Topic: Commentary (168 posts) Page 1 of 34

Cold Wet

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Darkroom prints. Black and white from the late 70s and 80s.  All on 14 x 17 inch Kodak Polymax paper. Over a thousand or so. 

All of them printed by me in my darkroom in Cambridge. Each one from a negative loaded into the negative stage of the enlarger, focused, a contrast filter inserted, the timer set, the paper put into the easel, the exposure made, the sheet slipped into the developer, the print agitated for 1minute 45 seconds, slid over to the stop bath, then fixed, then rinsed, then added into fixer remover which had rapid selenium added to it, and then final-washed for an hour or so, squeegeed, and placed on drying screens overnight. Print after print, year after year: literally by the thousands. 

Now headed for the dumpster. I kept maybe 5%  of what I went through. I found that for the most part, I could place where each image was from and what I was up to when I made it.  Amazing that we don't lose that. 

I am of two minds. One, it's all bullshit; the compulsive, maniacal work ethic that drove me to make countless images of things insignificant and unworthy of my or anyone else's attention. Boring and banal. Two, that the sheer quantity and constant activity was necessary to see through to things there were substantial. That all those prints, all that shooting made me fluid and fluent, that I was completely immersed in seeing and therefore going deeper when it all did work. That the quantity was necessary to get the quality.  

I don't know, from this position it all looks futile. And such a waste! 

My conclusion? I find myself admiring in retrospect those that weren't so obsessive about the medium, colleagues that were more laid back and open to other impulses and influences, to those that looked at other forms of creative expression that would serve as excellent input into their education and progression as artists. And perhaps have more fun or enjoy their time more. Smell the roses, so to speak.

As an addendum, let me add that the prints I just threw away from the 70s and early 80s were made during a time when I knew I had a problem. I was shooting roll film, often handheld, in 2 1/4. By 1984 I had stopped this practice, selling cameras to be able to afford to buy an 8 x10 camera to slow the process and me down, to put an emphasis on a more contemplative and meditative single image. Did it work? Yes, I  believe it did.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 13, 2020

AUDIENCE

Audience: a broad term, of course. Evokes all kinds of responses. Since this is a photoblog I am referencing the audience that sees our work. In this very odd and terrible of times, I find that having no audience for my photographs is very difficult.

In my teaching, I always told students that photography was a process of communication. That making photographs but having no one see them was missing a critical part, the follow-through if you will. But here we are in a                  time where there is no one to see our work. Yes, I know, there is online and remote, "virtual". But, really. In no way is that real, in no way can I expect anyone to get my imagery on a screen. What present-day photography is capable of is a far cry from what we see on our screens, be it 30 inches on a high-end monitor or 2 inches on a phone.

As a career artist and exhibitor, I find it hard to find my sense of purpose. Make a picture: what for? I know, for myself as that is what drives me, my need to make work. True. I am doing that. But having other eyes see it, as a physical thing, in a portfolio, on a wall or in a book is what completes it. Not for praise or only to purchase, just to see it. After all, I've made the photograph in the first place to share an insight, to put out a perception or something I believe is worth communicating; be it beauty, irony,  texture, depth, my aesthetic, perspective, a comparison, empathy, tranquility, chaos, solitude, humor, quality of light and so on. The craft of the thing is important to me too, what materials I have chosen and what decisions I have made in terms of tonalities and contrast and yes, the size of the print.

Combine all this with the inability to travel and I find myself effectively shut down. For many years I have been, for the most part, an artist dependent on travel to make my work. Since I can't fly (or won't: no way am I sitting in a metal tube for hours with strangers breathing each other's air) I am stuck, watching the hours and days slide by, my life clock ticking, wondering if our world will ever go back to some semblance of what it was before. I know: wait, be patient. I definitely understand "COVID fatigue".

Duino, Italy 1990. From an 8 x 10 negative, print: 40 x 30 inches ©Neal Rantoul

So here we are today in this country finding ourselves in deep shit: increasing numbers of cases of COVID, a staggering number of deaths, a massively disturbed president who could be re-elected in a couple of weeks, and no vaccine right around the corner. I know: hang in there. And I will, as will you.  Hard times. 

Stay strong, try to stay healthy, and let's hope we all see each other on the other side.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 22, 2020

Two Views

-It's all bullshit now. Everything's been done and to death. Oversaturated, oversharpened, unrealistic colors, over the top still lifes, collages, assemblages. Earlier rules and definitions of artistic photography are no longer true. Photography is dead.

-Photography's never been richer, fuller, and more diverse. The breaking down of past rules and barriers has allowed more freedom of expression, experimentation, and advancement of our medium than ever before. It is an exciting time to be a photographer and there seem to be no boundaries. Who knows where photography is going but it is a very exciting time. 

-All the old norms are gone, no one prints anymore and those few do, for the most part, print badly. The "fine print", a work made out of love for the medium and respect for the craft of photography is gone now. No one wants to spend more than a few seconds looking at a photograph. There is little interest in the medium's history or its relationship to the world of art and culture at large. Photographers don't care about precedent, nor do they want training or education. No longer is photography a medium to be studied and a discipline to be learned.

-Now you can pick up a camera or smartphone and become an instant success, knowing little or nothing about how it all works. It doesn't matter, for you are now free to express yourself in any way you want. If your pictures are edgy, flashy, colorful, and outrageous you can get a gallery show or have your work published. You don't need to know anything about photography. No longer are you encumbered by boring courses and hours in a darkroom to learn the craft. You can load in a  program or App like Lightroom,  hit "Auto" in the develop module, pull the saturation, clarity and vibrance sliders to the right and bang, you've got vibrant, strong and aggressive imagery ready to go. That's all you need to do. Finally, you can get your work noticed and paid attention to without all that fruitless labor.  It's easy to enter all kinds of competitions online and win best of show. Finally, it is now possible to express yourself without all that "work".

-The concept of being disciplined and working constantly to keep your skills sharp and your perception keen is irrelevant now. Even if your imagery is brilliant, your eye sharp and intuition finely tuned it doesn't matter for no one is interested in your work and no one will look at it for more than a second or two. Making substantial statements about humanity or commentary on our collective social condition is useless as no one will spend enough time with your pictures to get the point.

-The world is represented in video now, for the most part.  Still photography is relegated to the sidelines and as fine art, more like painting.  Journalism isn't really an important vehicle anymore unless news is recorded in moving imagery.  Anybody and everybody is a photographer now.  Our smartphones are infinitely better than the Leicas and Nikons of just a few years ago. The old masters are just that, "old" and irrelevant. No one wants to see "old shit". It is a new world.

-The acknowledged old masters aren't about to change their ways and methodology. But they are finding less interest in their works. No one cares about pictures that were made 10, 20, 30, or more years ago. Part of that is that new is thought of being best, but no one knows or cares about the context in which the master's work was made, the skill and care with which the work was made, the labor it took to make the pictures, the devotion and finely honed skills to eke out a thing of true beauty or to share am incredible slice in time, the unique light or even how exquisite our world can be. All that can be found online instantly with a "Google Images" search. Why go there physically when you can go there virtually anytime you want? Photography is dead.

-Photography is alive and better than ever.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted June 14, 2020

Another

Another in a series of reprints of earlier posts you may have missed.

This one is called Nobody Cares from a few years ago.

Comments? Neal's Email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 31, 2020

Back, Way Back

Let's go back in time when things were simpler, the world wasn't reeling from staggering numbers of deaths and misery from a pandemic, there weren't riots in the streets because of racial injustice and we were experiencing relative prosperity in the post-war period of the 80s and 90s. I know, all was not perfect, but from this perspective it makes those years look like a kind of heaven on earth.

To bring us down into our world of photography and making art, during those years I was a professor running a Photo Program at a top tier university, photographing constantly, traveling, teaching workshops, running a summer program in Italy, showing my work, and bringing up my daughter. What else? There was a divorce in there, a couple of different apartments, a purchased townhouse, a bunch of cool cars, a few surgeries, a girlfriend or two, and a promotion to associate professor with tenure. 

By 1984 I had sold some gear to buy an 8X10 camera, specifically an 8x10 Toyo Field, a great beast of a metal camera. Why 8x10? Go here. Eventually, I ended up with three lenses, 24 Lisco film holders, two Zone VI  8x10 film holder bags, a Pentax spot meter, a 240mm enlarging lens, and a converted 4 x5 Beseler enlarger. I spent a great deal of my time processing film in trays in total darkness.

In my pursuit of the highest quality processed film, I tried several different approaches over the 25 years I worked in the format.  Earlier on I used Ansel Adams' "The Negative" as a guide with mostly Kodak's D76 as a developer.

Later on Arnold Gassan's wonderful 4th edition "Handbook for Contemporary Photography" became a reference. I never worked with Arnold as his base was the midwestern and I was from the east, but he had a large following. His elegant solution to the problem of achieving smooth results was to vary the dilution of  Kodak's HC-110 developer for contrast control instead of the time. At times I used a chemical called Penakyrptol Purple to desensitize my negatives so that I could develop my negatives by "inspection" with a dark green safelight. Out there, I know. All in pursuit of the best quality. The great thing about using that was that I could teach developing to advanced students visually.

But later on the most amazing of developers I used was PMK Pyro. This was an updated version by Gordon Hutchings of the original formulation called ABC Pyro used by Edward Weston.

If you've ever developed black and white film you know that the basic sequence of chemicals used is developer, stop bath and fixer(hypo). Then the film is washed and hung up to dry.

Pyro is a "staining" developer in that the sequence of chemicals used is: developer, stop bath, fixer and then (you might want to sit down for this next step!) the negative is immersed back in the used developer to achieve its signature stain before final washing and drying.

What does this do? Imbues the negative with a sheen to the highlights, a           subtle glowing look as well as added density to the shadows that made for a flatter (less contrasty) but fuller negative.

I   found it easier to print through the highlights. The results could be remarkable. It is difficult for me to demonstrate the inherent quality of these negatives at 72 dpi on a website but you get the idea. Hutching's manual became my bible and guide, of course. In the last ten years or so of working in analog, I was using his formula to develop my 2 1/4 film as well, usually with an Agfa ASA 100 film.

I chose to write about this now as, due to recently moving, I have unearthed all kinds of stuff, including both the Gassan and Hutching's manuals.  What a treat.

Want to respond? email: Neal's Email

Topics: Black and White,Commentary

Permalink | Posted May 29, 2020