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...
I confess. I wrote this post a while ago and it has sat in my "to finish" list. Here it is.
I am going to write about cards: meaning photo cards I created that combined a note or text with pictures, sometimes my own and sometimes not.
About 2000, inkjet printing was evolving as were ways of sharing imagery. My skills were also improving as I moved through generations and iterations of printers. Various companies were also making do-it-yourself substrates and one of those was photo cards. I used one made by Kodak. I started with thank you notes and/or Xmas cards. These were a picture printed on a folding card with a note scribbled in my illegible handwriting. This then progressed to found photographs, family snapshots combined with some text, usually fiction, that made a story, or a commentary on the image.
This was a snapshot I'd found at a flea market. And here is the text I wrote to go with it:
As time went on I'd make a card, perhaps sending it but also keeping a copy for myself. I still have most of them.
This one, of my dad, making a movie of some bizarre hunt in the backyard:
An Easter Egg hunt? I have no idea. And the text I wrote to go with it:
That's just two of them. There are many more. Sometimes we forget the skills we have, the abilities that we have worked so hard and long to obtain are usable for far more than just making our prints for exhibition. I made cards at the time as I was just learning how to make photographs and combine them with type. It was early days and my abilities as a graphic designer are still wanting. These two above are just because I could. I encourage you to stretch out, to increase your range and breadth. It is far too easy to think of yourself in just one category as a visually creative person.
Socka what? Sockanosset Boys Training School in Cranston RI. Now long gone and turned into some stores, a restaurant, and offices.
Evidently the school was built in the mid-1800s to house and train boys that were posing some difficulties for the state. Right up the street from a prison.
I would guess I made these about 2005. I have a friend who was living nearby and she mentioned that I might want to take a look at where the school was as the vines and brush were being cleared as prep for developing the site.
I remember I shot them once and blew it. Work this way and you can't have a frame that is out of focus. I just reprinted it at 45 x 34 inches as earlier ones sold long ago.
A note about size: while striking smaller, this image really needs to be large to see the subtleties in the variation of these three buildings. The grid is made from several rolls of 120mm film that I scanned then composited together to look like one roll of twelve exposures.
I returned last week from my second trip to Northern California to photograph the effects of the Camp Fire in Paradise.
As I start to make prints from the shoot I realize I was seeking to connect with the place in a slightly different manner than before. Partly documentation and partly an artist's response, the work reads more personal and selective.
An example is these, called Paradise Valley Trees:
This career artist doesn't always know why he's doing things. That sounds bizarre I know, but it is true. I discover things from the pictures I make. Yes, I made some conscious decisions here: convert the camera to 1:1, make the files in post into black and whites. So, I was working towards higher specificity in these pictures.
But there needs to be chance, discovery, unpredictability, accident, surprise, intuition in our work. It isn't all intellect and control.
These trees, serving as symbols for so much more, standing guard, doomed to be cut down and heading for the chipper, scarred and charred, killed by wind and fire on November 8, 2018.
Prints are 12 x 12 inches. I suggest seeing them in person: Neal's email
This will finish the series I've been writing on the photographs I made in June of the wheat fields of the Palouse in Eastern Washington.
I am pleased to report that the portfolio is almost complete and that it just needs a few more reprints and a final edit to be ready to present.
If you would like to see the prints you can come to my studio to see them. Email me at: email@example.com
This is a small thing, but big if you are a printer and make portfolios. My prints in this series are on Red River San Gabriel Baryta paper in 17 x 25 inches. Archival Methods makes portfolio boxes, among other things. They now make a 17 x 25-inch drop-front box, seen here and also a 17 x 25-inch folio case. This is good news for those of us that like to use this slightly larger paper over the more standard 17 x 22-inch size. As a benefit, the DSLR full-frame fits this size paper better as well.
The last few days in Washington followed the already familiar pattern of getting up, driving, photographing, driving, photographing, on and on.
The latter part of Day 9 I started working in Pullman and this carried over to the next morning, which was my last:
These connect to a project I did in 2009 called Mallchitecture (here).
2011 Yuma Palms Mall, AZ
Rhode Island, 2009
I finished the trip with a few hours photographing the greenhouses at the University of Washington campus in Pullman:
That concludes this four-part series. I have been photographing in the area for 25 years, with trips every year or two. Am I finished? Hard to say. I feel like maybe I am, but in a year or two the Palouse will pull at me, just as it has many times before. It is a peculiar place, charming and very beautiful. The area has purity and honesty to it in a world so lacking in integrity and so perverse as to be defeating at times.
If you go, you could take a workshop, as there are several. Personally, I would hate that, being carted along to "choice spots" by a guide. I like the freedom to choose my places, my own time of day and time of year.