Topic: Black and White (62 posts) Page 1 of 13

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

Shooting Square in San Jose

If you are a photographer from a certain age you probably know just what this means. Otherwise, not so much.

Shooting square refers to the film size used, 120mm and 220mm film. Think Hasselblad, Rollei, Yashica and even Plaubel (although this one used the same film, it framed a rectangle). It was also larger format in that it inherently rendered in higher quality due to its negative size: 2 1/4 inches wide. This allowed bigger prints but also a broader tonal range and better sharpness when enlarged. Less grain too. The cameras tended to be bigger and bulkier, so not as fast as 35mm. But people did use them out and about, as well as in the studio. I was one of those that used them almost exclusively outdoors. 

Made zillions of pictures this way. Go to Nantucket, Yountville, Solothurn,  Portland, Westwood Village, Oakesdale, Bluff, Boston, Fences and Walls, Mountain Work, Bermuda Portfolio, Southshore, Nelson and on and on. Scroll to the bottom of the Gallery page on the site and you'll see them there, all in squares.

Slip up to present day, last week, actually, to our now highly evolved way of making pictures digitally, to the Nikon D850 where, for the first time in my knowledge, Nikon has provided a camera with an image area called "1:1". So, when gearing up to shoot in downtown San Jose, CA I set the camera for an image area of 1:1 and then converted the shot files to black and white in Lightroom and made a series that looks like I did in 1982. In fact, I just printed them.The first series of pictures from a month-long shoot in California.

Next, I will put them on the Gallery page of the site.

Quite simply they are of such astoundingly high image quality that they certainly blow away anything I ever did in 120mm with an analog camera and they most likely are a distinct improvement over anything I ever did in 4 x 5, let alone 8 x 10. I made the prints 14 inches square.

I can hear you asking, if you are a photographer, "What lens, Neal?" The Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8, a lens of now legendary quality and certainly the peer of the famous Carl Zeiss 38mm Biogon mounted to the Superwide Hasselblad that first surfacing in 1956.

Here I am, making pictures now that look very much like ones I made in my darkroom in 1979. But in a whole different world: digital and inkjet. With   quality unimagined, holding the camera in my hands, no tripod, no lightmeter hanging around my neck, no changing film every twelve exposures. No film agitating, drying, snipping and cutting, dusting off, placing in the enlarger, focusing, making an exposure, slipping the paper into the developer, the stop bath, the fixer, toning, then washing and squeegeeing, placing on a drying rack to dry overnight.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Series,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2018

Italy 2

After 911 things changed for many photographers. Working in a large format in Europe became much more difficult for Americans. There were some tense times att eh airport. Security would invariably want to get inside my 25 sheet 8 x 10 film boxes. They would say "open that". This seldom went well. 

Worse, even if I did get to Italy with my film intact, I ran the risk of having exposed film inspected and ruined on the way back!

Digital changed all that. By 2005 I was beginning to photograph digitally and was teaching in Venice in a new program I designed of a study abroad for Northeastern University students. 

Many students, total chaos and a great time. And heavy stress. What if I lost a student? What if a student got pregnant?  I photographed digitally in color those summers in Venice. 

This was a frustrating time, as putting in major effort wasn't resulting in pictures that I felt I could do much with. File sizes were small and so large prints weren't possible, at least in any real quality. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy: my work wasn't that strong because I didn't fully commit because I knew the quality wasn't going to be very high.

This one, above, is from 2005 and was the last year I worked in film, from a series called Vignole, a small island in Venice's lagoon that is mostly agricultural and not tourism-based. The prints were made by scanning the negatives and making inkjet prints. This image shows a marked difference in terms of investment, I think.

By 2009  I was fully committed to working digitally and had switched to using a full frame sensor. That year I was on a sabbatical leave and spent the fall living in Italy, retracing steps made earlier while teaching in the 90's.

1992 in 8 x 10

2009

I made comparative photographs that spanned 15 years or so.

2009

1993

Now I was using photography differently but also using Italy differently. No longer satisfied with just a single frame to speak about a place but working to compare two different times and visual sensibilities. This way of working meant that I was searching in 2009 for the same places I'd photographed in the 90's.

1991

2009

For this one in Trieste, I drove through this large city for hours to find the same place I'd photographed in 1991.

Next up? Italy 3

Topics: Foreign,Black and White,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted January 19, 2018

Italy

I sometimes feel as though I've spent my whole adult life photographing in Italy.

Of course, that's not true, but over many many trips to photograph and to teach in the summers, Italy has been a base, a foundation of creative output for me since very early days. I don't know the whole country, having never been to the south, but north of Rome, I know well, with many pictures the result. Viterbo, Duino near Trieste, Venice,  Luca, and northern Italy? Feel like home.

These were places I was teaching summer semesters abroad for various schools, until I created a program in Venice with Holly Smith Pedlosky for Northeastern University to teach a Summer 1 photography course in 2007. I stopped after 3 years but the prgram continued for the next 10.

Much of my time photographing in Italy was spent working in black and white with the  8 x 10 camera. This was mostly in the 90's:

Those summers I taught 5 days a week with Friday afternoon crits.That meant  I had the weekends free. I'd load up the 8 x 10 and off I'd go in some tiny Italian rental car, free to roam, to look and to photograph.

Often I'd have a teaching assistant along with me or a student or two, but many times it was just going off on my own. Each evening I would unload the exposed film in a closet or dark room into empty film boxes. These I would bring back to the States with me at the end of my time in Europe and begin to develop the film. 4 sheets at a time in 11 x 14-inch trays in total darkness, day in and day out. There were years where it would take me 4 or 5 months just to develop the film. 

I've written this before but I didn't really think much about how difficult all this was, how labor intensive, expensive and heavy the gear was. It was the way I made my pictures, simple enough. If I wanted to photograph something, well, out came the big camera.

Next up, in Italy 2 we'll take a look at the early 2000's when I started photographing digitally, leaving the 8 x 10 behind.

Topics: Italy,Black and White,Foreign

Permalink | Posted January 16, 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