Topic: Northeast (88 posts) Page 1 of 18

A Little Crazy

Well, things got a little crazy the past two weeks or so. First Skye (my granddaughter) came back from camp in NH early due to getting Covid and then Maru (my daughter) got it at the end of Skye's quarantine. We live close enough to one another that I have either been at the studio or off on a road trip.

Last week I took 48 hours and drove to Burlington, VT to shoot. The weather was wonderful and I shot enough to feel like I was successfully renewing earlier days when I was very prolific. I've been printing the past 2 days and there are good pictures, thank God.

Driving northern Vermont's back roads behind the wheel of this

was just plain fun. Do you know that going through Smuggler's Notch the road goes down to one lane but is still two-way? That had its moments. 

Smuggler's Notch, NH

At this point, I ask not so much: well framed, well exposed, cleanly seen and above all enough perception to make pictures that are smart.

I make no excuses but it has been a long time dry. Hard to not be cynical, to not regard photography as something largely in the rearview mirror. Much time in the studio since moving in February; editing, filing, labeling, including contextual information with bodies of work, updating the archives' database, etc. Probably too much, as looking back makes it hard to look forward. With friend Gail here from Toronto a few weeks ago giving me a needed kick in the butt I am looking forward again. 

Put your eye up to the finder, look, compose, wonder, set focus, hold the camera steady, trip the shutter, think: different angle, different focus, lower, higher, needs different time of day or different time of year? After all, what are the chances that as you stand in front of whatever, you are there at the best of possible times? Remote at best. Or, are you in front of it with a camera because you've spotted it at the best of possible times? Who's to say?

Ah, perfection is elusive. And can be dull too. Let a little humanity in there, a little   roughness around the edges, a little something wry, twisted, organic, intuitive and felt. Try not to make past pictures over and over, but be adventurous and provocative.

Wake up! Approach your subject like a hunter, after your prey. Analyze it, think it over, and look critically. You are making photographs, a medium where being done well is exceptionally difficult. Look at the genius of the masters that preceded you. Do you aspire to that? Bring your A game.

The blog now has a comments section. Feel free to respond. Confirms my efforts.

Topics: Northeast,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted August 23, 2022

How About This

How about this: a group of photographs connected by geography, day, time and year, proximity, mindset, intellect, experience, ambition, a sense of irony, and perhaps humor.

Hm.Too much? Incomprehensible?

Let me see if I  can unpack this a little. (Note: this won't work very well if you are casually passing through this post. To get where I am going you'll have to open the links to look at the referenced series. Apologies, for I am a career teacher. Perhaps you'd allow me to place you in my classroom for a short time.)

I was visiting friends who are down a peninsula aways in rural Maine in mid-summer. Off I go with my friend and we come across Small Point, Maine about 7 a.m. on a late July morning. Walk and photograph. Just as in countless times over a now-long career. Look, point the camera, acquire frames like stacking cards, one influencing the next, the previous conditioning what next to look for over 30 minutes or so. 

The pictures are about where I am but also what I think and what I am selecting and making. Sequencing and juxtaposition playing a key role at the same time as light, color, texture and form. 

In my work, I have always been interested in sharing why I make a decision to make a photograph and also in what I do to it to own it. My pictures have seldom been just about the thing itself, even though I am as reliant as we all are for great content.

The morning had great content.

Back to these new pictures, with a disclaimer or acknowledgment that my sense of what a series is and what it takes to make a series has changed definition throughout my career with now being no different. In early days, pretty rigid, as in Nantucket and Yountville: flat light, wide lens, close in with dense content that is urban. Later, as in Grain Silo or Salton Sea: unfolding interest in color, spacial depth, making internal statements while working with a far more open landscape. Embracing digital tools and inherent quality and flexibility. On to late mature works like Field in 2016, very pure black and white and all the traditions that embraces, but with some very contemporary concepts contained within. Or San Jose Squares in 2018, with consummate photographic quality aligned with truly unusual ways of seeing an ordinary city landscape.

To now, the concept of series work having percolated and morphed through a physical move to a new home, a family in crisis, some deaths, a pandemic, and a country in real disarray over three years or so. How could the pictures I make not change? Well, they have. If our art is not a reflection of who we are and what we think and feel I would question the honesty of the art.

Yes, I am getting to the pictures.

First up, an arbitrary and manufactured interest in doubling up, to form a structure or containment, for we can't aimlessly photograph everything. Later this all fading out, going to triples and then that fading away too. Again: early days rules and rigidity. Today? In mid-2022? Not so much.

So, where does that leave us? Some new pictures and some sense that things are different, at least in intent. I believe there is less baggage in my photographing now. Freer from past positions and responsibilities, released from the effort to make "significant work" and free now to just photograph. 

I would very much appreciate your thoughts. Is this a post that is clear and concise or garbled and meaningless? 

The effort to imbue our pictures with meaning beyond just an impression of what is in front of the camera is one of photography's great challenges. We know people have done it and their genius is commendable. But one method that has traction is in sequencing, juxtaposing, contrasting, and framing. I learned a lot from Nathan Lyon's Notations in Passing and I suggest you would too.

Have I struck a chord in your efforts to be better or to make work that has staying power?

Let me know at: nrantoul@comcast.net. Or comment below.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted August 2, 2022

Best of 2021 Part 2

In Part 1 (here) we looked at the best of my work in the early part of the year. Here we'll continue from May on.

Medfield State Hospital

This one, from a junkyard near Albany NY in May. Feeling bad, this was six weeks before I had open-heart surgery, weak and easily winded. I wrote about photographing in junkyards and my forty years of experience: here.

Peaked Hill, Chilmark, MA, the highest spot on Martha's Vineyard, in June.

In Lawrence, MA in August in a diner.

Holyoke, MA

Fitchburg, MA

By October and November, I was photographing at Lake Dennison Recreation Area in Winchendon, MA. The Miller River cuts through the park.

In December I continued at Lake Dennison until the gates were closed for the season near Christmas. 

That about sums it up, 2021. I tend to think in terms of "before surgery" and "after surgery" in that some priorities are a little different now.  While still highly motivated to make work I think less of how my work will be accepted and more of what peace and pleasure it brings me. If that, in turn, brings something good to your days then it is all for the better. Certainly, I am less for the noise and more for the quiet these days.  

Topics: Color,Commentary,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted January 3, 2022

Life Intrudes

As much as photography is large in my life,  there is "other". As a younger man, I believed photography constituted an escape, a way to divert away from all that noise and tune into something my own that was positive and beautiful.  

But our health issues cannot be denied and I went in late last week for a heart-based procedure that produced less than favorable results. A consult with a heart surgeon this week should decide my fate. I am looking to be less out of breath at the top of the stairs to say nothing of being able to tackle hills on my bike. 

We've had quite a year. From unfathomable numbers of deaths and misery to art-making held in check, such a loss of momentum that it makes one wonder if it will ever come back. I did what I always do when my tank is empty.  I kept working. And, I've made a few, although not a continuous stream of ideas made into real things as before, but prints in a box on a shelf, nevertheless.  

I look a lot. Driving, doing errands, getting by with too much streaming, not enough people to hear different ideas expressed. As I move around: yes, no, maybe, needs different light, a different season, I want that but can't stop here, more an accrual of single pictures than before when one was connected to the next for a series.  Simple really. Maybe that's it, we are addled, out of sorts, unable to concentrate or hold focus. But, it's good to look, to be on the hunt. Proves continued involvement. I've gotten to know a new neighborhood (I moved a year ago). What a pleasure to go around a corner to find something new. I lived in Cambridge and Boston so long there was not much new. Acton, Concord, Stowe, Maynard, Hudson, Marlborough, and so on.  All good, rich. As I've learned, it is a region of water: streams, rivers, ponds marshes and swamps.

Been a time to retrospect too. I am struck by just how much things matter and then later how little they do. When younger there were always students, crazed to soak up experience and knowledge, to hear stories, and then hand them down to others. Now, not so much. Non-photo and non-art family not so interested so who to listen and look, who then?

Soon, back to the usual, pretty much. You can see it on the trip to the market, to filling up, to going to work out. More and more vaccinated, feeling safer.

Leaving you with these: 

photographs © Neal Rantoul

All are from either Martha's Vineyard or Chappaquiddick.

Topics: Northeast,New Work,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted May 23, 2021

Incredible

Incredible. 48 years! You hear old folks saying all the time: "Where'd all the years go?" but seriously, where did all the years go?

As a grad student at the RI School of Design, where I graduated in the spring of 1973, I was meant to produce two copies of my thesis, one for the school's library and one for the Photography Department. Some did, others didn't. 

I did.

My thesis was photographs I made in auto junkyards. 

Did I have it in my head that I was making these pictures to speak to issues of our wasteful society, of consumerism run amok, or of protecting our environment? I did not. I liked the forms and shapes of the wrecked cars and trucks, the shiny     chrome, the rusted panels.  In our class, critiquing this work as I made it, no one brought up any of the above issues. The politics of the work was not apparent for this was a far more innocent time. We were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam but not against the lack of awareness in our work.

Photographs were made then for their aesthetic, perhaps technique was discussed, or print size, the paper they were printed on or our use of the camera. The mechanics of photography was a much bigger deal then for good craft was harder. It took skill to make a great print.

But where does 48 years come in?

Last week while out visiting my high school (Darrow School, New Lebanon, NY) I went back to Adler's Antique Auto in Stephentown to photograph in much the same way I did in 1973 in Rhode Island, 48 years ago.

The same but hugely different too. Then: the Rollei SL66 21/4 camera on a tripod with the 80mm Carl Zeiss f2.8 Planar lens and Kodak Plus X film. (I still have this camera) Now: the Sony A7R MK lV camera hand held with the 70-200mm f2.8 G-Master lens.

Then: black and white, printed by me in my basement darkroom on Agfa Portriga Rapid 11 x 14 inch paper.

Now: color, printed by me in my studio using the Epson P9000 inkjet printer with Red River Polar Matte 17 x 25 inch paper.

Of course, this wasn't the same junkyard as in 1973, but over the years I had photographed at Adler's a few times, most notably with the 8 x 10 camera, for Adler's is quite special, a tribute to rust with its emphasis on 40s and 50s cars and trucks.

Adler's Antique Auto, Stephentown, NY


Like going back in time, photographing in an auto junkyard again after 48 freaking years!

Topics: Analog,Digital,Black and White,Color,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 9, 2021