Topic: Foreign (18 posts) Page 3 of 4


In 2003 I went to Venice, Italy to scout it out as a possible location for teaching photography in the summers for Northeastern, where I ran the Photo Program. My idea was to combine forces with Holly Smith Pedlosky to teach photography for a summer semester for the school. Holly had gone to Venice frequently ever since her honeymoon when she was younger so she knew Venice very well. She also had been teaching workshops for many summers in Venice and, on alternating years, in Varenna, a village on the edge of Lake Como. Sadly, Holly died in 2012 of cancer (obituary here). Holly and I spent a week or so that summer traipsing around Venice, speaking to locals about how it all might happen: working on where we would house students, where we would teach, what we would teach, where we would house the faculty, the various logistics involved and so on. Little did I know that upon my return to Boston there would be a nightmare of bureaucracy and obstacles thrown up by Northeastern in the process of trying to make it all happen. Suffice it to say it took two more years of sitting in meetings with amazingly inept people, filling out forms and explaining the concept to pull it off. Argh! It gets my blood boiling just to think about it now. I was successful, though, and ran the course in Venice for three years myself. In fact, it is still running every summer.

That summer in 2003 I wasn't only there to plan a future study abroad program, I wanted to photograph. One of the areas that caught my eye was at the arsenal, (arsenale in Italian). Arsenale is a vaporetto stop (water taxi) and is the walled fortification where the military was housed to defend Venice throughout much of its long history.

But my interest was along the back side outside the walls of the Arsenale where it was, frankly, a mess. To get there I had to get off the vaporetto at an obscure stop on the other side of the island that really led to nowhere. There were some overrun gardens nestled up against the arsenal's walls. I might have had to cross a fence to get access. One of the advantages of increased age is that I can't remember.

What I loved about this place was that it was what the locals created away from the crowds of tourists. Venice is finite, an island in a lagoon with way too many people all the time. It is a sort of bizarre Disneyworld in that it is a place that is in existence to present itself to hordes of tourists from all over the world. And to get their money. But on the outside of the back side of Arsenale locals had a few tables, grew a few vegetables and escaped from the relentlessness of thousands upon thousands of people tromping through their city like in a siege. This place was an escape.

As I began to photograph it seemed odd but I was on familiar ground for I had made a series of pictures in a manner much like this many years before. The project was called Solothurn and was from a small town in Switzerland where the series unfolded in a sort of jigsaw puzzle of sequenced pictures. My series Arsenale is like that.

You can see that here everything is the same but different from frame to frame. I wrote a little about this way of working, referring to the Solothurn portfolio, made in 1983:

Solothurn CH to be precise. Having gone to a European photo festival in the town I set out with the Hasselblad SWC and several rolls of film down the back side of these row houses on a mid afternoon mid week in mid summer. Bang! These things so interconnected and intertwined as I walked down the street, something frame left was showing up in the next one, frame right. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the challenge was to see that, search, find the connection, the thing in its new location, and move on. This was a new way of working, of course. I’d never connected pictures to pictures this way before and this one hit me hard. There are also several frames where I push the lens right into something, more than I’d done before. It was this series that showed me how good the SWC was close in.
Let’s not forget that this is very early series days and this is maybe the third one I’d done (I started making tightly sequenced series work in 1981). It was a big period of learning for me as I was now in the work, so to speak. Not trying to get to the work, not hoping to be in the work, not wishing for anything except another shoot as good as the last shoot. “In the work” means I am in the project and consumed with it. Story of my life, really.

So there I was on the backside of the wall of Arsenale in Venice, Italy, making these pictures, sliding along to place something that had been on the left now in the center and/or perhaps next on the right

with the wall the glue that held the pictures together and made them compre-hensible.

So here, twenty years after I'd made the Solothurn pictures I was  back in this process in front of this wonderful and complex place and knowing I had a way, a method, a strategy by which I could make pictures. You get that, I am sure. That there needs to be a framework around which you hang your pictures, some sort of logic or process by which you work.  At least in this manner, this way of tightly sequencing the work to strive for a whole. 

I can't really go through all of them here as the post will be too long but will place them all on the site on the gallery page soon so you can see the full set.

At any rate, the project moves on in its incremental way and arrives here

to one of those "aha" moments, this rule breaker, this foundation shaking picture which is, all modesty aside, simply gorgeous with its structure, softness, its breaking away from the back wall to establish itself as no longer dependent upon the wall for visual support. It is a core picture in the series, one that many of the other pictures pivot around and one that hits close to home for me emotionally.

And, of course, it goes very well with this:

where things have really gotten a little out of control, growth-wise. The series concludes with a little more logic, a little restoring of things to a sort or normalcy. I am not usually a cynic and this series, made in 2003, came back around to the wall again and also to some of the tools used in keeping a garden.

I will finish soon, I promise, but bear with me for one more point. While I have discussed this way of working, this sliding down something to form a whole through composite parts (not so dissimilar to what what I did with Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, in the current show at 555 Gallery up until Oct 17 of my Monsters work which I really hope you go see) there is another concept at play in Arsenale. Is the seminal picture of the concrete pyramid made as it was found as I moved along the back wall, in essence there as if come upon as a surprise? Or are the other pictures made to hover around the pyramid because it was known and made first? To bring you into this one core image? Is this one picture made by calculation for perceived effect or by intuition in an emotional response? There are two different motivations as possibilities at work here and there would be two different results, I believe. For the record my process in making the Arsenale photographs was the former, for I didn't know the pyramid existed until after I'd made the earlier images in the series. So, yes, I came upon the pyramid. I love that, that the artist has made discoveries just as you do as you look at the work, picture after picture. That's in there, I believe. The joy or amazement in discovering an exceptional something in front of me and all it takes is the quality of my practice and the smarts to know it is exceptional. Finally, it is a contextual thing. No way would the pyramid photograph have any interest or relevance if the other sequence hadn't preceded it. Igor Stravinsky's melody and harmony make little sense and have little impact unless there is dissonance and stridency before them.

I find it ironic that the series of photographs of Arsenale is about the outside and back of the structure and this blog has been about the inside of the series.

We are done with Arsenale and its meaning and implication. What this is, of course, is explication. The explanation of the meaning of something. In large part it is what this blog is for. In the case of my work, to bring you into it and to help you understand it better and clearer, at least from this one person's perspective. Good work? Bad work? Can't really say, I just can relate it to you as I worked it, saw it then and see it now through the perspective of many years distance.

Care to respond? Feel free. As always, easy. Email me here

Topics: Italy,Foreign,Black and White,Vintage

Permalink | Posted October 2, 2015

Go Back?

Do you go back? Do you delve into past work? Either from a few months ago or farther back in time, maybe in years?

Let me tell what I do that's not all that good. I go on a big trip to photograph somewhere. If you know me at all you know I work every day. I get up with charged batteries (figuratively but also factually) and formatted cards. Off I go on the day's shoot. Each night I go over the files on a laptop, perform a very rough edit, back up the RAWS  on a separate hard drive, format the card and charge the battery to start the next day ready to go.

When I come back from the trip I download the files and begin to look at them. I decide which ones I will print, usually in series, and I begin the work. After a month or two I have several bodies of work that are complete. I show the work around to colleagues,  friends and to Susan Nalband at 555 Gallery where I exhibit my work, and then move on to the next project. Done.

Not so fast. Are what I have worked with the definitive photographs from what I shot? Have I made the best choices? Have I missed something? Very possibly. And what if I've moved on to new projects, new things I am shooting that I am excited by and that I want to see as prints? 

If you are always moving on to the next project are you leaving work behind that has real merit or significance? Is it possible that the way you printed them or showed them is not allowing the work to exist at its best, or perhaps in some way that brings new insight into the work that you hadn't dealt with the first time around? 

Does any of this matter? To wonder whether or not you've made good work you haven't brought front and center? Truthfully, probably not. In the realm of things going on in the world like disasters, wars, senseless killings, poverty, rampant injustice and inequality, your and my pictures most likely are not a ripple on the ocean of everything. It only really matters if it matters to you. The way I play this is to work to remember what I was thinking as I made the pictures. As I stood there in front of something and worked with it. Thinking of the potential of this, or the sequencing of that. Thinking of how the prints would look like this or this. Trying to figure out how to make sense of the work. Was I shooting it all, did I get everything I needed? To remember the level of commitment to the work as I made it.  If I can do that and it was high then it is a no brainer. I will print the work. 

So at this stage in my career one of my primary concerns is not to fuck it up. Inspiration's easy for it flows like a tap with no on or off. Seriously, give me a blank room, four walls a ceiling and a floor, and I'll do something with it. But I am perfectly capable of being somewhere amazing and missing something or shooting something wrong just a little to make for a disaster when back home. 

At any rate, pay a little respect to past work not realized. Make the effort on that cold winter night when the wind is howling and the temperature's in the single numbers outside and you can't go shooting. Go back to that day last summer when the air was like honey on your face and you came across that place that was magic, you knew it was. It is so rare that all is right. Perfect light, angle, perspective and your ability to  work with it. You worked around it and with it like a dancer, at one with what it was and your growing perception of it. You knew it was good and you were on. Let that work come out. Share that work with us.

From Italy, Trees, 2012

There is a tendency, of course, to think that much old work isn't as good as what you shot today. Not true. Harry Callahan, one of my teachers, had a nice way of    quashing that one. He said that he thought we really made the same picture all the time or that we really only made one picture through all our work. He prescribed equal weight to early work made when he didn't know much and to work made late in his career when he'd made countless really important photographs. 

Go back.

Topics: Foreign,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted May 26, 2015


I don't know about you but I tend to be a little skeptical when it comes to miracles. I don't think of myself as being a tried and true cynic but some healthy perspective on things seems good to me and when confronted with a "true" miracle I tend to be wary.

But I can't really tell you what's going on here:

These two guys were sitting there in the central piazza in Torino, Italy a couple of weeks ago. There was no visible support and no guy wires. They were stoic, with no changing expressions on their faces and no acknowledgement of anyone passing by. All I can think of, since the fabric covered their arms, was that there was a steel armature and structure that ran down the yellow one's arm up the pole and down the red guy's arm to a seat. John and I discussed this, the possibility that the yellow man's hand was fake, as the weak link in this display seemed to be his hand.

Presumably they sit there, hour after hour, like statues, proof that miracles do exist and that with true faith and belief in God's higher powers, anything can happen.

I am not so sure.

Topics: Italy,Foreign,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted November 25, 2014

Make the Work 2

In Make the Work 1 we looked at taking photographs instead of making photographs and I used some pictures I made in the past day or two in Noli along the Mediteranian coast in Italy as examples.

In this one I will try to reinforce my point about working intentionally and with focus to arrive at pictures that communicate something.

I found an empty swimming pool on a pier jutting out into the water. Of course, there was a problem. It was closed and I had to jump a fence to get to it. It is often said by people wiser than I that , "ask and you shall be refused, trespass and you shall be thrown out". This was a situation where the "thrown out" part occurred but not before I got everything I needed.

This was simply so gorgeous I wanted it all in my camera right now. The trick, of course, is to slow yourself down and get the job done. This is a phase I have come to many times in a long career. It's got a "get er done" quality to it or better yet, a "Don't fuck up, Neal" .

At any rate I needed to sort it out, photograph it enough so that I wouldn't have regrets back at home later, to be thorough, and contain my beating heart that was eager to make the pictures, which I did.

Faded purple, deep blue, white and turquoise. Wow! So beautiful. Form, right angles, diagonals, depth and flatness. A Magritte-like ambivalence about projecting forward or receding back, and perfect soft light. Sometimes pictures can be such gifts. This was one of those times.

The clouds were wonderful too. These are just a start, of course. For me, the "completion" happens when I get back home and work the files and turn what I've shot into prints.

If you've followed my work awhile you know I seek to make things I photograph into series but I am not sure this is one as the subject was very reduced. For me the core pictures are the ones of the stairs. Perhaps this shoot will exist as one or two prints. We will see.

One thing I do know and it is something I can say I have been thinking about this time I've been away is that lately I have making prints in a standardized and somewhat formulaic way. Not good. Why think of each project with the same definition in terms of finalized form? It would seem to be important to follow through with prints in a size and tonality that are in sympathy with the pictures made. I will try to practice that when I return home next week.

On to Paris today and to Day 1 of Paris Photo tomorrow: Paris Photo.

Can't wait!

Topics: Foreign,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted November 12, 2014

Make the Work 1

If you've been reading this blog for the past week or so you know I am in Europe for 2 weeks, spending most of it in northern Italy and ending up with going to Paris Photo later this week. Okay.

What you don't know is that I started this trip with a really painful back and it was marginal whether I was coming at all. I am so glad I made it as the back is improved and my friend John Rizzo and I are now in Noli, on the Mediterrean for two nights before driving up to Paris to arrive Wednesday.

The subject of this post is "Make the Work" and I hope it doesn't come off as a tirade or a rant, but for a photographer like me there are really two modes. One is taking pictures. This is really what everyone does. Maybe the photographic artist has good equipment, maybe a trained eye, maybe even aspirations to do something with the pictures beyond document a trip. But essentially, taking pictures, such as:

Definitely not art. Taken from the balcony of the place where we are staying, it uses photography to convey information in a pleasing, descriptive way.

Now we're getting to it, for the other way is to "Make the Work". Making work, or what we used to call "making" photographs instead of "taking" photographs implies: intention, specificity, thought, possibly research, often multiple shoots, integration, editing, sequencing, passion, commitment and tremendous follow through. And this is big, very big for many of you: making the work means "COMPLETION!". OMG.... so obvious, right? But for so many investment put in leads to disappointment coming out, therefore work not getting finished.

I will show some examples of Making the Work soon but let me extend the "taking pictures" part a little. This morning we walked into town ostensibly to get coffee but brought our cameras. The weather was marginal, putting out a sort of fine mist, but it wasn't cold or windy, so we were hoping to photograph. After coffee we split up as the weather was holding. I photographed along the shore of a typical riviera-like town based on tourism and fishing, happily lining things up and liking what I was seeing. This was pretty much "taking pictures".

Casual, somewhat intentional, a little passive, perhaps some description and even some saving for posterity too (I made the last one to show my grand daughter when I get back home). Certainly practicing, oiling the machinery (me) a little as I was definitely a little rusty.

Yes, I am an experienced photographer and artist and yes, I was looking for something to invest in. But clearly I am "taking pictures" here. Nothing ventured nothing gained. As I walked along and continued, I got away from tourism central a little and into a part of town that was a little grittier and run down. That was good. And then I got to it. As soon as a I saw it I knew this was where I could "make some work".

I'll give you one hint and then bring you into the work in the next post:

Clean, simple, great form, incredible color. I almost feel like writing about it will destroy it but, quite simply, what a find!

Stay tuned to see what I did with it.

Topics: Foreign,Color

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2014