Topic: Digital (147 posts) Page 2 of 30


Over the winter of 2016/17 I made a set of pictures we subsequently turned into a book called: Trees, Sand and Snow.

We're going to take a look at all three chapters in the blog with the next three posts, starting with the first chapter called, appropriately enough, Trees

The full series of the Trees photographs are on the site: here

Here is the opening essay:

The pictures of the stunted oak trees were made in the fall of 2016 in Wasque at the far end of the island called Chappaquiddick, just off of Martha’s Vineyard. While Chappy is a separate island accessed by a three-car ferry from Edgartown it is often clumped together by islanders as being part of the “Vineyard”.
The first few photographs in this chapter bring us on an early morning to a field with some trees on the horizon being hit by the sun as it rises, warm and yellow. These serve as the introduction to all three chapters, not only to this one. We then reach the remote end of the island called Wasque, the Vineyard’s most desolate and severe environment, with strong prevailing winds, erosion and salt spray limiting the height of the main topic of this chapter, the stunted oak trees in a stand at the edge of the bluff. In past years most of this large stand have been taken out by storms eroding the bluff away, the trees falling down the bluff like lemmings into the sea. In very recent times a cut into a nearby pond has closed allowing the formation of the barrier beach you can see in my pictures. This has given these oak trees a reprieve from their march to the sea, but the cut to the pond will open again and erosion will resume, sealing the fate of these magnificent characters shown in the photographs.

I think of the stunted oak trees at Wasque on Chappaquiddick Island as condemned, their future limited by natural forces and serving as a symbol for the destruction the rising ocean will cause. What I find especially poignant is that they do so in silence.
The trees themselves, photographed to emphasize their individuality, stand as strong players in an alien place. I can’t help but think of the cold starry night in mid-February, these trees buffeted by the frigid cold wind coming off the sea, season after season, year after year. They exist as survivors, tough in ways we can’t truly understand.
So, we start with the beautiful but sobering pictures of these trees in their inexorable march towards the bluff and their subsequent destruction, be it next year or ten years from now. Time doesn’t stop because we can’t see the hands on the clock moving.

After the initial photographs placing us at the end of the island and looking at the stand of stunted oaks with the ocean at my back, the pictures move into individual trees, as characters with their own personalities and attitudes, some in defiance of their plight and some in acceptance of it.

The concept is time, of course. How these trees are doomed to fall into the sea in a week, a month, years or decades. 

In reviewing the work now,  preparing to include it in the blog, remembering the miracle that was that one day on these two islands, Chappaquiddick and Martha's Vineyard, shooting "Trees" and then driving up island later that same day and shooting the next one, "Sand", it is almost too much to bear. To think this one day would align like that, over countless other days over my career that had not come close or failed or where I hadn't even seen the possibility for something happening at all still leaves me wondering what the hell was going on that day and seriously humbled by it. "Fortuitous" doesn't quite do it justice.

So starts the sequence of three series contained in one book: Trees, Sand and Snow. This intends to imply time as spread out ahead of us as an abstract in that this impending change; the erosion and destruction of this stand of stunted oak trees at Weasque will continue their march to the sea sooner or later, as inevitable as the tide will obliterate the patterns in the beach seen next in the Sand chapter or as the snow covering the concrete skate park in the last chapter called Snow.

I thank you for following along.

Note: Martha's Vineyard is much on my mind as I leave later this week for a month on the island. The month of May can be a tease as, due to surrounding cold water, the island is late to come to spring. This tends to make it wet and foggy. Can't wait.

Next post will be "Sand", the second chapter in the book.

Topics: New England,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 1, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 5

The last of an analysis of some pictures I made in Utah in 2010.

Know the music of Sufjan Stevens? It is wonderful. He's probably some kind of genius. At any rate, I often thought that he had difficulty with the ending of his songs. I sympathize as the endings of my series are difficult for me too.

Let's see what you think. 

We have, in effect, looped back to an earlier place, the barn seen in #11. The sun is flooding in to the inside of the structure, implying  no door door at the left end of the barn. This is another oblique angle photograph just as the first barn picture was.

Yes, we're reviewing some of the discoveries from earlier in the series, in this one, the motel. The open and black hole of the door is key here.

These photographs as we draw to a close are recapitulations.

  • Recapitulation (music), a section of musical sonata form where the exposition is repeated in an altered form and the development is concluded*

*Source: Wikepedia

Here we are referring to frames #5,#6 and #7, the same side of the house we saw earlier, here moved in tighter to allow closer study, just we did with frames #13 and #14

And last,

this is the back of the earlier house and, for the first time, a photograph looking the other way showing what has been behind us for most of the others. In effect here we've retraced our initial progression, but now from behind. 180 degree turns loom large in my series work. And we've revisited some of the key sites seen earlier, but shown a different perspective on them. Why this one as the finish to the series? Because it contains both the reference to the earlier frames from the house in the series and that it faces the other way. And finally, this last photograph also shows us a blank face, with an off center dark hole of an open door on the left, probably evoking more questions than answers. I am okay with that. I wonder if you are. 

Thus ends the Thompson Spring series. My own summary of this work places it in a "mature" period, in both execution and concept, meaning that in earlier digital days there were quality issues. This is no longer true. What was captured nine years ago holds up well in comparison to the files I am creating now.  Conceptually, the Thompson Spring series fits in the mainstream catalog of works to date as opposed to being anomalous (of which there are many). If you work long and hard over a career at something, what you have done will reside as a hierarchy. For me, Thompson Spring lives in the "A List"of series works. They have not been shown or published. So it goes.

It has been a real pleasure to bring these five short essays to the blog and therefore to you. I am grateful for your readership and numerous comments. Two things: please subscribe to the blog (and confirm when you get an email ), and secondly you can always reach me at: Neals email

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 30, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 4

Here we go. Not the last but the next to last of a run on the pictures from Thompson Spring, Utah I made in 2010. 

Let's get down to it.

Where have we been so far? Abandoned, decayed, for sale, empty, depopulated, discarded, disregarded and neglected. Can you imagine my coming across this? The building, a warehouse or a garage of some kind, so clean and pristine, as though new, the light skidding across its surface, the elegant curve of the roof, the slightly off-center squares of windows, the delicate lace of the tree's branches, the blue blue sky. I could have been struck dead right there and then and died a happy man. This picture is a present, offered as a relief. For me, this is one heroic image. It is hard to say, but if not placed here, in the context of the other photographs in the series, it could be dismissed as well. Can something be made stronger and more beautiful by the context in which it is placed?  I don't ask for much more from photography than something like this gift from time to time.

For all the openness and unfiltered boldness of the previous photograph, this one is a little more subtle, nuanced and intricate. Work your way through the foreground, to the covered boat and Weber grill, to a few gorgeous fruit trees, through to the distance and we have our first picture with a background that is important, the hills on the other side of the valley. Notice the framing, tight on the left and right, containing the picture and pushing you through it. This is what a very wide lens does to a space when the camera is held dead level. The content can look deceptively normal but then why would those three support columns pull back so or why would the building on the right have such strongly converging parallels?

Step to the right and we see now what that huge canopy was connected to and we see it all is for sale. We've really been away from the original content in the series here for a while, haven't we? The difficult issue of the abandoned buildings and the ghost town character of Thompson Spring. Although still in this small town in Utah, we went to the aesthetic, to photographs in their own right, a different chapter perhaps, an offshoot of our original intention. Well, here we're back. This is a hotel for sale and we can predict why. This has us thinking back to the earlier ones in the series; the gas station, the house, and the motel.

This one goes off script a little, perhaps mimicking the structure of the picture that proceeded it, but in miniature, though more open and less full framed, letting this little shack, tool shed, snack bar(?) sit there bathed in light, looking a little forlorn and neglected.

Let me revisit how I try to make these pictures work with each other. Remember: you can't unsee what you've seen, can't unlearn what you've learned. Of course, its easiest to think of this working in pairs, like the hotel for sale picture and this one. But it is vastly more complicated, isn't it, as the photographs read both as a whole portfolio and as a narrative with subplots, chapters, highs and lows, a rhythm and pace as well as a beginning, middle and an end.

So, we're getting to the finish but we have some circling back to our origins to do and I will finish these in Thompson Spring 5.

Stay tuned

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 29, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 3

The third in a group of posts on my blog looking at a body of work made in 2010 called Thompson Spring, Utah. 

This one, looking at the side of a barn, is the first real change in structure and also content, for we are no longer sliding along the main street of the town. It also presents a far more difficult path with its screen of wire fencing and bushes to get through.We are now looking at the subject for the first time at an oblique angle, which is inherently different than our parallel plane photographs from the portfolio so far. Also, a series of photographs such as this assumes viewers will retain the previous image in the sequence while looking at the one in front of them but not know what is coming ahead, as in turning pages in a book or flipping prints in a portfolio. The presumption is that we can't unlearn what we've already learned, that we can't unsee what we've already seen.

We've also gone a little darker and the structure of the photograph isn't like anything we've seen up until now. The pictures have been "parallel plane" photographs so far, taken square on to whatever was in front of the camera. If you follow my work and/or read the blog you know this is a primary driver behind Neal Rantoul photographs. As a device being parallel contains the photographs and makes them begin and end at that surface. The above picture slides from left to right and therefore out, leaving a little relief or escape from the dark to the light. 

The tactic is similar to what Eugene Smith did, the very famous documentary photographer in the mid 20th century making incredible photo essays on assignment for Life Magazine. Look up Minamata and The Country Doctor for examples. In this, Smith's own children walking up the dark hill to the light. 

Credit: Pinterest

Heavy symbolism, out of the dark tunnel into the light. From painful days after being wounded in WW ll, with almost two years of convalescing, wondering if he'd ever photograph again.

Let's move on:

Back to parallel planes. This one looking relatively modern or contemporary, nothing indicating decay so much but clearly closed and empty. That cafe didn't look like it would would open anytime soon.

Then to this, planal again and with minimal convergence, which means I worked to keep the camera level as opposed to pointing up. So beautiful to me that I did this:

moving in closer and focusing on the light skidding across that ribbed wall framed by the single window with a closed curtain inside. Not the first time I'd moved in to isolate something I felt strongly about.

So, since I have some space here, let's summarize where we are now that we've looked at about 2/3 of the pictures in Thompson Spring. We began way back at  the start with the gas station picture and quickly established the "ghost town" character of where we were. Then this overall definition continued through the house pictures and, though different, the motel pictures. We then changed things up by moving off the main street to the barn (which we will see again soon) and then back to show the cafe and then the small house with the beautiful window being hit by early morning sun. Remember, we can't unsee what we've seen but what proceeds will inform what is to come. 

I hope you're enjoying this break down of some pictures I made nine years ago.This is a good place to stop, as we're about to see some more changes next in Thompson Spring 4. 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 27, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 2

Continuing a few posts on some work from Utah made in 2010.

By now, into the fifth frame in the series, I knew I had a hold of something and was excited at what I might discover as I continued walking down the road and photographing.

Here is the start of my imposing an internal structure to the pictures as I believe it is important to have a logic behind them. But put yourself here, say, 75 years ago. How many evenings sitting on that porch, watching the sun go down? How many stories told, rocking the baby to sleep, cups of coffee in the morning before heading off to work?

Why all three sides of this one, why such weight placed on this home? I can't really say, perhaps I was thinking these same questions, this present version serving as a  monument and remembrance of past lived and gone.

And then we jump

to this. Bang! A new chapter in the series? Certainly we are someplace else, although the light is the same and the sky. We have moved farther down the road to an abandoned motel and a core group of pictures in the series.

There also is a pattern developing here. From clarity in some frames taking us to see through to the background or obscuring the background and forcing us to a  close or middle ground. This is deliberate although fully realized more in editing than when shooting originally. Remember, in series work I have made many more exposures than what we see here.

For me the motel represents some kind of life, thinking of guests checking in, an electrician or perhaps a plumber staying there overnight working on a job, or a young couple on their way west, stopping for a night in Thompson Springs in 1952. Clearly the building of the highway nearby choked the life out of this town, everyone passing by at 75 mph, rather than passing through town. That, of course, cascaded into the loss of the RR station. The morning I was there last fall, I stood on the Frontage Road and watched as a train came swooping through really fast, no need to slow down through a ghost town.

This is the last we will see of the motel but by moving around to the right side it is also a predictable image in that it repeats what I had done with the house earlier in the series.

As a side note: this is perhaps where I am most comfortable making this sort of work. Working alone, no distractions, no one else either by my side or nearby, not being observed through a kitchen window, not trespassing, just looking, thinking and pressing the shutter button occasionally. Over my career I have made pictures in amidst people and traffic and all kinds of outside influences but this quiet, this solitude, this ability to concentrate is my favorite and quite rare.

Next up is Thompson Spring 3 where things will change quite a bit from the pattern I had established so far.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2019