Topic: Black and White (66 posts) Page 1 of 14

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 work to 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 finishes the "Find Your Bliss" series of posts begun earlier this month. As always, thanks for reading my short essays.  Comments are welcome: here.

Topics: infrared,Black and White,Analog,Digital

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 #3

An autobiography with an art slant, part 3.

I retired from my teaching position at Northeastern University in December 2012, after thirty years.

But before we bring things up to the present we have to go back a little to about  2005. This was when things went in a slightly different track.

Now a full professor, my position and place at the University was secure. As a senior faculty member, I applied for and was awarded more and better grants, several residencies and more times away than before. My first book came out that year

to critical acclaim, my work was being collected more, shown more and I had it in many major museums. This allowed a degree of creative freedom that was exhilarating. With the realization that I could do anything I wanted with my work, I did.

I  made pictures at 17 Cabela's stores across the Midwest:

I photographed at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

This led to work from Reggio Emilia in Italy:

And finally to the National Museum of Medicine and Health in Washington.

You get my point. I hadn't abandoned other ways of expressing, I had just expanded into other interests, including a preoccupation of just what "death" meant to me. 

This has happened to others, of course, but I was also beginning a disengagement from my position as a professor in those years, taking more risk as an artist and being more assertive. And some of the logistics for making some of this new work were complicated and difficult. Strike one for increased self-confidence. 

Let's stop here for this post. Next, we will go to what happened after I retired from Northeastern. I promise.

Topics: Color,Black and White,Europe,Digital,US

Permalink | Posted August 14, 2018

Another Time Another Life

Italy, 1990 near Duino along the Adriatic

These photographs seem like they are from another time, another life.

You get so old you can't believe that was you 30 or 40 years ago. The reason for this retrospection? 

I've been scanning old negatives. 

It's brought me back to the 80's and 90's when I was a full-time professor and an 8 x 10 photographer.

1986 near Prescott, AZ with the Toyo Filed 8 x 10

8 x 10 photographer? Yes, this was an "identifier", a title to a certain way of photographing. To be an 8 x 10 photographer tended to mean you were someone who was very serious about your pictures, someone disciplined and something of a control freak. You needed to work clean (because of dust), most needed to have things like an 8 x 10 enlarger (often mounted on its own concrete pad to minimize vibration) and huge lenses that were very slow and very expensive, a heavy tripod and a dark cloth that you'd drape over your head when composing your picture.

I've been looking at work from Italy where I would teach most summers near Trieste or north of Rome in Viterbo. Summer after summer, a frantic pace of classes and shooting trips, weekends on my own in a rented car driving all over with the 8 x 10. Hundreds of sheets of black and white film shot each summer, spending months back in my darkroom just processing the film, often finding it would be February or March before I started to print.

Marble Quarry at Cava Romana, 1992

Years of this, not even thinking that this was a massive amount of work, not caring, for I loved it so. I am not sure this way of working would be possible today, with airport security being so tight and x-raying being so pervasive.

Tuba, near Trieste 1991

Tarquinia, 1992

By the early 90's, 8 x 10 was a greased system for me, practically the only thing I shot. Fluid and frequent with it as if it were something handheld or for any kind of photography. I'd just as soon haul it out to shoot a class picture at my daughter's school as I would to make a grand landscape on the edge of a cliff at Les Baux in Southern France. It was just the tool I used to make my pictures.  Ed Ranney from Santa Fe is a friend who was like this with a 5 x 7 or a 4 x 5 and I admired his work, so emulated his approach. He was fast and easy, no fuss, make the picure and move on. Likewise with Emmet Gowin. I liked his Italian garden pictures from the 70's and, yes, pointed down at gardens in Italy when I could, just like he did.

Near Viterbo, 1994

A new road under construction near Muggia, 1993

What was it about this format? The negatives contained so much sheer information that one never had to think about whether it would get that or if it could render that with subtlety and refinement. I never thought twice about making big prints from those negatives, and did. For a while 20 x 24 inches was a common size for me and I made many prints that were 5 feet across. In fact, I was proud of my craft for it was very difficult to be good with this large camera. I worked at my own development as well, researching and trying different films and developers, staining my negatives in Pyro for years, toning my prints in Selenium or more exotic metals, including gold. 

The craft was intertwined with the final print, the imagery integral to the process. 

What I photographed was in full knowledge of what that image could become as a beautiful print.

But, and it is a big but....

This is the truth and the real point of this post: No one but me knows this work, no one but me cares to see them, as prints or here in the blog. Nothing will happen to this work unless I make it happen and no one will choose to scan them when I am gone. They will have existed as physical negatives made in the late 20th century and then they will not. No one will know how to edit them and no one will care to do anything with them.

Near the coast at Tarquinia 1992

In present times, photographs can't exist unless they are digitized. I can't show these pictures to you in this form without scanning the negatives or prints first. I can't submit this work for exhibition or a grant, I can't share them without first making them into O's and 1's using a sensor. 

8 x 10. A few still use one. Bruce Myren locally to the Boston area does good work with one. Mercedes Jelinek and Liz Ellenwood, young photographers that use my old camera. Sally Mann I presume. Don't know if Emmet still uses his. 

Topics: Italy,Black and White

Permalink | Posted May 19, 2018