Topic: Digital (148 posts) Page 2 of 30

Sand

The second chapter in the 2017 book called Trees, Sand and Snow.

The full series is: here.


The chapter starts with this introduction:

Sand
The same morning I’d driven to Chappaquiddick to make the “Trees” pictures I rode the ferry back to Edgartown and drove up island to the beach in Chilmark on the south shore called Squibnocket. The access to the beach is from a parking lot that sits right above it. Chilmark has two town beaches on the south shore, this one and Vincent’s Beach, famous for being nude at one end and one of the most beautiful beaches along the New England seacoast.

I wasn’t at Squibnocket to make pictures, but to give it a look, to visit an old friend, to watch the waves coming in and out and as a way to complete the sense that I was on the island, here for just the day before and this one in early December.

But things were different this day as the tide was unusually low, there was no wind and much of the sand was exposed, with small rivulets of water working their way down to the ocean at dead low tide, lower than I’d ever seen it.
Then ensued an internal battle with myself. After getting out of the car and standing above the beach looking down, seeing how special this really was, acknowledging that this beach laid bare was exceptionally beautiful and rare, I went back to the car, determining that this was too much, too cliched, too overdone as a topic for me to play a part. But then, in doubt, I went back to my perch to look down again and realized I’d be a fool not to have at this, to at least try to photograph this unusual exposing of a beach I’d been visiting since I was one year old.

So I did. I got my camera, headed down the stairs to the beach below and started photographing. As has happened so many times before, a world opened up for me.
These things, this way of photographing in series, forming a narrative, has a beginning and an ending too. Generally it is important to set the stage, to show something of the overall, then to move in to show details and make pictures that make analogies to bigger things by being of small parts of the whole. There were planal considerations to work with too, for all of what I photographed at the beach that day was at my feet, spread out in a wide expansive “ground” of sand and rocks and water. Although looking timeless, the characteristic of all that was before me, this world of incredible beauty and richness would soon be covered up by the ocean itself weighed on me as I worked. In fact, by the time I was finishing much of what I had photographed only an hour two earlier, was gone.

In this second chapter we have a different sense of the temporary, an extremely short life span of a tidal cycle compared to one of a time we can dream of but not witness, the life of the stunted oak trees back at Wasque. One, a beach on Martha’s Vineyard, laid bare due to the effects of the moon and sun’s gravitational pull on our planet and the other, a stand of trees nearing the end of their lives early due to erosion. One, measured by the span of a few hours and the other, by decades or perhaps centuries, we don’t know.

You can understand my reservation at making these pictures. As cliched as sunsets, cemeteries and babies. But I plunged right in.

But what a powerful metaphor this was. This sand laid bare by an exceptionally low tide in December. From the trees that would fall into the sea someday to this incredible beauty swept away in an hour or two.

Of course, writing this now over two years later my perspective has shifted. With that distance, are these pictures as emotionally charged now as they were back then? Are they no longer loaded with the back story of the rising tide, impermanence, the sense of impending loss? As it turns out, yes they are. 

I wonder if you feel it too?

Next up: the third and final chapter from the Trees, Sand and Snow book called, Snow.

Topics: New England,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 3, 2019

Trees

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:

Trees
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