Topic: Black and White (81 posts) Page 1 of 17

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

Ghost Town

Odd really. Downtown Boston over this past weekend. For someone who likes to photograph cities without people, perfect.

But what a reason for being vacant! Coronavirus changing our world.

I can't help but think of the photographs I made in downtown San Jose CA in 2018 in comparison. Also mostly empty but not due to some apocalypse, just an early Sunday morning in March.

San Jose

San Jose

San Jose

Boston yesterday was cold, windy and empty.

I think of these being made right now in this crisis as loaded,  charged with the weight of our societal predicament, our world being changed in profound ways.

As a kid,  growing up during the Cold War, I was fascinated and horrified by films like "On The Beach" and "Red Desert", depicting empty city streets, a world devoid of human beings after the nuclear holocaust. 

An empty city is an easy "get" for a photographer to comment on our current situation. Making pictures of an absence or a lack of something is an old ploy, a teacher's effort to try to push students to deal with making "something out of nothing". 

If you've followed the blog for a while you know I have been photographing the effects of disasters for several years. These include the obvious ones such as Paradise, CA and the mudslides in Montecito, but also more subtle series such as Half Mast Oak Bluffs, made in reaction to the shooting in Las Vegas a few years ago. These new photographs of downtown Boston fit into that mold.

It is the sheer scale worldwide that is so staggering about our current disaster and so very unprecedented. For most of us, the fires in California or Australia, the Katrina or Puerto Rico hurricanes, the tsunami in Japan and so on were "over there", terrible but not in our town, not on our street. This is different. This is everywhere.

Stay healthy, heed the CDC's guidelines (not so much our president!), go for walks and bike rides in areas where there are few others. We'll get through this. My heart goes out to all of you in this very difficult time.

Topics: Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 23, 2020

Stuck

Stuck at home, along with everyone else. Thank goodness I have photography. I am writing this the day after Governor Newsom required everyone in California to shelter in place. I wonder if my state, Massachusetts, will follow suit.

At any rate, ever since we had our poster party at the studio in February I have been obsessed with making posters of my photographs.

Let me see if I can explain why. For many many years, I have made my work mostly in series. When printed, these end up in a portfolio box, often with a title page, sequenced and numbered, sitting on a shelf with other boxed sets from the same year or two. Undoubtedly some photographs in a particular series are standouts, some are linking images from something to something, some are introductory, some act as bridges and some are leading toward a conclusion. That is the way I work. These are photographs made in narrative form.

All well and good.

But, what happens to a standout image from a series? What happens to the one or two that could stand alone? Would I separate, show or sell a single image from a series? Well yes, but with reluctance. When a museum acquires work from me I most often try to make the sale with the museum purchasing a whole series.

Up comes the idea of posters: mine are beautifully printed, nicely laid out (either by me or a real designer), printed on demand and affordable. Usually 24 x 30 or 32 inches. They sell for 50 bucks. 

Partially marketing, partially publicity, partially increasing name recognition, partially getting my imagery into peoples' hands cheap, simple enough. And, it helps solve the problem of how to make a single image stand on its own.

We know how ubiquitous posters are. Go to your insurance agent, your bank, your medical facility, your lawyer's office. It's posters. Sometimes terrible and sometimes quite good.

How good are these? Really good.

I've got a problem though. I can't stop making them. I just made a new one yesterday. I love laying them out, using color picker in Photoshop, clicking and dragging, making a test print, tweaking the file or changing the background color and then final printing the new poster, using an image or a group of images no one's ever seen before. 

I must have over 20 by now. 

Want one or two (or three or four)? Easy. Email me: here, telling us which poster(s) you want. We will print them, roll them up and send them to you in a tube. You can mail us a check or give us a credit card # for payment. We will charge you $50/poster and a few bucks for shipping.

 I put all the posters up on the site (www.nealrantoul.com) so you can see what is available. This project is adding a little democratic process and entrepreneurial spirit to the purchase of art. 

Because of our unique state with the coronavirus, your order may be delayed. We will let you know when you place your order via email. 

Topics: Color,Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 20, 2020

Fruitlands


Austere

Spare

Reduced

Minimal

Straight

Neutral

Fruitlands is a Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts that I've been photographing on and off this winter (Website). A project I seem to have backed into somehow. Odd really.

Let me explain. Most ideas for projects and places to photograph hit me over the head. This one crept up on me. 

Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter, granddaughter and I made an excursion out to the museum on a weekend afternoon. As we were walking from building to building I couldn't escape the openness of the place, its beauty, sitting just down from the top of a ridge, the whole place looking out on a vast expanse of New England. Later, during a crisis in my family of epic proportions, I found myself driving by Fruitlands on my way to another project every few days. I thought if I could make pictures there it would be good. The Museum is closed in the winter so I sought permission to photograph. It was granted and so I began. Many thanks, Fruitlands.

Note the square and black and white. I hate making a big thing out of a small one, but being able to work square and to see the edge of the frame accurately is a very big thing to me and both the Nikon and Sony I use allow this. This is a dream come true for this photographer. I can make pictures that fit into the mold poured years ago in series such as Nantucket, Yountville, Hershey, Portland starting in the early 80s. You'll see these if you scroll down to the bottom of the  Gallery page on the site. 

At any rate, this has been mostly a no-snow winter so the ground is bare, the trees are barren, the landscape is reduced and brutal. Odd for me, not knowing if this was working and the methodology supportive of the outcome. Initially, I wasn't sure if this was a project or not. 

Well, it has become one now. Making new pictures has become an organic process for me, making photographs in projects or series. Partly intuited, partly thought through. The plan for this is to be a comparative piece. As a foundation, establish the severity of the grounds offseason in winter, then counter with flat out spring; lush, verdant and colorful, the remarkable transformation of the seasons.

Of course, there is still much to do. I will shoot a few more times under different light and different times of day as well. These are harsh pictures I know, but after all these years I  have to trust my process. The thinking behind my photography can easily fall into a "what I am" versus a "what I could be" logic and not something I have an inclination to either change or spend time on at this stage in my career. Quite simply, this is what I do.

What purposes do these pictures serve? What are they about? The photographer Harry Callahan said this wonderful thing, “It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see.”

My sentiment exactly.

Topics: New England,Black and White,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 4, 2020

There Was a Tree


There was a tree on a one-day shooting trip to southern Vermont in the early spring in 1977. All by itself, chopped down, many of its branches and pieces on the ground scattered around it. 

Since many of you are photographers you might like to know these were made with the single lens Rollei SL66, hand held, shot on Kodak's Plus-X film, processed in D76 1:1 and printed on Agfa's Portriga Rapid paper in 11 x 14 inches, hence the slightly warm color of the prints. You are seeing copies of the prints, not scans from the negatives.

Context? Sure. I was teaching at New England School of Photography (NESOP) which, ironically, is about to close for good next month. I was single as my wife and I had divorced the year before. I was living in Cambridge, MA. I had finished graduate school a few years earlier and my career hadn't really begun in any meaningful way. That would start the next year as I began teaching at Harvard in 1978.

This was a time where my photographing and printing was incessant. I would have a one man show at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA the next year, along with smaller shows at NESOP and at local galleries in the Boston area as well as shows at Martha's Vineyard. In fact, coming up the next summer I would have a two person show with my mom in Vineyard Haven. My mother was a painter.

Why show these now? Well, because I came across them in a box of loose prints from the 70's last week. But more importantly, they always held a place close to my heart. They are "series work" before I knew what that was or that series work would form a foundational basis for my photography throughout my career. And they are evidence of a disaster, much like my pictures of Paradise CA are today. As a metaphor for larger tragedies, these photographs of a felled tree all by itself in a large field in Vermont has stood as a symbol for my relationship to the end of life and death for the past 43 years. 

I am showing you the full set, just six prints. 

I remember the photographs of the bodies strewn around the battlefield by Mathew Brady or one of his crew during the Civil War. The next summer I would travel to Europe to photograph at Dachau outside of Munich and soon I would make my first intentional series work in Nantucket in the summer of 1980.

I don't even have a title for this work. It could be "Tree in a Field". Perhaps you have some ideas for what to call this series of mine before I was making series. 

If you come Sunday I can show you the prints.

Thank you for reading my blog. 

________________________________________________________________Coming up this weekend!

You should come...

Topics: Northeast,Analog,Black and White

Permalink | Posted February 17, 2020