Topic: Analog (30 posts) Page 1 of 6

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

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

Permalink | Posted May 2, 2017