Topic: Black and White (91 posts) Page 1 of 19

Incredible

Incredible. 48 years! You hear old folks saying all the time: "Where'd all the years go?" but seriously, where did all the years go?

As a grad student at the RI School of Design, where I graduated in the spring of 1973, I was meant to produce two copies of my thesis, one for the school's library and one for the Photography Department. Some did, others didn't. 

I did.

My thesis was photographs I made in auto junkyards. 

Did I have it in my head that I was making these pictures to speak to issues of our wasteful society, of consumerism run amok, or of protecting our environment? I did not. I liked the forms and shapes of the wrecked cars and trucks, the shiny     chrome, the rusted panels.  In our class, critiquing this work as I made it, no one brought up any of the above issues. The politics of the work was not apparent for this was a far more innocent time. We were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam but not against the lack of awareness in our work.

Photographs were made then for their aesthetic, perhaps technique was discussed, or print size, the paper they were printed on or our use of the camera. The mechanics of photography was a much bigger deal then for good craft was harder. It took skill to make a great print.

But where does 48 years come in?

Last week while out visiting my high school (Darrow School, New Lebanon, NY) I went back to Adler's Antique Auto in Stephentown to photograph in much the same way I did in 1973 in Rhode Island, 48 years ago.

The same but hugely different too. Then: the Rollei SL66 21/4 camera on a tripod with the 80mm Carl Zeiss f2.8 Planar lens and Kodak Plus X film. (I still have this camera) Now: the Sony A7R MK lV camera hand held with the 70-200mm f2.8 G-Master lens.

Then: black and white, printed by me in my basement darkroom on Agfa Portriga Rapid 11 x 14 inch paper.

Now: color, printed by me in my studio using the Epson P9000 inkjet printer with Red River Polar Matte 17 x 25 inch paper.

Of course, this wasn't the same junkyard as in 1973, but over the years I had photographed at Adler's a few times, most notably with the 8 x 10 camera, for Adler's is quite special, a tribute to rust with its emphasis on 40s and 50s cars and trucks.

Adler's Antique Auto, Stephentown, NY


Like going back in time, photographing in an auto junkyard again after 48 freaking years!

Topics: Color,Black and White,Analog,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 9, 2021

Fort Pulaski

An email from Jeremy Knight, a former student at Northeastern, reminded me of  shooting here outside of Savannah in March twenty or more years ago.

Fort Pulaski has an interesting history and is a state park (Wikipedia) It is situated between Savannah and Tybee Island. I was out cruising around with students on a shooting trip while attending a Society for Photographic Education conference.

I found it irresistible.

By this time narrative series work was my primary vehicle and I was fluid with the form and the language. This was a "walk around series", loosely defined as making    pictures as I discovered them, heading around a corner to make a picture of something I had never seen before.

I was fascinated by the reduction of the place, everything clipped close and manicured, all form. 

I went out the next morning by myself to try to see what else I could see,

under very different light.

This was in analog days and my tool of choice was the Hasselblad Superwide (about the camera) The SWC was a fixed lens camera, distances and scale needed to be right for this very special camera.

Ironic that the blog post before this one was about photographing alone, in isolation (Alone),but, as I wrote, I did photograph with others around at times.

This last one was a sort of addendum, distinguished by the black lines on the edge of the frame. From left to right: Cristina Rivera, Jeremy Knight, Bob O'Connor and Pete Stitt, who I'd asked to point at nothing in particular.

Good times and I miss them all. 

Give me a few days and the Fort Pulaski series will be on the site, accessed by clicking on the Gallery page and scrolling down. 

By early next week I will be fully vaccinated. Is this nightmare coming to a close? I hope so. I wish you well.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Southeast

Permalink | Posted April 24, 2021

The Alone Post

Although I was never particularly uncomfortable photographing with others and would often take students on field trips, either during class but also on weekends or even longer, over my career my best pictures have been made by being alone. A camera, some film, a lens or two, or more recently an empty card and a full battery. But just me, my thoughts, whatever perceptions I may have, leaning on experience and a "what if?" attitude.

Much of my work and over my career has been based on traveling someplace to make my art. Earlier there were countless day trips, necessitated by being very busy, with teaching (many years at Northeastern and Harvard simultaneously) and being a father. I've lived in New England my whole life and it has been a rich environment in which to be a photographer. Also, I couldn't afford trips away frequently. Later, as my daughter grew and went away to school, and my income was better, I could get away, mostly on spring or summer breaks for longer periods, ten days or two weeks, or for many many years, teaching in Italy for a summer term, with free time on the weekends to take off in a rented car, explore and make pictures. I found the Dolomites this way, ski areas high in the mountains with barren slopes in the summer, the city of Trento north of Venice on the edge of the mountains, German and Italian cultures melded together, or on the Mediterranean along the coast.

And over twenty-five years and close to as many trips to the wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington. Really only one reason: to photograph. Get up early and after breakfast, get going. Up from Pullman or my base for years at the Best Western in Colfax. A vast expanse of rolling hills of wheat, lentils, safflower, peas.

In the early years in the 90's, drive, stop, haul out the tripod, unfold the 8 x 10, hang the meter around my neck, pull out the case of holders, swing it all over my     shoulder, walk to where I would make the picture, open the lens, go under the black cloth, focus, adjust, come out, close the lens, point the meter at my subject, set and cock the lens, insert the holder, pull out the slide, click the shutter, reinsert the slide black side out, throw it all over my shoulder, walk back to the rental, dismantle it all so it would fit in the car, get back behind the wheel, drive until time to repeat the process all over again, hour after hour and day after day.

This all got a little easier when I began to take digital seriously in about 2006.

Looking back, I know I wouldn't have made very good company, so inside my head as to be practically non verbal. I wasn't looking for company, I was looking for pictures. Nights were simple as I was so exhausted, that, after unloading and reloading the holders in a closet or a bathroom so I could shoot the next day,  I was often done by 8 or 8:30. Meals were solitary, maybe while reading a paperback I'd brought along. I reread some Hemingway on one trip, For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms, books and ideas not thought of since high school. I often read a Robert Parker novel as it seemed there was a new one every year. I can remember lusting after a cold beer as I worked late in the afternoons on dusty farmer's roads in August heat just before harvest, the wheat like gold, not a barn or a house to be seen.

From a busy and full life, students needing questions answered, help and council,  loving my kid or with family on the Vineyard, long days of surf on the beach, but needing and loving this too, days with not a word, the landscape, the sky, and me, tiny and insignificant, a camera, a tripod, a rented Nissan or Chevy or Ford or Kia or Honda from Enterprise, Dollar, Hertz, Avis, or Alamo from the airport two hours north in Spokane. 

Seems like countless times, the last one in 2019, like coming back to an old friend, a part of this country that simply doesn't change much. There is comfort in that.

Is it the isolation that advocates for the pictures I make?

There have been a few times where a friend or two came out, joined me for a couple of days to roam the hills. It is only possible to understand the power of this, the Palouse, by being there. 

By 2005 I had started making aerials each time I went, a shock sitting so close to the pilot in the small plane I hired. Probably the longest sentences of the trip as I asked him or her to turn right, lift the wing, change the altitude or do a 360 around that, please. Very powerful to capture close to 500 frames in an hour's flight, then head back to the motel room to see that I had done.

Alone with my thoughts, no distractions, reflecting on my plight, yes lonely but knowing that would end when back home. By that I mean I was smart enough to know that while I was making some wonderful work there was much I was missing in life. Alone had its goods and it had its bads. In the 8 x 10 film days, returning from wherever I was I knew I had months of film developing ahead of me before I was to see anything. Digital changed that. The 8 x 10 was a wonderful economy, a full days shooting being maybe 20 frames. But digital was easily several hundreds of frames a day.

As a teacher I learned it was important to say this to students for they didn't know it innately. This thing is hard work and needs a willingness to sweat, hike, push through and stay on course. There are long hours with little visible reward, practice  needed to keep craft and acuity in tune. Lazy just does not work.

I'll leave you with this. In my workshops and adult student teaching over the years I often have people, accomplished perhaps in something else, turning over and into photography, in a hurry to get good very fast. They are seeking a pro's maturity without a pro's history. They wish to be as successful at this as they were at what came before photography. So, these are "know it all" people in the role of being a student. It can be awkward for in photography they know so very little. Often they have all the gear and even the mannerisms down pat, for YouTube videos have given them that. But working in isolation and solo has never entered their heads. Off photographing with a husband or a wife on a nice summer morning they don't know that the partner sitting back there in the car while they traipse around "on the hunt" is a distraction and a conflict to the making of good photographs. They want depth in their pictures but are playing the guessing game of shooting randomly in the hope that something will work out. Taking a trip solo, dedicated to the making of photographs, can be a revelation here, the student understanding that the solitude can lead to seeing through the subject to a deeper meaning.

As I wrote earlier, alone has its goods and it has its bads. 

Want to respond? Not hard: here

Topics: Analog,Digital,Color,Black and White,West

Permalink | Posted April 15, 2021

After Fred Sommer

In February 2014 I wrote a series of blogs about the time I spent with the photographer Fred Sommer in Prescott AZ in 1979.

#1

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/fred-sommer

#2

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/fred-sommer-day-2

#3

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/fred-sommer-day-3

#4

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/fred-sommer-addendum


At the end of that most incredible of visits, I said goodbye to Fred and his wife Frances, got back in my aging Porsche 914 and drove straight from Arizona to Washington, DC and, effectively crashed. Staying with friends, if memory serves I slept for a night and a day, and then went out to photograph.

What I did was try to assimilate much of what Fred had told me earlier in the week.

If you've followed this blog for a while you know that it wasn't until 1981 or 1982 that I came across the way of working I call "series work." And yet, there I was making photographs that stylistically look much as the Nantucket pictures did three years later or the Yountville pictures did a little after that.

However, these are "immature" in that I knew nothing about linking my pictures together in 1979. I thought of these simply as single pictures reflecting the time and place and little else. 

Next up? I am working on a new offering, a limited edition portfolio. We don't see so much of these anymore but I am going to make a set of photographs of something very special and will announce them here.

Stay tuned!

Topics: Northeast,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 11, 2021

A Loss

No, I haven't lost a loved one to Covid 19, although I know some of you have, and I am apologetic about citing my loss at this time of such incredible human pain and suffering. So, my apologies at the outset.

My loss is of some work that is leaving the fold of being in my ownership and possession for the past 21 years. This coming Friday Maru and I will take three bodies of work to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA to be added to their permanent collection.

I  am giving the Gallery two selections from larger portfolios: 6 Paradise CA prints 

and 4 aerial Potash Evaporation Pool pictures from Salt Lake, Utah.

Both of those are digital capture and inkjet prints, meaning I can make new prints easily if needed.

But the third group of photographs are something else entirely. They are a loss for I am giving them to the Addison, original analog prints of images I made in 1999 of some unique rock formations and petroglyphs in Bluff, Utah. There are 17 photographs in the set and there are no other prints if this work in existence.

This must be what a painter or sculptor feels when parting with an original piece. I have friends that do this all the time and they cite that along with the loss comes the sensation of being freed from the weight of something made in the past. I hope so as I am having a hard time letting go of these.

I wrote a post about this work a few years ago: 

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/bluff-utah

Why would I want to give away my art? What possible purpose could it serve to let it go, to donate my work to museums? Another way to think about this is what possible reason is there to hang onto it? Better for works of mine to be in a permanent collection in a climate controlled environment than in a flat file case in my studio. Yes, we are speaking of a legacy. In this case mine. 

Why the Addison? I showed my work several times there, the first time  in 1978! Also, there is older work of mine in their collection from 1982, so this is a chance to update what they have. Finally, the Addison Gallery is a wonderful museum with a rich collection and a long history of featuring photography. Right now they have one of the only sets of prints from Robert Franks' "The Americans" on display.

Additionally, there is this. There is freedom in no longer being encumbered with your artistic past. What you did then that is now gone means no baggage in future efforts. And yes, no less important, you have now externalized your work, put it out there in the world along other works from your colleagues and peers, from a community of artists. That feels good to me. No longer will good work be hidden away. And Bluff is good work.

Long ago, I had this thought that when I got old, I would spend much of my time still alive on work I had made already, hoping that museums and collections might be interested in collecting my photographs. That has come to pass, thank goodness. What an honor to find that museums are interested in having my work. Yes, of course, it would be great to find that they would purchase work, but that is not happening, for whatever reason. So be it. Not to say that in the future my work will remain a freebie. But for now, it is fine.

Last thought in this somewhat loaded post. It is not enough to make the work. Yes, that is crucial, but you need to nurture it, to massage it so that it is the best it can be. Then shepherd and manage it to see that it is respected, valued, and placed with an eye to its longevity.

Maybe someday you can go to the Addison and see some of my work from the collection.

Like this blog? Let me know: email

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Southwest

Permalink | Posted February 3, 2021