Topic: Black and White (85 posts) Page 1 of 17

1978

1978. A very long time ago. 42 years as I write this in 2020. Wow! Funny about time, yes?

Last week I wrote a blog about going through old analog work and throwing away most of it: Cold Wet.

In one of those boxes, I came across some work I haven't seen in over 20 years. 14 x 17 inch black and white unmounted prints from Martha's Vineyard that were in a two-person show I had with my mother in an earlier iteration of the Granary Gallery  on the island. (The full show is now on the site: MV Show 1978)

She and I showed together a few other times, but always in group shows. I remember one show in the 80s that included my two sisters and two brothers-in-law.

But this one in the summer of 1978 was just she and I. My mom was a career painter, moving in and out of making work when she could while bringing up three kids and working. One of the things I learned from her was that change was good. From watercolors to oils to acrylics to woodcuts to cut paper she liked to shake it up. The show we had at the Granary was cut up paper, specifically Color Aid, which were silkscreened color pages you could buy as a kind of book with perhaps a hundred or so beautiful colors. She made landscapes out of them layering the colors to take you through to a horizon and a sky. I wish I had one or two to show you. They were beautiful.

My work in that show? I thought you'd never ask. Black and white (that was all I did until about 2002), square pictures, of things I'd found of interest on the island the year or so before.  Not much cohesion except they were all made on the island.

I don't remember the opening very well but am sure it was primarily friends and family. I was single then and hadn't a kid yet, teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston and would begin that coming fall teaching at Harvard.

The photographs are quiet and contemplative, smart in that they are of things that render well as photographs, juxtaposing visual elements with at times a sense of humor or irony but also real love for what I saw.  My response to seeing them now, so many years later? They hold up all right. These were made a few years after graduate school by a young artist still working to find his voice and shirking off influences. I believe your work is your work. To put down earlier work because now you're " so much better"  denigrates and diminishes rather than simply looks at art from the time in which it was made. Context is all.

This one, the last in the show, needs a little explanation. About 1976 the Fogg Museum at Harvard had a show of some recent photographs by Robert Frank. Rough, blurry and scratched, many of the prints were from Mabou Mines where he spent time with his wife June Leaf. It is where he made several of his films and by then he no longer considered himself a photographer as he'd moved on to making films. One set of pictures in the show were of a post, some gray sky, some land, and the ocean. Minimal and spare.

These from Lines of My Hand, photographs by Robert Frank

He made them in response to getting the news that his daughter Andrea had been killed in a small plane crash in Guatemala. It was her winter coat he placed on the post. I had been moved to tears when I saw his pictures that day at Harvard. When I saw this single pole sitting on the bluff near a lighthouse at the Vineyard I thought of Frank's pictures right away. So I made a picture in tribute and out of respect to him and the tragedy of losing his daughter (Thanks to Michael Hintlian for setting me straight about this).

***

Finally, as I write this in November 2020, I am beginning work on a new show of my work to be at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in late January 2021. These will be color aerials, some made in 2012 and 2013 and some made in 2019. The work I donated to the Museum this past fall will also be included in the show. More details to follow soon. 

So there are three generations of my work from the island: the show in 1978, the work I donated this fall to the Museum shown in 1995 and this new show coming in January. How cool is that?

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted November 19, 2020

The Show Addendum

In The Show 1,2,3,4, I gave some perspective on photographic prints I was donating to the Martha's Vineyard Museum from a one-man exhibition I'd had on the island in 1995.

In this, the addendum, I'll share with you the handing over of the 21 prints to the Museum. 

On a bright, sunny, and very windy day in early October 2020 my daughter Maru and I arrived at the scheduled time, prints in hand, and masks on. As it turns out the Museum is open but restricting the number of visitors.

Photos are by Maru:

We put the two portfolios out on white tables and went through the prints one by one with Bonnie Stacy, the Museum's curator.

Taking masks off for a second, we held one up I took of Keith's Field in 1993.

We then went upstairs to the library for me to sign a donor's form.

This gave me a chance to ask some questions of Bonnie: how the prints would be stored, whether they would show them, and so on. She showed us a couple of galleries that would be suitable for my work and said they were considering some ideas about putting them on display.

I then signed the "Deed of Gift "form ceding the prints to the Museum, giving permission to use them in any way they wished, including selling them, but I retain the copyright. This simply means that while they now owned the original prints from the show 25 years ago I retained the rights to use and own the imagery.

Then we left. Thanks to Maru for her help throughout this project

So that's the end of the story of donating prints I made 25 years ago to a museum on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.  

Like the story? Comments? Let me know: Neal's Email

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Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 8, 2020

The Show 4

This post will conclude the series of articles about a show of my photographs at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in August 1995.

I applied for and was granted a sabbatical leave for the fall semester in 1994 and chose to spend it on the island. I rented a place just a few miles from the family   home,  choosing independence over staying with my mother. It was a good decision. Up early each day, out shooting all day, back as the light died, unloading and loading film holders when it was dark, only to repeat the next day. I was in heaven. One of the lessons I learned that fall was that if your source for making pictures is close by you can get more done.

By this time I had finished the VOLF project and was photographing on my own, knowing the show was coming up the next summer. That fall I probably shot 500 or 600 sheets of 8 x 10 film.

All that work edited down to 21 prints for the show in 1995. No way is that representative of what I did over the years 1988-1994. Just the very tip.

Finally, after the show I worked over the next couple of years to process and print my best images of the island from that period with the intention of getting the work published into a monograph, to no avail. One publisher said that the book was of "regional interest-only" and felt there would be too small a readership for a national press. Another didn't buy the tie-in with Atget's work of Paris in the early twentieth century. It was never clear to me that he'd ever heard of Atget's work.

Now the 21 prints from the show will go to the MV Museum for their archive. I have hopes for stewardship that will care for them, that will respect the work and my intention to make photographs that showed the island at a certain time in its history and development. I also hope they will store them well. I will mourn the loss of this work from my collection but, as we age, it is incumbent on us to part with work that can have a life under others' care.

Thanks for riding along on this journey about my work shown on the island of Martha's Vineyard in 1995.

Any comments welcome: Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 1, 2020

So Little

There has been so little art going on in my world. I am sure for many of you as well. No museums, galleries, workshops, classes, portfolio reviews, showing work, preparing for shows, hanging shows. Hard, as art is at the core of me.

This happened today in the parking lot of a local museum:

I handed over the Pulaski Motel series (here) to Rachel Passannante, the Collections Manager at the Danforth Musem in Framingham MA.

This unorthodox way to turn work over to a museum's permanent collection was necessitated by the pandemic, of course. 

The history of this body of work goes back to 2013, and to Jessica Roscio the curator of the museum. Jess is one of a number of curators I show work to every few years. Come to the studio, take a look at a few portfolios, make no commitment, be under no pressure; clearly a prerogative of a photo curator and hopefully one of the pleasures of their job, looking at work.

Time and again, Jessica would reference the Pulaski Motel series when she came to look at work, often asking to see them again. These black and white photographs, made during a trip to teach at Penland in the spring of 2012 are made up of a walk around an abandoned motel in rural Pulaski, Virginia one very hot afternoon. No pretty pictures these, they present a dystopian view of a world not quite right. In the context of the present pandemic, they may have been predictive in that there are motels across the country that have gone dark over the past few months.

Foreboding and flat, oddly still, dark and a little creepy; right up my alley. I am very pleased for these photographs to have a new home. 

Pulaski Motel has never been shown, in fact, most don't know the pictures exist.  I have a hunch that will change for Jessica wants to show them. No artist wants his/her work unseen.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Southeast

Permalink | Posted July 16, 2020

Back, Way Back

Let's go back in time when things were simpler, the world wasn't reeling from staggering numbers of deaths and misery from a pandemic, there weren't riots in the streets because of racial injustice and we were experiencing relative prosperity in the post-war period of the 80s and 90s. I know, all was not perfect, but from this perspective it makes those years look like a kind of heaven on earth.

To bring us down into our world of photography and making art, during those years I was a professor running a Photo Program at a top tier university, photographing constantly, traveling, teaching workshops, running a summer program in Italy, showing my work, and bringing up my daughter. What else? There was a divorce in there, a couple of different apartments, a purchased townhouse, a bunch of cool cars, a few surgeries, a girlfriend or two, and a promotion to associate professor with tenure. 

By 1984 I had sold some gear to buy an 8X10 camera, specifically an 8x10 Toyo Field, a great beast of a metal camera. Why 8x10? Go here. Eventually, I ended up with three lenses, 24 Lisco film holders, two Zone VI  8x10 film holder bags, a Pentax spot meter, a 240mm enlarging lens, and a converted 4 x5 Beseler enlarger. I spent a great deal of my time processing film in trays in total darkness.

In my pursuit of the highest quality processed film, I tried several different approaches over the 25 years I worked in the format.  Earlier on I used Ansel Adams' "The Negative" as a guide with mostly Kodak's D76 as a developer.

Later on Arnold Gassan's wonderful 4th edition "Handbook for Contemporary Photography" became a reference. I never worked with Arnold as his base was the midwestern and I was from the east, but he had a large following. His elegant solution to the problem of achieving smooth results was to vary the dilution of  Kodak's HC-110 developer for contrast control instead of the time. At times I used a chemical called Penakyrptol Purple to desensitize my negatives so that I could develop my negatives by "inspection" with a dark green safelight. Out there, I know. All in pursuit of the best quality. The great thing about using that was that I could teach developing to advanced students visually.

But later on the most amazing of developers I used was PMK Pyro. This was an updated version by Gordon Hutchings of the original formulation called ABC Pyro used by Edward Weston.

If you've ever developed black and white film you know that the basic sequence of chemicals used is developer, stop bath and fixer(hypo). Then the film is washed and hung up to dry.

Pyro is a "staining" developer in that the sequence of chemicals used is: developer, stop bath, fixer and then (you might want to sit down for this next step!) the negative is immersed back in the used developer to achieve its signature stain before final washing and drying.

What does this do? Imbues the negative with a sheen to the highlights, a           subtle glowing look as well as added density to the shadows that made for a flatter (less contrasty) but fuller negative.

I   found it easier to print through the highlights. The results could be remarkable. It is difficult for me to demonstrate the inherent quality of these negatives at 72 dpi on a website but you get the idea. Hutching's manual became my bible and guide, of course. In the last ten years or so of working in analog, I was using his formula to develop my 2 1/4 film as well, usually with an Agfa ASA 100 film.

I chose to write about this now as, due to recently moving, I have unearthed all kinds of stuff, including both the Gassan and Hutching's manuals.  What a treat.

Want to respond? email: Neal's Email

Topics: Black and White,Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 29, 2020