depth that my pictures could address, that I was playing to a higher level in my work after that day. In short, by making this personal discovery, the bar had been raised on my own work throughout the rest of my career. 


As an addendum,

let me answer the question you might be asking. Was that infrared photograph of my hands in a picture made of two swans on the edge of a pond in Martha's Vineyard in 1976 something that led me to more "hand's in" pictures? Did I continue or utilize this process in other work as I went through my career? Mostly no, with occasional exceptions. Examples:

These are from my first trip to Iceland in 2013. I was an artist in residence at the Baer Art Centre in Hofsos. The pictures are of The Cape, a locally famous huge piece of rock near where we lived that summer. Same thing, feeling a strong connection, I found my hand(s) sliding into the picture. An affirmation perhaps that I was there and interacting with the air and place in a short slice of time. Not conscious so much as felt or intuited perhaps.

I was not the first person to move my hands or other body parts into the frame of my photographs in 1976. Self portraiture was common and I made some of those too. But was I making a sort of "selfie" back then? I don't believe so, for a selfie connotes a desire to show yourself in a place, in front of  the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal as a proof mechanism that you were there.  Not my interest at all. For mine was to interact with the place, as an immersion into the place.

Let me leave you with the following. As photographers we must deal with the mechanics of our medium (although even that is changing). Also, as someone who makes his own prints I must bring a whole other set of skills to bear. But if well schooled, all of this fades to the far background to allow a skillful and meaningful image to surface. This also allows us to share our feelings and perceptions with others, to point a direction, to observe something amazing or awful or never seen before or even to draw attention to something others walk right by on their way to work. This most incredible tool we have, photography, which has gotten so good in the last few years, is our best observational device ever to look at ourselves and the world we inhabit. And, occasionally but rarely in my work, to interact too.

Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge,MA 1978

This ends the Finding Your Bliss series of posts on my blog. I hope you have enjoyed them. As always feel free to share your comments: here

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Digital,infrared

Permalink | Posted October 5, 2018

Finding Your Bliss 2

If you read the first installment (Finding Your Bliss) to this series of posts you'll know our story is about to arrive at its apex. 

Poucha Pond, Chappaquick, 2017

At the core of my aesthetic as a landscape artist are these two pictures. Some sky, some foreground and some land, often a strip off in the distance. It is what I painted as a spray painter in the late 60's and it sits at the foundation of decades of landscape work as a photographer.

Near Pullman, Washington 1997

While having little understanding of this while standing on the edge of Squibnocket Pond that warm day in late August, 1976, I saw a pair of swans close to the opposite shore. This is not uncommon as the pond is a safe haven for swans to nest and bring up their young. I hung the camera around my neck, set the self timer and proceeded to make a series of exposures with my hands in the picture.

Why? Because I felt connected to the pair of swans way off?  Because of the commonality between all things living?   In this simple act of making pictures in this way I am sure I couldn't have found words to say. This was almost completely a "felt picture", putting a part of me in the frame to affirm my existence, to establish that there I was, to deny distance and objectification, to force the sense that photography can be as much about the maker as the things shown in the frame. Look how small the swans are (remember I was using a 24mm lens) and how large my hands are. Isn't Sally Mann doing the same thing in her picture? Affirming her ability and vitality,

the depth of her feelings for her chosen medium and its expressive character, for its ability to convey raw emotion, perhaps love? I believe so and with my really quite simple and perhaps naive picture made in 1976 the same sensibility pervades as I stretched my arms out and reached out to those swans, waiting for the click of the shutter. I was certainly struck with the contrast of the innate simplicity and beauty of this timeless event of two swans passing by and me standing there, a creature from a different world, tricky and high tech tool hung around my neck, this esoteric film recording the content in the infrared spectrum and producing a glow to my white skin.

It is tempting now so many years later to build more into this picture than it warrants and I am resisting being a sensationalist here, but there is no ignoring that this was clearly a crucial moment I was having that afternoon on the Vineyard. The realization that I had crossed a threshold holds true today.

So, what happened? What did I do after finding my bliss in this moment in 1976?  Well, stay tuned for #3 to find out.

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

Topics: Black and White,Analog,infrared

Permalink | Posted October 4, 2018

A Personal History #2

Continuing a series of posts on my career as a photographer.

By the mid-eighties, I'd been married and divorced, had one child, had owned a home and lost the home, had renovated a house, was teaching both at Northeastern and Harvard and photographed and printed constantly. It was fast times. 

Being on a tenure-track in a university comes with a whole host of requirements as you are under great scrutiny. I was exhibiting frequently and at increasingly prestigious places, I was shooting and printing constantly, my work was being published in periodicals, I was receiving numerous grants and I was presenting at conferences and symposia. I was teaching on the Vineyard and elsewhere in the summers and traveling whenever and wherever I could to make new work. In 1983 I received a one-semester sabbatical and traveled extensively throughout the American southwest photographing.  In 1986 I returned to the southwest to photograph over three months with the 8 x 10 camera. It was significant that I was Northeastern's first photography professor. This put me under some pressure not only to validate my work and myself but to validate that photography was a legitimate academic discipline worthy of study. In 1988 I was tenured at Northeastern University in a unanimous decision. 

#4 Digital

By the early 90's it was clear big changes were coming. I was successful in getting some very expensive scanning equipment donated and we were off and running in very early digital days. Initially, we were just scanning but soon after we were printing too. By 2003 the Photo Program I headed was legitimately on a roll; new courses were on the books, we were hiring new faculty and I was scanning and printing my 8 x 10 and 2 1/4 negatives. And, I had started to work in color. 

My whole creative output from the time I was a student until then had been in black and white. This for the simple reason that I didn't think most color photography was any good.

I had been traveling to the SE corner of Washington starting in 1996 in the summers to photograph the extensive wheat fields there. I had been working in 8 x 10 black and white making minimal, austere and formal studies of essential elements of the landscape.

In 2001 I began shooting in color, initially without much success but by the second year was beginning to get it. As I got better at it and my confidence increased I started exploring color in other aspects of my work and was beginning to print my color work digitally, from scans of my 8 x 10 transparencies.

This was tremendously exciting and motivating, to start as a novice and to be a student again in something new. I believe this is essential for a career artist to stay active and viable. Taking risk is key.

While digital capture (photographing digitally) was still in its infancy in the early 2000's, staying with film, scanning it once processed and then making inkjet prints was a highly qualitative way to work in those earlier years. 

Back at Northeastern, I had now been advised that I should apply to be a full professor, a position I call the "last promotion" for an academic as there isn't anything else after that. While less of a career-threat than tenure, as you aren't fired if you don't get it, the full professorship carries more prestige and establishes that you have "arrived", at least on campus. Think: big shot. I became a full professor at Northeastern in 2003 in a unanimous decision. 

Let's stop here. For the next post I will follow through to my retirement from Northeastern in 2012 and we'll take a look at the work I made from then to the present.

I thank you for your time and for joining me.

Topics: Analog,Digital,Northwest,American Series

Permalink | Posted August 9, 2018

Italy 3

Let's move up into more recent times. Since I finished teaching in Venice I've been to Italy a few times: 2009, 2012, 2014. The 2009 trip was photo specific and produced some wonderful work.

In 2012 I was able to get back to the area around Latisana not far from Trieste to photograph stands of trees. The trees are grown as a crop and are for making wood pulp.

And in 2014 on a trip to both France for  Paris Photo and to Italy I made pictures in Noli, along the Italian Mediterranean

This ends the series of several posts on my time teaching and photographing in Italy. There is far more than I've represented here. I linked a few series at the bottom of this post. Very often series represented in the gallery page on the site are backed up with blogs about the same series. Easy, just go to the search function in the blog and type in the series and a list of posts will populate on the left side of the page.

Thanks for following along. 

Finally, I feel blessed to have had so many opportunities to photograph in such an incredible country as Italy for so many years. I am the beneficiary of its warmth, its wonderful people, and its beauty.

Topics: Foreign,Italy,black and white and color,Digital,Analog

Permalink | Posted January 31, 2018