Topic: Hybrid (2 posts)

Pudding Rocks 2001

Ever dribble sand at the beach to make a sand castle? 

That's what I think of with these photographs of Pudding Rocks.

I just put these on the site: here

These photographs fit into the category of "series made but not added to the site yet." Now they are.

These were made on a sabbatical leave-based trip to Las Vegas for a Society for Photographic Education(SPE) conference in the winter of 2001. I flew out a week early, rented a Jeep and headed east to places like Escalante, Hite and Hanskville, Utah to photograph. I was working in 8 x 10 and 120mm formats, in black and white.  I was photographing mostly along the edges of Lake Powell, but did spend a couple of days in Moab, the first of many trips to shoot there.

These are a sequenced series, as most of my projects are.

The Pudding Rocks pictures came at a time when I was still working serially in this format. This is the same camera and the same fixed focal length lens I used to make numerous other series: Nantucket, Yountville, Oakesdale Cemetery, Summerhill, GA, Portland, ME and so on. I believe what I thought when I discovered these amazing rocks was that there was an inherent challenge in working with something very different within the given discipline that I established and defined a good twenty years earlier. Plus they were so fluid and organic compared to the others which were man made, rigorous and fixed.

I think as I grew older and more secure in my position as an artist I also was stretching out some, secure enough to take risks more. After all, at this point I had no shows, no gallery, no curators clamoring to see work, no publishing coming down the line, so why not? What I did was to simply make pictures of things I wanted to, with no real thought of consequences, the politics of photographing this or that, the implications of, in this case, photographing something as cliche'd and over done as weird rock formations out in the dessert. So, I made these out of  genuine interest in these incredible forms, not through some calculated, pre-thought out rating as to their place in my life's work. Thank goodness I had the freedom to do just that.

This is an aside but be careful what you wish for. Because of almost a complete lack of notoriety I was completely free to follow any and all ideas I had about making pictures. Of course, I had shows, did present work to people in decision making capacities and so on, but had I been more successful I would have had a harder time making the pictures I wanted to. Gallery and museum exhibitions past and future can impose a certain mind set that is different, a certain pressure to think through pictures you made and are making with a biased view. We all seek approval, someone's nod that this is really good or beautiful or significant. But watch out for this, this seeking of praise for your work. It really shouldn't have anything to do with the work, should it?

Friend and colleague Alison Nordstrom has written about this  in terms of my work but it is relevant here: I wanted to see what these would look like as photographs, more specifically as photographs made by me. These whites, these grays, these blacks, these forms, these marks, this weight, this sky, this depth, this juxtaposition, these textures. This is a sheer pleasure thing, based upon a love of my chosen medium, the extraordinary thing it can do in the hands of someone who knows what he/she is doing.

Again, the full series is on the site. 

Cliche'd, insipid, stale, boring, trite and done to death?

Or rich and full, redolent with meaning and beauty, elegant and significant?

Topics: Black and White,Hybrid,Southwest

Permalink | Posted February 28, 2016

Westwood Village, Danbury, CT 2006

By 2006 I was definitely shooting digitally, but still had one foot squarely in shooting film as well. Westwood Village is a "hybrid" series in that it started out being made with a film camera, but then the processed negatives were scanned and made into archival inkjet prints. The prints are made as duotones, a process by which we can add a second color ink to the already neutral black ink we use to make black and white prints with an inkjet printer.

Westwood Village is a series that is the same but different in that it stays within the format I'd established over 25 years earlier of shooting series work in 2 1/4 inches square and making black and white prints (about 12 x12 inches) that were arranged sequentially to form a body of work. But it also diverges in that it starts out with the promotional brochure used to sell the units in the development.

I'd never done that before. But the contrast from the Utopian view of this midde income complex of townhouses to the reality of what it looked like at the end of the winter in March on a gray day in mid week with snow still on the ground was just too rich to ignore.

I remember printing these and how I'd refer back to the sales brochure. It influenced my printing as these are some of the ugliest prints I have ever made into a series.

Pretty bleak, huh? Things weren't that great for me that spring in 2006. At work we were suffering under departmental leadership that wasn't. Moral was low and the faculty were barely hanging on. Personally, my family life was nonexistent as I had little contact with my daughter, Maru, who was living in Florida. March in New England is never good. Cold and relentlessly gray, it is always a month that teases at spring's coming but never fails to deliver lousy weather.

But the earlier ones in the series are also a set up in that I did find beauty here on the side of this hill outside Danbury, CT.

In looking back at this picture now, almost eight years later, can I say I was consciously aware of the opposing triangles, the bush in the foreground and the roof in the background? Yes. I assume that's what got me standing there clicking the shutter. Do I like this picture? Yes, very much. Simple, bold, definitive, rich texturally, spacially interesting as there is a real journey from the front to the back, closed-in but opening out to that gray sky on the top; it looks to me like vintage Neal Rantoul at the top of his form (can't be accused of modesty there, can I?).

Anyway, this led me to a study of these evergreens, which seemed to soak up whatever light there was like a sponge and cover the hillside like a carpet.

Which I put up against the bland and rigid architecture of the development itself.

Despite the humor and irony of the opening images of the sales brochure, this is a serious set of photographs. I am shooting with both barrels loaded here, if you can forgive the gun-based analogy.

I also took a couple of  "creative license" turns here. And why not? At this point I had little or no following, no gallery representing my work, no big and prestigious shows coming up and no one beating down my door to see and purchase my work.

Besides, this was just too good to pass up; the stand of dark tees, this barren desert of lawn and the chink in the armor, this crack of a crevasse opening up and leading to the grid of the manhole cover. Tilt the camera? Absolutely.

So, how did I end this one? By using a time honored process of letting the pictures breath a little, letting the viewer see an opening or perhaps letting the viewer leave this place behind, or at least promise at the possibility. 

Escape? I couldn't wait to leave Westwood Village that day! I've driven past it many times since and have never exited the highway and driven up there to see it  again. Doubt I ever will.

The full series is: here

Contrast this one to the most recent post, from Italy: Fort Dei Marmi. Like from two different planets.

Blog's are very much a one way thing, for the most part. As the readership grows I am very pleased at this silent but positive response to my work. But it would be very helpful to hear from you. Are you getting anything from my writing about my work? Do you think I am on or off point in my comments and analysis? Once again, I will respect your privacy if you do email me.

Neal Rantoul may be reached here

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Topics: Black and White,Series,Hybrid

Permalink | Posted January 1, 2014