Topic: Black and White (70 posts) Page 1 of 14

Salton Sea 2 Part 1

I've produced a few bodies of work from the Salton Sea in Southern California. I'd suggest researching it if you don't know what it is. It is unlike anyplace I have ever been.

At any rate, my series from it, called Salton Sea 2 was made in 2013 while I was living in Yuma, AZ  for much of the winter. 

The full series is on the site: here

Let's start here:

#1

A defining photograph and a straight conversion from the color RAW file to black and white. This series is made with the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. We will see its signature look later in the series. This is a "walk around" group of pictures, in that the sequence of the photographs is dictated by the path I took through this abandoned and desolate landscape. Note the sheer brilliance of the light. Bright sun and a cloudless sky were important as this helped to convey an otherworldliness to the photographs. What a severe photograph this is and so expansive, pulling back to a distant horizon in the dried out lake bed of the Salton Sea.

In post-production three months later I had a few decisions to make. What size prints would I make, what paper to print on, how contrasty the prints should be, but what really took time was the work to make these photographs reside as both black and white and color simultaneously. Gimmick? Too tricky? Perhaps, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

#2:

I have moved to the left and made a similar picture in structure to the first, although I have gotten a little closer. This time the lens flared in the upper left corner.  I am okay with that. I like the dark rectangles created by the busted out windows and doors. BTW: We will not see any life, any movement, anything living at all in the series. The Salton Sea is death.

#3

The same building now from in front, 180 degrees turned, sun at my back now but still working in the same language of these rectangles of blacks contained in shadowed areas. This is the first picture in the series that really shows us the extent of decay in the landscape. Next, we go to something different.

#4

So, what's this, now? Rantoul gone off his meds? Well, maybe but this picture will establish a rule and we will adhere to that structure throughout the series until the last two pictures. Water, where it exists, will come through in color. Why? To drive home just how twisted this place is, to emphasize the polluted and fetid nature of what water we do come across, and to shock. Note: I did not alter the color of what water there was or push its saturation levels in the Salton Sea series.

We should stop here as this will be a multi-part examination of the Salton Sea pictures. But let me finish Part 1 by writing a little more of my rational. 

Looking at the history of the medium as an artistic expression we see that in earlier years there was only black and white, then by the late 1920s, Kodak introduced color. Art was still made in black and white for many years thereafter, color was more for illustration and advertising. Along comes Stephen Shore (and Eliot Porter a little earlier) in the mid 70's and rocks the art world by making art in color with an 8 x 10 view camera in a manner similar to what Walker Evans had done in an earlier generation.  Now, we had two tracks, art in black and white and art in color, defined as distinct vehicles of expression. Never to mix, nor would black and white and color be shown together or even be in the same portfolio box together. There were color photographers and black and white photographers, color exhibitions and black and white exhibitions. You get the idea. Now, all that has changed.  We see both interchangeably. So, this series and another one called Grain Silo from the previous year use color selectively within the sequence of photographs. The tactic is to draw attention to the history by showing how so much has changed and to reference how we perceive photographs in the two manners, black and white and color. I believe that photography is, among other things, largely a comparative medium, one thing drawing attention to another and this is a device to do just that.

Next up? Salton Sea 2 Part 2

Topics: Color,Black and White,desert pictures,Digital,West

Permalink | Posted May 14, 2019

Old Trail Town

Old Trail Town. Cody, Wyoming, summer of 2005. I spent a few weeks in Cody that summer, renting a little place above a garage on a side street in town. I'd spent time at a ranch outside of Cody as a teenager and I went back to see what it was like, almost 50 years later. This was the last big shooting trip I made with the 8 x 10 view camera. The good 8 x 10's came fewer and farther between on that trip. I was experimenting with early digital capture. But I did make a series in 2 1/4 (120mm film format) handheld that has lasted well and has been shown frequently. 

I made the pictures of Old Trail Town with an Agfa black and white film, processed the rolls, then made inkjet prints of the scanned negatives. By that time I no longer had a darkroom and didn't print using an enlarger and chemicals. 

Old Trail Town is a rather spare tourist attraction that tears down and reconstructs shacks, corrals, saloons, jails,  barns, hotels from all over the American West and puts them in one location in Cody, making a town that never really existed at all. I found it bizarre and wonderful. It is here on the site.

I shot it just when it opened on a weekday. I'd been the day before when it was filled with people, not at all what I wanted.

These were incredible, these structures. It felt, in an odd way, that it wasn't really there for tourists but all there for me with my camera. I know, presumptuous, right? I was very excited, feeling the pressure of time and changing light to get these pictures on film. Work fast, but clean and right. "Don't fuck up" is often the refrain in times of making pictures like these.  Here I was working with film so couldn't review files that night. In fact, I wouldn't see the developed film for weeks, and make prints weeks later.

Ever felt that it, whatever "it" is, clicks with you and your sensibility on such a fundamental level that you just need to be there and shoot it, that this is not complicated or difficult at all? Old Trail Town had an inevitability to it that day.

It is a big series, 29 or so and takes us from the entrance of the town to the final picture at the town's edge, now emphasizing the landscape more than the buildings.

The Old Trail Town photographs always remind me of  "Music for Eighteen Musicians" by Steve Reich, an exceptional piece. The concept of repetition and derivation on a theme play large in his piece, which is really a symphony. Look at the photographs as thumbnails here on the back cover of my book American Series and you'll see what I mean.

This is how they ended up in the book, at a very late stage in the design: 

After I'd made them that summer, the following fall we were working on the book. Big bucks, a wonderful designer, getting well-placed people to write on my behalf,  making the scans (I made the scans for the book, a whole other story), approving proofs, printing in China; all the myriad details that go into making a monograph. Late in the design, I brought 3 x 3-inch square prints of Old Trail Town to Providence to show the designer Paul Langmuir and pitched the idea of including the series in the book. We revised the book and added pages to allow Old Trail Town to be in the book. 

Old Trail Town serves for me as photographs emblematic of an approach a little like a rock stuck in the tire of a car. Round and round the wheel goes as you drive, every time the rock hits the pavement it makes a noise, over and over, changing in tempo as you accelerate or slow down. My point being driven home through repetition. If you've read this blog for a while you know my philosophy behind the idea of "the same but different". The Old Trail Town photographs are just that.

The last frame I shot that day, winding film out of the camera while walking back to the rental car I saw a family at the gate and another behind them. My revery at Old Train Town was over just in time. The photographs were in the can and I was done.

I've written this before but I have often been lucky that way throughout my career. 

Note: We seem to be emphasizing work from my past lately. If this grates on you, please accept my apologies. Recovering from major surgery always takes longer than one expects and to be fully healed longer still. I am on the mend and working almost daily, but have not dug into anything substantial yet. There are travels ahead and new work will come. You will be the first to see it, have no doubt.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,West

Permalink | Posted April 14, 2019

Hershey Revisited

Last week, Mercedes, colleague, friend and studio assistant from Penland, came up for a visit and we spent an afternoon and the next morning looking at work, lots of work. At the end we were both exhausted. You wouldn't think this would be a grueling experience, looking at sets of prints sitting in portfolios, but it is.  I admit, my work is intense. For the most part these are not just pretty pictures, but series where pictures are arranged as a narrative, making connections from picture to picture, alluding to something that has come earlier or is about to come up ahead. Think poems or chamber pieces or short stories.  I too get fatigued looking at my own work in effect over the shoulder of someone else, looking to see the work through their eyes, to read their reactions, to sense their involvement or lack of, their getting it or not, what their body language indicates.  (In looking over what I just wrote I realize you could take a very different stance about looking at all that work: the photographs of Neal Rantoul could be seen as relentlessly boring, overwrought, narrow-minded, humorless, repetitive and lacking in innovation. I hope Mercedes didn't feel that way!)

Hershey is on the site: here.

One of my favorite things to do with someone who visits the studio is a kind of game. Years ago Phillip Prodger did this. He was the curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum at the time. The idea is to have the visitor randomly pick something to look at from the flat files and shelves of portfolios. Mercedes chose Hershey, PA so I hauled the box of analog prints out and we took a look.

Hershey has been around. The work is represented in the black and white monograph "American Series", it gets its own small book called Hershey and it has been shown numerous times since I first made the prints in 1997. It also lives in several print versions, including a poster (as just one image from the series, the one shown above), and another as 18-inch square inkjet prints on watercolor paper and just this week after Mercedes left, as new 13-inch square prints. Why did I print the full set yet again? Because some of the original darkroom prints are missing. This isn't as tragic as you might think as in earlier days I might have sold a single print out of a series. I no longer do this of original work but will freely sell a digital version. So the new full set is from scanned film and made as inkjet prints. Easy. And before you tell me you prefer the older vintage darkroom made prints come take a look at the inkjet ones as they are very beautiful. Why? Because the quality of the scans is first rate. Quality in, quality out.

All this by way of suggesting, if you haven't been there yet, that you might like to read about the Hershey pictures. If you I do I can link you to the introductory post, that then links you to the three posts I wrote that take a closer look at a body of work of mine that I regard as being seminal. 

I hope you enjoy looking at the Hershey series: HERE

Topics: Northeast,Black and White

Permalink | Posted February 25, 2019

26 Dollars

After spending a night in NY, we headed back to Boston by way of New Haven to see the George Shaw painting show at the Yale Center for British Art and have lunch with Phillip Prodger. Phillip is the former curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and has recently returned to the States from London where he did a stint at the National Portrait Gallery.

Before I tell you the $26 story let me share some of Shaw's paintings with you.

Quite often these are large, on up to  5 or 6 ft, mostly enamel on metal. Here is the      opening statement

Don't know if you can read it so small but it speaks about his inherent preoccupation with the fine art of painting and the prevailing medium of the day, photography. 

These are extraordinary paintings, "take your breath away" beautiful and, for me, they both validate present day painting but validate much of my work that points at things like fences, that allows shadows, blank walls and everyday objects pulling back in space, made earlier in my career in black and white and now in color. 

photograph: Neal Rantoul from Fences and Walls


painting: George Shaw

painting: George Shaw

Affirming is the sense that Shaw and I look at the world  in similar ways. Uncanny, really, that someone unknown to me until now has been working in a manner that is somewhat aligned to mine. 

Looking for proof? Easy. Go to Edgartown Beach Club and the blog post:

here   (hint: the author of the series is me, working under the pseudonym Marc Meyers)


photograph: Neal Rantoul

painting: George Shaw

26 Dollars: Heading back to Boston on the Mass Pike we stopped for gas. I am standing there filling up and this man comes up to me. He's got an elaborate story about a dead fuel pump in his pickup truck, a towing charge, a weekend in New London for Coast Guard veterans on a cutter, a chipped tooth, his two daughters, needing bus fare to Portsmouth that is $66 and then shows me the $40 in his wallet. He's $26 short and can I help hm out? I ask him if he's asked others before me. He says, yes, one other. I ask how'd that go? He says not well. I don't hesitate and hand him first my card saying he needs to call or email to get the address to send me the $26 when he gets home. He says he will do that. I ask him his name. He says Dave O'Malley. He's middle aged, looks together and is with me every step of the way. I hand him $26. He looks me square in the eye and says thank you, you are a life saver and then shakes my hand. It is now five days later and I have heard nothing from Mr Dave O'Malley.  I am a sucker or it is money well spent?

My email: here


Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT  here through December.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Northeast,Color,Black and White

Permalink | Posted December 17, 2018

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: Europe,Black and White,Italy,Digital,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 18, 2018