Topic: California (6 posts) Page 1 of 2

Quite a Day

I'm calling a new body of work "Before and After Aerials" as it is a portfolio of work from before I shot aerials one day in February in the Sacramento River Valley in California as well as pictures made after we landed. This was a marathon day and significant for me personally. It was an affirmation of worth and ability, that I was still able to make pictures of viability, substance and beauty and that I was continuing to move forward; important, if you think about it. Don't stay where you've been. Yes, it is safe there, but it is death artistically and creatively.

At any rate, on the way to the airport for my flight with pilot Stan in Yuba City, the light was beautiful. I was early, as I always seem to be, and stopped along the way to shoot in town.

And at the airstrip before we took off:

When we landed about an hour or so later, I headed back to town but saw this from the highway and got off at the next exit:

I'd never seen one of these before but the company website describes them as being  like a BJ's or Costco without having to pay to join.

The store was huge:

If you look closely you can see there is a flock of pigeons circling in the sky above the store. Along the front were 8 Italian Cyprus trees, looking neglected and sad. The store was closed and it was midday during the week. Not good for Food Maxx.

The massive parking lot free of cars gave me a unique opportunity to put my Mallchitecture hat on once again:

After lunch I was headed back west across the valley towards the coast where I was living in Santa Rosa. But once again, the area was so good I had to stop.

Where there was a barn, derelict and on its way out for sure, looking used and possibly unsafe, standing there proud and beautiful in its purity of form:

About as elegant as anything I'd ever seen.

So, what I've shown you here are the bookends of the day. I wrote about the aerials I made that day here and here. It was a major day. The last thing I made a picture of on my way out of the valley and headed into the mountains to drive back to Santa Rosa was this:

of the fruit trees in bloom. These were the same trees I'd photographed from the air a few hours earlier:

Topics: California,Northwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted April 7, 2014

Back from California

Skate Park in Healdsburg, CA a couple of weeks ago.

I have returned from Santa Rosa, California and have had one of those couple of weeks where I was scrambling to fit stuff in. We had a reception at 555 Gallery that was wonderful, I also went to a lecture at Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD) on Tuesday by the author Christopher Benfey and then out to dinner with GSD faculty and Chris afterwards. Chris and I are co-teaching a two week workshop this spring in late May at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. Before the reception at 555 Gallery I also went to Peter Vanderwaker's gallery talk at Gallery NAGA on Newbury Street in Boston. Peter is one of the real heavyweights in architectural photography these days and makes great pictures to hang on your wall too. In this show he included prints from work he shot in the 80's and 90's while the Big Dig was under construction. Finally, there is some big stuff going on to do with the PRC (Photographic Resource center) that I can't write about just yet.

At any rate, I also managed to get started on what will turn out to be a large amount of work printed of the pictures I made in California.

I want to show you some of these but first speak about how we get our work done. My life is sometimes quite full. I always say that "life intrudes" and it does. We have commitments, deadlines, many others in our lives that are important and crucial to us.  You may have family, work, bills, errands, places to go, people to see….. and on and on in a blur of activity and conversations and requirements. So how do you carve away enough time and mental freedom to make your work? You get your shit together, is what you do. You get organized. You make it so you can pull a print quicker with better results and get whole bodies of  work out amongst all this other "noise" in your life. Face it, you will practically never have long expanses of days free from distractions to make your work. And let's be honest, you don't want that. 

Step number one is figure out a place where you can work. If you work digitally is your computer and printer at the top of the stairs with your kids running by? Is it an email computer, a family computer used for paying bills, signing permission forms for your kid's school, printing out directions from Google Maps, researching when was Thomas Harding president and for scanning your dog's paws? Not good.

Make yourself a space, make it work with a computer and printer that is for your making pictures and make sure it isn't for much else. Dedicate your resources and commit to a real printer, not a small inkjet that will print snapshots at 8 x 10 inches. Invest in the necessary software to complete your tasks and commit to learning it as thoroughly as necessary to know how to use it. These days, as a minimum, it is Photoshop in some form and Lightroom or Aperture. And then, get in a groove. This means get the sizing thing figured out, stock in enough paper and ink so you have backups that mean you don't run out in the middle of printing a group of pictures. Get your files set in Aperture or Lightroom by date and so that you can find your past and present work. Don't know how to do all that? Get some help and be willing to pay for it. Commit. You either are or are not an active practicing passionate photographer and/or artist or you are not. Period. Whew! That sounded like a rant, didn't it?

Then, move it up a notch. Set yourself a goal and then work towards that goal. It could be a show, a competition, a portfolio review, a group getting together to look at prints, a friend coming to visit who hasn't seen your work in a while, a café that has exhibition space and shows you can submit to, a gallery, a museum, and so on.

Finalize the work, make the prints the best you possibly can in an appropriate size (not 8 by 10) and put them, sequenced, into a real portfolio. Include a title page if you like. Include an artist statement. Show them around, to everyone you can think of. Get feedback and responses to your work. Share your excitement with the work with others and see if they are excited by it too. They're not? Why not? They are? Then use that to show it to others and move up the ladder. Ladder? What ladder? The hierarchy from bookstore owner who shows three prints a month behind the cash register in the store to the photography curator at the MET. Once they are done, think of them as done. Why? So you can clear the decks and move on to the next one. Yes, you can change them later but if you can't put one project behind you, you can't move on to the next one. Think about that. Get one done before doing another, and so on. Project after project. Yes, quantity (tell me about it!) but quality at the highest of possible levels you can make them at that time. Project after project.

That's how it works.

Topics: commnentary,California

Permalink | Posted March 22, 2014



 Tafoni? Sounds Italian.

 What is it? Some kind of ice cream? 

I know, a shape of pasta, right? Like Anelli or Bucatini.

Well, no: actually it is rock.

Wikepedia has a very nice description and definition here:

Tafoni (singular: tafone) are small cave-like features found in granular rock such as sandstone, granite, and sandy-limestone with rounded entrances and smooth concave walls, often connected, adjacent, and/or networked. They often occur in groups that can riddle a hillside, cliff, or other rock formation. They can be found in all climate types, but are most abundant in intertidal areas and semi-arid and ariddeserts. Currently favored explanations controlling their formation include salt weathering, differential cementation, structural variation inpermeability, wetting-drying, and freezing-thawing cycles, variability in lithology, case hardening and core softening, and/or micro-climate changes and variation (i.e. moisture availability). Tafoni have also been called fretting, stonelace, stone lattice, honeycomb weathering, and alveolar weathering.

with a lovely photograph of just where I was two weeks ago:

Salt Point Park along the coast north of Jenner, CA

I was in northern California for the past month photographing. What follows is some of the pictures I made while there.

I posted some of these before (here) but the series has taken on larger proportions as I have been printing them.

So, I'll include more here:

These are from from the second trip out there. Salt Point was about 1 1/2 hours from where I was staying and the weather is very different along the coast so it is was difficult to tell if I'd get there in good enough weather to photograph. I did.

This time I used a shorter lens and would  hover over these shapes and forms as though from a plane and found the sandstone was taking on the shapes of body forms; odd, eroded through time, wind and water.

This almost seemed outside of my control, seeing shapes that were filled with character and personality, as though I was an anthropologist or archeologist at a dig looking at unearthed human and animal evidence from a past age. 

But perhaps from another planet too as some of the organic shapes were not from ours. I don't know that I'd had an experience quite like it while photographing. I'd had the feeling before of  being so immersed in what I was doing that where I was was no longer important. I'd also had the experience of shutting out of everything else around me . 

That was considerable as this was going on at my back:

The waves crashing in with great force only to be dissipated by all the rocks before they got to shore.

But finding these shapes came as a big surprise to me. I thought I was headed out to this point to photograph odd shaped sandstone rock and here I was looking at evidence of life from an ancient age, revealed to me in a small slice of time about to be obliterated when the tide came up and washed it all away.

I finally finished after a few hours of immersive photographing, and, exhausted, shuffled back to my rented car. But first, I made a selfie; yes, its true, even old guys can make selfies:

As if to say "I was here" to verify that these pictures above came  from right here, weren't something made on a set or with software in some animator's or gamer's world.

You know, when you get older you wonder if you can do something longer, can you continue, have you got things you can do that contribute, or extend the discipline in which you practice. Have you got the capacity to see the potential in things, to extend beyond yourself into the possibilities inherent in your surroundings and to make meaning out of things that are perhaps random or not connected. I wonder about these things. But, for at least the time being, I am invested in trying to make pictures that elevate things to a higher plane.

I hope you enjoy these. If you do, let me know, as few people like working in a vacuum. Neal's email

Topics: California,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted March 17, 2014

Santa Rosa, California 1

Now for something different. I am now in Santa Rosa, CA and will be for the next month or so.  Santa Rosa's a little more than an hour north of San Francisco near Sonoma, Napa, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Guerneville and the Russian River floes just north nearby.

Why here? Why not? Escaping Boston in February to go make pictures where it is warmer to an area that is incredibly rich with all kinds of things to discover seems like a no brainer to me. I can get down to San Francisco easily to visit friends, go to a museum or gallery and to my favorite restaurant in  Chinatown.  As I said: no brainer.

Once again I will bring you posts that sum up my experiences and adventures while away and share my thoughts about things photographic, artistic and aesthetic. Since these trips are mostly solo, I tend to have a lot of thoughts rattling around inside my head and I will write about those in the blog too.

One of those, and I think this every time I do one of these trips, is that it is not necessary to go to countries far away to find things that are interesting and different to work with. I am constantly struck with what a large, beautiful and diverse country we have in the US. We all have the same currency, the same politicians in Washington (unfortunately), the same laws like driving on the right, and the same language, although I understand that's a stretch. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone born and raised in the deep south?  That's like from a whole different country. 

So that's my plan. I hope you'll come along for the ride.


At Logan airport just as the sun was coming up, waiting to board the plane on Friday: It was about 15 degrees out.

And the first picture I made out my back door yesterday afternoon in Santa Rosa:

Since I arrived it's been raining, which is good for them here as they really need it but bad for me. I am waiting it out. I am sure sunny California will return soon. I can't wait.

Stay tuned.

Topics: California,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted February 10, 2014

Going Back

I am going back. Soon. February. California. Santa Rosa. North of San Francisco. For a month.

A story: in 2005 I took off for California at spring break to attend a SPE (Society for Photographic Education) conference in Portland, Oregon. Then I rented a car and headed down the coast. As I'd wandered inland, just over the border into California I did one of those over the mountain drives you can do from the inland to the coast. No highways here, it was small two lane rural roads, twisting down through the valleys and up with hairpin turns to the top again. What   did I find? A landscape that is about as perfect and wonderful as anything I've ever seen.

Verdant, lush, sumptuous, exotic, garden-of-Eden green interspersed with black bark trees in amazing shapes. Aaron Siskind used to go back and back to Spain almost every year to shoot olive trees and I have been returning to the Palouse wheat field country in SE Washington for twenty years.

Okay. Hold it. Enough hyperbole here. Come on back to earth because there is something wrong. Shot these in 2005, right? They were digital? Where was digital in 2005? Not good. These were made with a Nikon D70, a 6 mp small chip camera which was sort of a "pretender" camera. It looked like a camera, felt like a camera, had lenses like a camera, but it didn't take pictures like any camera I'd ever used as they weren't any good!

The imagery looks okay on screen but please don't make a print from it. I know, this is an exaggeration. For many people I am sure it was fine, but remember I came from a standard of photographing in 8 x 10. It was fun to shoot with but I thought it was terrible. It didn't help that I had a couple of shitty lenses as well. We had bought a bunch of the cameras for student use at school so I had bought my own to be able to teach with it effectively. These pictures shown here aren't any good as real pictures, something you could make prints of and have them sitting on a shelf in a nice box to be brought out and looked at on special occasions, or one or two from the set framed and hanging. I certainly could never show them. So that's why I am going back to California, north of San Francisco, in February. To rephotograph that landscape. As you get older you find yourself saying "now, not later." It's been too long already. This is one of those times.

Actually, I am sure many of you have similar stories, important pictures shot in earlier digital days now relegated to very small prints or being shown on line as the files aren't very good and are too small. My primary work was still made on film in those days, 8 x 10 and 2 1/4. In fact, that summer in 2005 I headed out to live in Cody, Wyoming for a month and made some good pictures shooting those two formats. Check out: Old Trail Town.

I need to be there with the far better equipment we have today to capture what is so very good and what was so badly rendered 9 years ago.

Can't wait.

Topics: Landscape,California

Permalink | Posted January 3, 2014