Topic: Digital (161 posts) Page 1 of 33

Staggering

Note: In this time of extreme crisis with COVID-19 coming back with a vengeance I urge extreme caution. Wear a mask! Please. 

Talk to other photographers these days and one topic will come up should they discuss their equipment. The shockingly high quality of present-day digital.

Okay. What else?

Along with higher quality comes smaller cameras.

Case in point. I wrote in the last post that I was riding a bike every morning. This is primarily for exercise but also I can't help but see things to photograph along the way. Almost every morning I slide by something that, if I was standing in front of it with a camera, I would make a picture. 

I suppose I could use my phone or a point-and-shoot camera but then I am sacrificing the option of making a large print later (bigger file size allows bigger prints). I can and have used a backpack to carry a camera but this is less than ideal as it is bulky and in the wrong place.

Not any longer.

With this little case, all has changed. It is a handlebar case. What's inside?

The Sony A7R MK IV and the Sony 24-105 f4 G lens. A camera of such high resolving power it is difficult to comprehend its capabilities.

This is what the case looks like mounted on my bike:

I know, a whole post about a bag? The bag is made by Topeak and it is called the Compact Handlebar Bag, appropriately enough. It is well designed and thought out and no, I am not sponsored by the company. It also can be a fanny pack when removed from the bike. Know that it is pricey, though.

I offer this: the image quality I get from this little camera and lens setup is at least as good as anything I ever made with the 8 x10 camera at any print size I like, be it 11 x 17 or 40 x 50. 

This little bag enables me to photograph from the bike with ease. Oh yes, its mounting  bracket allows me to remove it and take it with me.

These made this morning on my ride:

Perfetto!

Topics: Digital

Permalink | Posted July 11, 2020

Field #2

Here goes:

I’ve been riding a lot. There are great bike trails here. I live in Acton MA since early April (the Assabet and Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are right here).

I’ve never been a great rider and hills used to be agony. But with practice, it all becomes better.

I no longer dread the climb out of the little valley I live in each morning. And I am riding longer. This all feels really good. I ride daily now early before it gets hot.

At any rate, I have seen some tremendous material as I ride. If I had a camera would I stop? Maybe I could bring a camera, I thought. Or come back with a car to get close to shoot what I’ve seen? I’ve brought the Sony on the bike a few times, but, although lighter than the Nikon, it is still pretty bulky and fragile so it sitting at the bottom of a backpack doesn’t seem like such a great idea. One time I saw something along the edge of the river, stopped, ran the bike into the woods, got the camera out, started shooting and the bugs found some fresh meat and tore into me. I now ride with Cutters.

Today I did things a little differently. I’ve had my eye on a field for a while. I first discovered it last week at the very end of the Bruce Freeman trail, tucked deep into the woods.

There is another “Field" on my site:

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/field

Made a few years ago behind the Medfield State Hospital. This one made me think of that one. I know we are doomed to repeat past successes but this new field was truly gorgeous and could not remain unphotographed. Both these fields hold rich pasts, histories of events, and uses.

I figured I would do a scouting trip. Bring a camera. Try to drive as close to the field as I could, park, bring the camera and if I wasn’t parked too far away I could hike in. I might make a few pictures. The light was good, it was just after a thunderstorm and the air was thick and the foliage was wet.

I drove around for awhile using as a base West Concord, trying to parallel the bike path and get as close to this field as possible. The field had no road or trail going into it that I could see. I found a place to park near to where I thought the field might be, loaded up the Nikon with one lens, a fresh battery and a tripod strapped to my back and off I went.

About 1 1/2 miles in there it was. Surrounded by trees, it was an old baseball field, some nets for soccer and/or batting practice and maybe lacrosse (?), recently mowed but very overgrown around the perimeter. What had started out as a scouting trip now might prove real.

I walked around and took pictures.

A magical place, resonant with its past use, which seemed to be high school sports. This field belonged to a school that had moved or folded at least moved its athletic field, a mystery here for sure.

After an hour or so, tired from holding the giant of a Nikon, tired of my glasses fogging up, sweating and tired and thinking that I wanted a beer ( a sure sign of waning interest) I turned around and headed out and slogged it back to the car, to ac, to home, to a beer.

I will, of course, have to go back as these are never complete with just one pass anymore. When I was younger I’d blast through one in a couple of hours, sometimes on the road, and never look back. Now, if I find something hot like this, I’ll book into a motel if far away and hit it again the next day, hoping the weather won’t change too much. I used to worry more about continuity.

As there are no rules any more continuity seems like less of an issue.

I will hope for tomorrow for more shooting.

I have over the past few weeks determined that I have a cause. I am tired of good work reaching no acknowledgment. In fact, good work not seen doesn’t exist, really. (There might be a lesson in there for you too). I will endeavor to make my good work be seen.

There may be an opportunity here. Curators not curating, stuck at home. We will see.

Finally: This is a little different, yes? I am showing work in process, something I don't do much. Usually, I show work just completed or go back into earlier work. This is work not even printed yet and maybe not even fully shot. I am trying to show you the process here, not just the end result.

Thank you for indulging me.

Addendum: Since writing this I have been back to the field several times to photograph. Different approaches, different light, different times of the day. The series is now becoming large enough to become a portfolio when printed. Can't wait.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted June 21, 2020

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

Fruitlands


Austere

Spare

Reduced

Minimal

Straight

Neutral

Fruitlands is a Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts that I've been photographing on and off this winter (Website). A project I seem to have backed into somehow. Odd really.

Let me explain. Most ideas for projects and places to photograph hit me over the head. This one crept up on me. 

Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter, granddaughter and I made an excursion out to the museum on a weekend afternoon. As we were walking from building to building I couldn't escape the openness of the place, its beauty, sitting just down from the top of a ridge, the whole place looking out on a vast expanse of New England. Later, during a crisis in my family of epic proportions, I found myself driving by Fruitlands on my way to another project every few days. I thought if I could make pictures there it would be good. The Museum is closed in the winter so I sought permission to photograph. It was granted and so I began. Many thanks, Fruitlands.

Note the square and black and white. I hate making a big thing out of a small one, but being able to work square and to see the edge of the frame accurately is a very big thing to me and both the Nikon and Sony I use allow this. This is a dream come true for this photographer. I can make pictures that fit into the mold poured years ago in series such as Nantucket, Yountville, Hershey, Portland starting in the early 80s. You'll see these if you scroll down to the bottom of the  Gallery page on the site. 

At any rate, this has been mostly a no-snow winter so the ground is bare, the trees are barren, the landscape is reduced and brutal. Odd for me, not knowing if this was working and the methodology supportive of the outcome. Initially, I wasn't sure if this was a project or not. 

Well, it has become one now. Making new pictures has become an organic process for me, making photographs in projects or series. Partly intuited, partly thought through. The plan for this is to be a comparative piece. As a foundation, establish the severity of the grounds offseason in winter, then counter with flat out spring; lush, verdant and colorful, the remarkable transformation of the seasons.

Of course, there is still much to do. I will shoot a few more times under different light and different times of day as well. These are harsh pictures I know, but after all these years I  have to trust my process. The thinking behind my photography can easily fall into a "what I am" versus a "what I could be" logic and not something I have an inclination to either change or spend time on at this stage in my career. Quite simply, this is what I do.

What purposes do these pictures serve? What are they about? The photographer Harry Callahan said this wonderful thing, “It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see.”

My sentiment exactly.

Topics: New England,Black and White,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 4, 2020

Photography's Hard

Photography's easy, right? Your phone makes great pictures. You don't really need a real camera anymore.

But photography's really hard if you want to use it knowledgeably, substantively, if you want to make art, if you want to extend it beyond the everyday concerns we all have to record our lives and share them with others. It is particularly difficult now that photographs are universal, infused into our lives in every aspect, filling every nook and cranny of our existence with their presence. Photography is now ubiquitous. 

When I studied photography in the early 70's, photography as a means of creative expression was fairly new and certainly not universally understood. That meant that innovation was relatively easy. There was much to explore. Double expose, turn pictures upside down,  superimpose, juxtapose, blur and scratch an emulsion, etc. Making statements that hadn't been made before wasn't so hard.

But if you want to make art with your camera now. If you want to avoid the insignificant, trite, banal, done-to-death and cliche, it is harder.  If you want to innovate, make things never seen before, to rock the world with imagery that is breathtaking, aggressive, beautiful, and extraordinary.

Well, you're screwed, my friends, for photography as an art has somehow become something else, well over the era of being a new and exciting form of expression. Take landscape: impeccable and exquisite pictures of faraway lands glorified with the perfect time of day, the perfect light and the perfect resolution? Irrelevant and done to death. Why would a beautiful image shot in the mountains of, say, New Zealand have any possible relevance in today's world except in a "National Geographic" kind of way? When a "Google Images" search produces literally hundreds of the same kinds of pictures as yours, or worse, better than yours.

Let me remind you that these examples, obtained through a Google Images search, are usually anonymous, free for the taking. The only possible reason I can see for this kind of photography is to "put one in your quiver", to take the photograph yourself, to make a photograph that is right up there with the competition, to call it your own, to bask in the accomplishment that you went there, captured that with your camera, had the print made or made the print yourself, framed it or had it framed and hung it over your mantle in your living room for your family and friends to see with predictable oohs and aahs.

But art? I don't think so. Something else entirely. 

I know this might provoke some controversy around the definition of "art" for art is used in all kinds of contexts, most of them making art more pedestrian. I also know I have opened the door to push back for there are many who believe

(Source: Google Images)

there is a place in art for this kind of photography. And no doubt, there are some very beautiful images being made in this way. But art? More like elegant description, enhanced documentation or interpretation.

So photography is hard because this is is simply not enough, to record our surroundings with fidelity. Yes, there's a place for this but real art, art that says something, that propels us forward, that does not confine itself to convention, that becomes significant historically, that is far more difficult and daunting and entails a higher level of responsibility.

The big mistake, of course, is this: assuming, because you like it and are proud of it, your friends and family like it and have urged you to enter the contest, to meet with the gallery director, the book editor, the museum curator, that these professionals will be impressed and moved to purchase your work, show it, publish it. But, from their point of view, please, tell me, what are they to do with your pictures? 

In earlier times, perhaps as a holdover from the era of Edward Curtis and William Jackson that showed us the frontier of the American West in the late 1800s for the first time, you could get away with impressing this way. But not now, not when these below are right there for the taking:

Endless blue-sky landscapes, glorifications of existing places, postcard-perfect, idealized and beautifully rendered. Is that what you aspire to? Or do you want to go deeper, share your unique take on the world, use what is in front of your camera to comment, display and render with heart and intellect, to use photography's amazing abilities to convey with relevance, timeliness, and perspective? 

What do you think? What do you want to say? What do you believe? 

What's key here is this: it is all too easy to make pictures that are generic, cookie-cutter photographs that simply meet the norm, the contemporary conventional. Our job as artists is to go farther, to push our medium into forms of expression that extend ours and our audiences' understanding of this medium we choose and to signify our unique place in the world.

Cabela's, Nebraska, 2005

back cover American Series, Cody Wyoming, photographs by Neal Rantoul 2005

cut Xmas trees, Spruce Pine, NC

Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD

Paradise, CA 11/2019

More reading: This article references my work circa 2011 and hits on some of the same themes:

MV Arts and Ideas

Topics: Commentary,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 14, 2019