Topic: Commentary (173 posts) Page 1 of 35

Significant

In the fall of 2019 I took a day to drive up to the Hampton Airfield to fly over the marshes that are just in from the coast near the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in southern New Hampshire.

Gold, bronze, brass, copper, chestnut, russet were the colors that day.

Incredible really and such a vivid contrast to what I'd shot in May a few years earlier of the marshes just south of the NH border near Newburyport and Ipswich.

But why the title "Significant"?

Ever since I began to make aerial photographs the formula for success has been whatever Nikon DSLR I was using at the time, be it the D3X, the D800E, the D810 and now the D850 with whatever generation Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens I was using. So very many successful photographs that it seems impossible to single any out. 

Here are a few:

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/wheat-2019

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/aerial-wheat-2016

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/salt-lake-utah

If you go to the site and search through the aerials, they are all with some Nikon DSLR, except one: The New Hampshire Marshes.

By about 2010 or so I was clamping the Kenyon Gyro Stabilizer to the tripod fitting  on my camera when I was making aerials. Initially, starting with a too small unit, later upgrading to a larger one as my heavy camera needed a bigger gyro to work effectively. This made a tremendous difference in my aerial imagery and brought me close to 90% sharp compared to more like 30% without it. Vibration is no joke from a small airplane.

I won't bore you with the steep learning curve to making good aerials. Email me (nrantoul@comcast.net) and I can steer you in the right direction. 

But, ever since I started with the Sony mirrorless cameras I wondered how things would go using one when making aerials. Initially, I was working with earlier versions of the full frame Sonys known as the A7r's. From the II to the III they were making files smaller than what I was getting with the Nikon, but when I switched to the IV at 61 megapixels I knew I'd need to try it from above. 

The NH Marshes pictures were made with the Sony A7R MK IV and the Zeiss 70-200mm F4 lens. I used the gyro stabilizer on this shoot with internal and lens stabilization turned off.

The end result? A major success. Excellent files, a good percentage sharp and well exposed. Lighter to hold too, as with the stabilizer this is a heavy set up and my arms get tired after shooting for an hour or so.

This one above was in a group show at the Concord Art Association this past winter (2021)at 40 inches across. It looked very good. 

How often can you make pictures for research and have them turn out to be useable for your practice?

Would I photograph aerially with the Sony again? Yes, absolutely. It was just too good. This therefore removes the last obstacle to selling off the Nikon kit, sadly. It is always hard for me let go of gear that has made me really wonderful pictures. The days of the Nikon D850 and a slew of first rate lenses are numbered. Photography has always been dependent on technological changes to making better pictures. From analog to digital and more recently from the single lens reflex to mirrorless. 

Thanks for reading the blog, always. 

Topics: Commentary,Aerial,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 25, 2021

Creative Freedom

There is no way I can support the premise that these latter years of my life are supportive of major production as an artist. At 74 I still keep my hand in as I derive immense satisfaction in the making of a good photograph, made with intent and responsive to my surroundings, sensitive to an undercurrent of intelligence, with wit, candor, and beauty to boot.

Nantucket 1980

But my major years are behind me, no doubt. That being said, as you age if you retain your mind, you look back more, reflect on the past that contains both mistakes and accomplishments.

If you are a career artist as I am, that reflection tends to focus on bodies of work that struck out in new directions or that took risk, perhaps where I went astray, was sidetracked or succumbed to a false prophet. In contrast, as a positive, those bodies of work that contained clarity, a sense of purpose and extended the meaning of my work to others look pretty good to these old eyes and therefore fill me with a sense of fulfillment I never knew as a younger man.

Portland, ME 1996

Now, looking back over so very many years I can finally see things with some perspective. I welcome that. There is a tremendous benefit to have whole scores of past works right here at my fingertips on the site, available in a click of the mouse to open up and show work in sequence laid out in a narrative form. So cool, that.

Silos, WA 2012 

At any rate, the purpose of writing here in this post is to bring up the idea of creative freedom and what it means. 

I can only do that by citing my own personal journey as an artist. Mine was specifically defined within the context of being a teacher, a professor in a university on a tenure track. What this did was to both restrict personal freedom and expand creative freedom. 

Bluff, UT 1998

I have often described the manner in which one is coached, mentored and advised in academia as being benign. My own creative freedom was that all the university system cared about was the critical acclaim and praise of my work that would reflect positively on the institution. The freedom of that was powerful because the department chairs, committees, provosts, and presidents of NU couldn't have cared less what it was that I actually DID, just that it was successful.  Odd, right?

Imagine! The freedom to create what you wanted, to go off on a tangent, to explore, experiment, put down something, pick up something else. By 1987, when coming up for tenure review,  I was under big-time pressure to show, to publish, to bring my work to a larger audience with absolutley no one telling me what that work should be. 

So, if you could map a career that had creative freedom such as this, where you were required to make work, indeed, were supported through grants and sabbaticals to produce work, what would you do? To some extant that system  of critical review of the body of work I made kept me on my toes, although I can see now that it was fundamentally an academic system. What I did stands in review in the lower section of the gallery page of this site, for all to see. 

The tenure and promotion committees would always send out a dossier of work and supporting materials for peers to revue. In my case this was often museum curators. Popularity or sales weren't so much a requirement, although having a book or two was good. I actually was tenured without a book, as I was given some slack as I was an exhibiting photographer. In those earlier years I did learn to show my work and this served me well later as I have had so many shows throughout my career. I wast taught that you really needed to try to get your work out and I did. 

I'll close here but imagine having the absolute freedom to make your art as you        choose. All I needed to do was make first rate work and then seek to get it exposure. That's just what I did. And, as I have been retired from academia for now almost 10 years, I have continued  within that same system. Make work. and seek to show it, publish it, expose it. Simple, really.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 8, 2021

Warm Day

The winter of 2021 has been hard. Day after day in the teens or twenties, gray and a foot or more of snow lingering. Massive numbers getting Covid and too many dying. Relentless. Add in a scare I had a couple of weeks ago where I thought I had it, no travel, a sameness day after day. In December we understood this was a winter to get through, to keep our heads up and power through, and we have. As have you, I sincerely hope. 

But here we are towards the end of February and we are in a day from heaven: clear skies, little wind and in the mid forties. What a treat!

So I went out to shoot this morning, nothing specific, just to see if I could see. It felt like life out there, the sun on my face, the air clear and bright. 

Bright white, deep blue, shadows, highlights, always good. 

An old pro, out in the field, bringing the camera to his eye, thinking settings, moving around, looking up, looking down, going through motions for the umpteenth time. Has been too much nothing, too little to see, too long, too cold. I know it is still February and it will all close in again, for March pretty well sucks in New England, but to have the one day, sitting on the back deck in the sun, eating my lunch with a dog basking next to me hoping for a crumb from my sandwich. I ask for no more.

An artist, a real artist, shouldn't separate his/her life, categorize and specify interests and activities into categories. It should all mix together, the  mundane the exceptional, the daily and the once in a lifetime, the good ones and the not so good. This mix, this amalgam is what spurs us and what makes up a genuinely creative person, I believe. 

I've just been learning of "habituation" and"individuation", liking the analogy of first learning to drive a car and then it becoming second nature. That is habituation. For in that mode we don't notice much, or we subsume things in order to pay attention to what's on the radio or to carry on the conversation with a colleague at work.  Individuation is singling out, having an acute awareness of all that you see, all that surrounds you. I was always telling my students to notice stuff, to be aware of everything around you, to be a "trained observer". As visual artists that is our stock in trade. For if we don't notice and pay attention we will miss things and we cannot afford to do that. Some  people go through their lives missing a great deal.

I  hope you have enjoyed this one good day, for I am confident that there will be many more in the days ahead.

Get something from this blog? Let me know, your email can spur me on, encourage me to keep this many-year effort going. 

Neal's Email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 24, 2021

PhotoWork 2

Continuing with a second post on the questions asked to photographers in the book: PhotoWork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice (Aperture,  edited by Sasha Wolf).

7. How do you know when a body of work is completed?

In earlier days this was very tough for me. Mostly I didn't and often was so into a particular way of seeing and working I didn't want to give it up. I also often was depressed when a series was done and hadn't found something new yet. This is better now as I am more disciplined and also more familiar with the ups and downs of my particular way of making art.

8. Have you ever had a body of work that was created in the editing process? 

Yes, perhaps this is most pervasive in editing aerial work. Over hundreds of frames shot each time I go up, it isn't until I am editing files that I get to see what I've done then work to bring cohesion by choosing various streams or series.

9. Do you associate your work with a particular genre of photography? If yes, how would you define that genre?

Modernist and minimalistic. I was born just post-WW II and much of that era's design, architecture, art and music had a large influence on me.

10. Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published to shoot more and add to it?

No.

11. Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published and reedit it?

No.

12. Do you create with presentation in mind, be that a gallery show or a book?

Sometimes. It can't help play with your head when a prestigious show is on the books a year or two down the line.  Will this be in, will this new work make it into the show, will I need to print these differently, larger or smaller? Often, with my work, I can't make a book that shows all of each series for it would be too big. 

Again, thank you to Sasha Wolf for her editing of PhotoWorks and to Aperture for publishing it.

If you enjoyed this post check out the first one: PhotoWorks

and you can always reach me at: Neal's email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 3, 2021

PhotoWork

I invite you to join me on a new project. Several years ago Sasha Wolf edited a book put out for Aperture called: PhotoWork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice. She sent out a questionnaire with 12 questions to photographers, some of whom I've heard of and seen their work and some I have not. I was not invited to be a part of this project. 

Many names you'll recognize: Robert Adams, Dawoud Bay, Lois Conner, Todd Hido, Abe Morell, Alec Soth.

But what a great idea! To provide access to photographers' methodologies and practices. It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to Aperture and to Ms. Wolf for bringing it to us. 

But I got to thinking: what if I had been asked to reply to the same questions? And, perhaps as a model for you, what if you were asked to do the same?

That's just what I am going to do. It may take me a few posts but I am going to reply to the same twelve questions she asked for her book.

Here  goes:

1. What  comes first for you: the idea for a project or individual photographs that suggest a concept?

I don't know that formulating a project and then executing that idea is a good way for me to work. Although I have cooked up ideas for things to photograph and then gone out to realize the idea the project has never come out as planned. Mostly I like to react to surroundings and make it up as I go along.

2. What are the key elements that must be present for you when you are creating a body of work?

The quality of light stands out for me; contrast, quantity, color but also, as I photograph outdoors, what air I am looking through as I make a picture of something: the atmosphere. After all, it is the light that allows me to make the picture. But equally important is my own frame of mind. This feels almost like collusion, between "it" and "me". One of my core beliefs is if I can just see it, then whatever I am in front of with a camera can become a series.

3. Is the idea of a body of work important to you? How does it function in relation to making a great individual photograph? 

Much of my work is made in series and time plays a large role as I use the sequence to make work that is a narrative. So, yes, the work is made conceptually to tell a story.

4. Do you have what you might call a "photographic style"?

This isn't so conscious and I am not driven by a perceived reaction to my work. My approach is internal and, if I look back at decades of work, I can see some consistency in design.

5. Where would you say your style falls on a continuum between completely intuitive and intellectually formulated?

I need both. I can't just make my work with just how I feel as I need intellect to research, to figure out a path, to find a precedent, to refine and improve my projects before they are complete. 

6. Assuming you now shoot in what you would consider your natural voice, have you ever wished your voice was different?

This is like asking someone if they'd like to be someone else. I do know I can't emulate or approach content with another sensibility. This is means I must self respect as I know what I can do, what I can contribute and that to try to do what someone else does will never work for me. 

Let's stop here for the first post. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 2, 2021