Topic: black and white and color (8 posts) Page 1 of 2

Ready to Edit

What's a photographer to do? Confined to staying at home, itching to be out in the world making pictures. He edits, of course.

Here I am ready to go to work, a fresh pot of coffee to my right files up and running in Lightroom. I'd been photographing lately, before we got shut down, along the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers as they become the Concord River. Because it is close and easily accessed I have probably photographed it a dozen times or so. I even made a poster of it:

This way of working, going to a place, again and again, is a holdover of my 8 x 10 days. This is a slow, contemplative, disciplined system, seeking the best light and the ideal conditions in which to make a picture. 

I don't know how you work but I do not print in the small apartment where I live. That is reserved for the studio a few miles away. But because I have this laptop and good monitor (and it is calibrated) I can work the files here, transfer them to a hard drive and take them to the studio to print them there. 

The editing part has turned out to work well for I am no longer going to the studio as it seems risky. Go through your back files and I am sure you'll find tons of things to work on.

For instance, before all hell broke loose with Covid-19, my assistant Jillian was tasked with scanning 8 x 10 negatives. What a job! 25 years of large format negatives that are dusty with some that are scratched and with uneven agitation,

to scan, to clean with the cloning tool in PS and make ready for printing. Although Jillian does many other things for me and is most valued for all that she does, this is her primary role. 

I suspect some of you may be in the same predicament. The reality is if much of this work is not scanned and made ready to print... and then printed, it will not see the light of day, ever. I know that effort in doesn't result in great art as a result but nevertheless, 25 years' worth of work thrown in a dumpster after I am gone is a sobering thought.

So, we are slowly making some of this work, a highly selected group, yes, into portfolios of prints. These we will add to the many sets of photographs I darkroom printed at the time to form a survey of the 8 x 10 years, about 1980 to 2005. 

                                                       • • •

Don't hesitate to communicate, to reach out with questions and your thoughts. Also, the back catalog of my posts for the past many years are all searchable and available on this page. In this time when we are so blocked off from each other, it is important to keep our lines open. I can be reached: here.

Once again, I wish you all well in this odd, alarming and disastrous time. Stay as safe as you can, we will get through this. I am sure.

Topics: black and white and color,8 x 10,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2020

Big Change

This is a blog post about the big change that has taken place in photography. After now a long career as a photographer and a photography educator I can now say that craft matters very little and that the age of making beautiful photographic prints is over.

Let's go back a few years, to students studying film-based photography at the university level. Craft was king then, as it was hard to learn to shoot film, to know how to adjust various settings on the camera, to make pictures that conveyed things beautifully. Hell, even after learning to load film in the tank and develop, it took weeks to learn how to make a good black and white print, often a whole semester. Good craft was the foundation of making pictures that looked good, conveyed intent, communicated a certain emphasis or point of view that was expressive and intelligent. All gone now, of course. The advancement of technology has eliminated all that. A good analogy is learning to drive a car. This is a skill, learned over time with the necessary training and discipline to become good at it. Same with photography, or used to be. Autonomous cars are coming and you'll no longer need skill behind the wheel to get someplace.  With photography to some extent we are already in an age of autonomous photography, for the devices are really doing just fine on their own, making well-exposed files of pictures that practically print themselves at very high quality. Look at the sheer quality of smartphone photos today. Great skills at the helm of the computer, the conduit to the inkjet printer, are no longer required. The process has become so highly automated that a great intellect combined with years of experience is no longer needed. The people who are truly great printers have been obsolesced by great advances in automatic everything. Of course, there are lapses in all this. People still do make terrible prints. Through some brain fart or no knowledge whatsoever really terrible photographs are made every day. But with a modicum of knowledge, great prints are easy and can be practically assumed. 

It's tough to be obsolesced.

This makes looking back to a Stieglitz, or a Weston or even an early color street photograph from the early 70s by Joel Meyerwitz look like they were making a bloody miracle. And they were. Spend some time with some original Adams or Weston prints and they will blow you away, as for them to be making prints of that high a quality in the time they were making them was unbelievable.

Now, shoot RAW, let the camera make the focus and exposure settings, load the file into Lightroom, adjust it with sliders to your liking, export it as a TIFF, send it off to be printed or print it yourself and what have you got?  A well exposed and excellent print.

Did I at times rely upon my technical skills in analog days to outweigh anything else? 

Yes.

 Many of us did that. Point an 8 x 10 camera at something inane and inconsequential, develop the film and make the print with consummate skill, frame it beautifully and show it with the presumption that it is hugely important. Great significance and weight based on the device that made the picture, often nothing else. Paul Krot, a teacher of mine at RISD and the inventor of Sprint Chemistry, once said to me that anything was fantastic if shot with an 8 x 10 camera and its true. The format seduced me for 25years.

Now, I am shooting with a 61 MP mirrorless camera that handheld can do very well when compared to the 8 x 10, maybe even better. Making a big print 40 or 50 inches across is easy these days, you just need a big printer.

All of those technical concerns, the skill of printing and handling the materials knowledgeably, being practiced and respectful of what could be done are now, for the most part, over. 

When working with analog materials my objective was always to make the perfect print; the widest tonal range, the best sharpness, the deepest blacks and the most luminous highlights that I could. Remember Ansel Adam's adage that the "negative was the composition but the print was the performance"? This took great skill, years of experience and yes, often some luck to succeed. It was very difficult to do. Now, these things are easy, almost assumed. Those very values and high standards are often lost on those younger, brought up in a digital era. This is partly progress but also makes me a little sad too. The idea, now, of spending a whole day in the darkroom going through many sheets of paper to make one consummate print seems laughable. 

To quote Kurt Vonnegut once again, 

"and so it goes."


(All images reproduced here are ©Neal Rantoul and are from 8 x 10 negatives and transparencies and may not be reproduced without specific permission by the photographer.)

Topics: Commentary,8 x 10,black and white and color

Permalink | Posted October 20, 2019

Salton Sea 2 Part 2

Continuing and finishing a look at the Salton Sea 2 series made in 2012. 

The Salton Sea, a simply incredible place, as if from another planet. The soil crunching under my feet and turning to powder at my step.

The "sun behind the pole" trick used here with some slight band of color where there's water in the background.

The first photograph in the series with a preponderance of color, some kind of fetid and polluted pond that stunk. The lens is now taking a larger role here. Push a wide angle lens down and verticals bow out.

Back to our original structural device... long, blacked-out rectangular windows and here just a hint of the pond through the building, in color. This is one of those where the actual the print (at 22 inches across) makes a huge difference. Everything is probably too small here to see the subtlety.

Moving on we turn to the right and find another expanse of what looks like devastation:

and 180 degrees:

showing the mountains in the far distance.

This photograph brings us to another abandoned structure, shot square onto the   pointed edge of the building, a clear divergence from all the others which were made as parallel plane photographs. Another pond coming up, seen through the window, is shown full frame next.

I think of this image as being the most brutal, as this pond filled with some unimaginable liquid that looks viscous, fills the frame.

Then next to the series only vertical, back to where we started from

Then to the last two images in the series, when exhibited put side by side to each other, the same file printed twice:

with the black and white image conforming to the rule that says water is color, over there on the far right of the frame, a judgement call on my part and not without controversy as some feel the print should be all black and white.

I didn't so much mind breaking my own convention as I wanted to try to prove the efficacy of the device I used. 

By showing these two in this way I wanted to present the series as yes, from the otherworldy Salton Sea and its altered reality but also to drive the point home that I was using this work as a vehicle to make a statement about contemporary photography and how the rules ordering the use of color and black and white are no longer in effect. Photography has advanced in maturity to a "no rules" system where anything goes, much as all art has. So much of present-day photography either ignores precedent or its maker is unaware of what was made before or doesn't care.

On a more personal level, although often thought of as a conventional landscape photographer, I am not. In this case, I sought to use this place as a canvas. My palette is black and white and color. I've chosen to make my painting."Take em or make em", we say. Let your photographs come out the way the tools and technology choose or impose your own ideas and construct in your work.  Salton Sea is not a conventional landscape series of photographs for I am using where I was as a vehicle or platform for what I chose to do to it. 

Topics: Color,black and white and color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted May 17, 2019

Utah Day 6

I've referenced the last time I was in Moab in 2010 during this trip in a couple of my other posts. But I was in Moab before then too. Back when we all used film, in 1998, to make our pictures, I made a series I called "Moab, Utah". They were of the railroad tracks along a mining spur on the way south from Moab along the river close to Potash. I made the prints in my darkroom.

They are on the site: here. I also wrote about them: here.

I drove by there yesterday, now twenty years later. And thought about whether it made sense to reshoot. I chose not to. Mostly I don't do that, relying on the pictures I made to stand. Much here in the Southwest  is timeless, of course, or seems it. Or perhaps it is that rock is less susceptible to perceived change than our frenetic need to make things that are new. 

At any rate, I also was back at Thompson Springs off of I 70 the other day and found what had been where I made the first picture in that series (here).

A favorite of mine, made eight years ago. This time things had changed quite a bit:

I was told by a neighbor the roof caved in and the town deemed it a safety hazard so tore it down. 

I can't forget my first experience with things ephemeral. I was making the pictures for my MFA thesis while a student at RISD in the early 70's. My subject was cars in a junkyard. I'd made a picture of the tail fin of a 1957 Buick that I liked. A week later I went back to photograph it some more only to find out that not only the fin was gone but so was the whole car! Lesson learned.

Programming note: Please don't assume I am not susceptible to what has gone on this week: Tuesday's election, Trump's bizarre press conference, Session's firing and subsequent threat to the Mueller investigation, another shooting, this time in California, only two weeks after the last one in Pittsburgh and the wildfires in Paradise, CA. All that in the past two days! I am as influenced by all this as you are, unable to escape it even here in Moab. In many ways it seems it is the worst of times. This makes my pictures taken here in a Utopia of rock and river and blue skies seem like escape. On the other hand, maybe we need a little beauty in our lives right now. 

I hope you can find a little Utah in your day today.

Topics: black and white and color,Analog,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 9, 2018

Italy 3

Let's move up into more recent times. Since I finished teaching in Venice I've been to Italy a few times: 2009, 2012, 2014. The 2009 trip was photo specific and produced some wonderful work.

In 2012 I was able to get back to the area around Latisana not far from Trieste to photograph stands of trees. The trees are grown as a crop and are for making wood pulp.

And in 2014 on a trip to both France for  Paris Photo and to Italy I made pictures in Noli, along the Italian Mediterranean

This ends the series of several posts on my time teaching and photographing in Italy. There is far more than I've represented here. I linked a few series at the bottom of this post. Very often series represented in the gallery page on the site are backed up with blogs about the same series. Easy, just go to the search function in the blog and type in the series and a list of posts will populate on the left side of the page.

Thanks for following along. 

Finally, I feel blessed to have had so many opportunities to photograph in such an incredible country as Italy for so many years. I am the beneficiary of its warmth, its wonderful people, and its beauty.

Topics: Foreign,Italy,black and white and color,Digital,Analog

Permalink | Posted January 31, 2018