Topic: Mountain Work (4 posts)

Mountain Work: Then and Now 1

In the summers of 1978 and 1979 I made a series of pictures at the tops of tourist mountains in the States, those uniquely odd drive-up mountains with great views that seem to place human beings in a different world. It was and is one of the few series I have ever made of people.

Shooting mostly from behind I used open sky like a back drop and looked at relationships, gestures, body language and issues of scale. I also photographed vehicles.

I photographed mostly with the Superwide Hasselblad but also used the 2 1/4 Rollei SL66 handheld. I made the prints in my darkroom on 14 x 17 inch Kodak Polymax paper, and toned them with selenium. The final prints are about 12 inches square.

The original Mountain Work series is here. I wrote about the work in a blog post: here.



The pictures are from mountains like Mt Washington in NH, Mt Tamalpais in CA, Mt Cadillac and Mt Tom in ME.

As often happens the sensibility used from earlier work does not just go away in later years. I have been photographing in a similar way over the past year or so. The trick, of course, is to bring something new to the table. We all have places we return to over and over again throughout our lives. This new series is no exception.

These are digital and in a whole different world, focal-length-wise: 80-400 mm. In 1978 I didn't know nor had used anything longer than the normal length lens for the format and tended to use wide angle lenses. 

Comparisons are inevitable:

My sense is that this is a continuation of a way of working formed in the late 70's  with some new parameters thrown in, not something completely new or ground breaking.

I don't know if at my age and abilities that "new" is on the horizon for me. I hope so but have no evidence to prove it. At any rate these pictures utilize a different technology in the capture and also in the printing than the originals; a compression of space as opposed to normal or wide angle focal lengths, color as opposed to black and white and the use of the same eyes and brain but thinking informed by 37 years of experience.

As a tactic, photographing people from behind is a tough thing to do, meaning that it "anonymizes" them, taking away the smile or the frown or the eye to eye contact. It also is often what someone does when they don't have the nerve to face their subjects. This is seen in early street work, where the photographer is trying to do something quick and spontaneous but doesn't yet have the skills or experience to pull it off. I know this, but in this work there is a different strategy at play. Pictures made from in back of people gets us looking at what they are looking at much more. We see the landscape or scene as through their eyes, even with their perspective. That's mostly what I was doing with these. Not making portraits in any way but photographing the people as "symbols" and emphasizing gestures. 

I  am not posting these on the site yet as they are not final edited.

BTW: Note that this will be the third "Mountain Work" as there is another made in 2011 that uses mountains but in a very different way. Take a look :Mountain Work 2011

Stay tuned.

Topics: Mountain Work,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted June 26, 2016

Special Place

We all have special places, places that have key meaning to us for a variety of reasons: where you proposed marriage, where you were when you heard of the 9/11 attacks, where you saw that moose along the edge of the river as you silently rafted down stream, that curve in the road where you almost lost it when driving too fast as a teenager in the rain that night, and so on.

For the purposes of this article I want to address our photographic special places, those that hold importance to us because of what they've meant in terms of our own development or maybe because there is something in a place that works on us in a little deeper way.

Ever find yourself someplace that you know is exceptional? A place that is extraordinary, perhaps to just you? Where the light and the air and the ground and the sky are charged with precedent and history, that whatever is there is frozen in a moment of such sublime beauty or serenity or tension that you must photograph it?

One of my special places is at the top of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. I photograph it in the summer and take the tramway to the top. From there I hike to the observation tower and climb the stairs to the deck, position my camera up against the railing in the right corner, over by the coin operated binoculars. I have probably been photographing this for 15 or 20 years.

I point my longs lens here: 


This saddleback of a curve, covered in trees.



Partially the "same but different" and partially something that connects with me at a more primal level, a place that is special for me.

My friend Peter Vanderwarker uses a painting by Thomas Cole made almost 200 hundreds years ago to reference a place called Crawford Notch in NH and wrestles with how to convey meaning, emotional weight and wonder in the present with his chosen medium, which just happens to be photography. 

This is clearly a special place for Peter. I wonder where yours are.

By the way Peter is certainly one of the top architectural photographers in this century or any other, for that matter. He is Boston based but works all over. His site is here. He also is the co-author (with Robert Campbell) of the "Then and Now"series of pictures of Boston published over many years in the Boston Globe that look back at a scene in the city shot in the 19th or early 20th centuries compared  with the same place in the present.

                                                       • • •

Is the blog back for real now? Well, I am close to two weeks out from hip replacement surgery and each day is better than the one preceding it. I leave the house now and am in physical therapy. Life is good. We will see.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Mountain Work,Northeast,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted November 16, 2015

Mountain Work

This is one of those "going out on a limb" posts, where I will write about work of mine that will likely incense some of you. This is primarily because the work itself will upset some readers. I am referring to the work I've just recently put up on the site called, Mountain Work. Technically, it isn't new work, as I made the pictures from 2009-2011, but it is new to the site and few have seen it. I did show the portfolio to Jason Landry when I first printed the group. Jason is the owner of Panopticon Gallery where my work is represented. In truth, Jason sees just about everything of mine.

Why might this post, or more accurately, this work along with this post, prove incendiary? Because the photographs brush up against cliché faster than a speeding bullet. Pretty pictures taken in the mountains outside Bologna, Italy? Not allowed. Long lens work with hazy mountains in the background? Just not done. Green foliage in mid summer in the White Mountains in NH? Yuk.

Serious artists don't make pretty pictures these days.. Have you noticed? Beauty is out. But this is exactly what I did in the Mountain Work, made hopefully interesting but also beautiful pictures from beautiful places that I traveled to.

Cloud formation from top of Mt. Washington in NH?

Check:Hanging out over a wall in the northern Italian hill town of Bomarzo, Italy and pointing down to make a picture of an olive grove?

Check:Driving for two hours along the side of the mountains on a road that went from paved, to dirt, to a farm track to almost nothing in my rented Renault Cubo near Bologna to get this picture?

Check:Heading along the side of a mountain above the town of Marradi in central Italy and making this picture across the valley where a farmer is burning off the brush he'd just cleared and the smoke from the fire behind the tree lighting it up?

Check:Art? Who knows. Pretty pictures without much guts? Probably. Do I care? Not a bit. Okay, so a "serious artist", which I like to think I am, wouldn't ever do this, present a group of pictures like these, of course, not in today's world. Too pretty, too beautiful, just not done. Landscape pictures? No serious artist would do that. That's been over since Ansel Adams died in the 80s if not long before. 

Well, true but one of the advantages of being my age (66 and counting) is that you can do stuff and not give a damn.

But how can I reconcile this work with other work of mine that is serious, that does work to extend photography or to push the boundaries of conventions like landscape photography? How can the same person who makes Mountain Work make bodies of work like Reggio Emilia or Mallchitecture? Because I am, in essence, more diverse in my interests than in doing just one thing. Aren't you?  

Aha, you're now saying: he's schizophrenic. Maybe, but I don't think so. I just love the challenge of going somewhere I haven't been before, both literally and figuratively. 

Let's see if I can reference this specific work a bit and help you understand where it comes from, why I was interested in this way of working.

During the 70's, 80's and 90's I worked in black and white, using medium format and large format cameras to make my pictures. I also had a preference for wide angle lenses. For the most part long telephoto lenses were the domain of 35mm, a format I did not use due to its small negative and lack of quality when enlarged. Along comes digital and I find myself changing over to the kind of camera that used to be 35mm, a DSLR, and using lenses that range from extremely wide (14mm) to extremely long, up to 300mm.This was a brand new world for me, to be able to reach across a valley and frame something miles away full in the frame, to compress scale and put things up against each other over great distances. That's what Mountain Work does. Exciting? Absolutely. Challenging? Yes. Fun? Hell yeah.

A few more:

Cannon Mountain, NH




Okay, so here's where I have to now admit to some closeted activity, something never before revealed to you my readers, something kept on the down low and only known by my closest friends. Quite the lead up, eh? What's he going to reveal here?

I drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire to the top of the mountain every year in the summer. In fact, as I write this, I have booked a reservation to stay one night in a motel on the road up from Boston to be at the base of the Auto Road at about 8 am Monday morning.

There it is, out in the open. Why? Because it is a completely cool thing to do. And in all these years I have photographed just about every time I've gone up. Not only is it a wonderful and scary drive up but it is another world on top. This is where the wind has blown harder than anywhere else on the planet (over 200 mph!), where it can be  85 degrees at the base and 35 at the top in the summer, where those that drive up or take the cog railway mingle with hikers that have spent days climbing to the top. 

Making pictures at the top of Mt Washington is a yearly pilgrimage. It has served as the precedent for me photographing all over this continent and Europe seeking to get up above it all to see the world from the heavens, essentially.

So, I've made my case. Are these pictures relevant in the world of cutting edge art making, tackling issues such as gender, societal ills, political injustice, oppression,    global warming, coastal erosion, or post modernistic thinking? Nope. They are not. Is it okay to enjoy them without guilt? I believe it is. It's okay, you can keep them in the closet if you need to, bring them out in the privacy of your home computer display with no one watching you. I won't tell. 

BTW: In researching this post I pulled the Mountain Work from the shelves, dusted the portfolio off, so to speak. The prints are 23 x15 inches on a paper called Harmon Baryta. They are seriously gorgeous. If you'd like to see the actual prints and are local, shoot me an email. I'm sure we can arrange something.

I hope you enjoy Mountain Work. Let me know one way or the other via email.

Topics: Mountain Work,2011

Permalink | Posted July 1, 2013


I had lunch the other day with Vittorio Mezzano, an Italian friend, photographer and president of the board of trustees of the Photographic Resource Center (PRC) in Boston.

The lunch was with some board members and involved recruitment for the PRC board but as we were leaving he handed me his card and asked me to take a look at his new website, which contains some of his pictures. I took a look. Impressive. One portfolio called "Deceptive Desolation" includes pictures made in the Southwest. Right away it made me think of some pictures I made in 2010 in Utah.

His pictures are excellent, embodying all that there is in pictures made by someone who thinks and looks hard about what will be in the frame and what the outcome of the picture will be. You can see them here: Vittorio Mezzano.

My pictures from the area known as "Dead Horse" were made towards the end of a month in Moab, Utah in the year I had a sabbatical leave from teaching in 2009/2010. I never pulled them into a group or a series but include them here as a comparison to Vittorio's which, in truth, I like better. I have this track record of photographing a concept or an idea but then letting it go as I've shot another series that I feel I have to get to first. Maybe in my "sunset" years, when I can't get out of the chair that sits in front of the computer, I will realize some of these. Or maybe not. 

Over the past weekend at the Flash Forward Photography Festival held in Boston, my friend Henry Horenstein gave a talk that I went to. At the Q and A, when asked what he was working on now he ended up saying that he was making a film and that probably the last thing needed was more of his still photographs. While any work of Henry's is deserving of exposure, I take his point. Perhaps the last thing this world needs is another series of pictures by the photographer Neal Rantoul. On the other hand, that doesn't seem to have stopped me yet.

Here are some of my pictures from Utah, made in 2010:

(Remember you  can click on these pictures to make them larger on your monitor.)

What do you do photographically when confronted with a spectacular landscape? I know many photographers who just shut down. Who can blame them? Isn't it enough to just enjoy a place without feeling compelled to make pictures of it?

I have always been intrigued with major tourist attractions. Places with the big "view" from which to make pictures. One of my early series from the late 70's was called "Mountain Work". I made photographs at the top of drive-up mountains such as Mt Tamalpais in northern California or Mt Tom in Maine or Mt Washington in New Hampshire. I would photograph people (yes, it's true) in the parking lots, or as they pointed toward some distant place while standing at a railing.  I love the change in scale from close up to as far as the eye can see. The ones here do that too, put the foreground in focus up against the background literally scores of miles away, exactly opposite to what most people do when in the very same places. 

Thanks to Vittorio for his pictures and for setting me down a path of remembering recent and deeper past pictures. "Mountain Work" is not scanned but is now on my to do list. I will post them when they are done.

Topics: desert pictures,Mountain Work

Permalink | Posted May 24, 2013