Topic: Oakesdale (5 posts)


The second book in the Series Works is about to go to press. It publishes the Hershey series I made in 1997. Hershey is an important series in my ouvre as it reestablishes a way of working begun in the early eighties. This is narrative work and can be thought of as visual story telling.

I blogged about it:

Hershey: here

Hershey Part ll: here

Hershey Part lll: here

The first book, Oakesdale (see blog here), was printed this past November and is just about out of print. If we get enough demand for Oakesdale we will order a second printing. These books are signed and numbered by me, are 7 inches square and are available for $25 plus shipping, each. These books are being printed in extremely small editions and, as each one is signed, they will quickly sell out.The idea is excellent printing, elegant design with modest size and price.

The plan is to publish twelve of these little books and offer a slipcase to house them in. This group of books will come from series work photographs I made from 1981 to 2005, all black and white and all square pictures.

We are now in preproduction on the next one which is Yountville, CA.

Let us know if you'd like either Hershey or Oakesdale (or both). Send an email with your name and mailing address and we will put you on the list, with copies getting to you in about a month. You can also sign up for all twelve books and we will ship each one to you as they become available.

Neal's email: here

Thank you for your interest in my work.

Topics: Oakesdale,Hershey

Permalink | Posted January 20, 2017

Oakesdale Cemetery Take 4

In numbers 13-16 we will begin to ease out of the series and then come to its ending. But there is still some work to do and I had some more to say.

Number 13brings us back, once again, to the view looking out. This is the third time I did this, point the camera out to the reduced content of just grass, wheat and sky and it reinforces the concept of using "threes" within the series. Music has been an  important influence to me throughout my career and this is apparent in the Oakesdale series. It is born out by these three frames as they ground the series in the rhythm of the "facing out" approach. 

Number 14:Number 14 is a very different photograph than the rest. For it to be framed so closed in on the right side isn't something you've seen before and the branch hanging down in the middle is intrusive to the rest of the image and practically obscures the two trees behind it. Why? For weight. For me this picture is another "core"picture to the series in that it has a very straightforward approach to these graves, that it acknowledges that there are dead people in the ground below those stones and that the world goes on after we die. I have a friend who owns this print and I will never forget her reaction to seeing it for the first time. She took in a big gulp of air as though she was shocked by it and then cried.

Number 15Now we are definitely on our way to ending this body of work. Many of my pictures acquire nicknames and this one has been titled the "burning bush" picture by friends. It actually is because I am again at the edge of the cemetery but this time pointing into the sun. I had a colleague at Northeastern where I taught who used to kid me about lens flare in my pictures. The Superwide would flare very easily due to its lens taking in such an extremely wide angle. I tried to use what it did creatively and in this case its lens flare was intentional. See Hershey, PA for another use of intentional lens flare.

Number 16is taken at the same angle as the "burning bush" picture previously but I have backed up to make this picture, to include more of the cemetery and less of the wheat fields. In this last picture in the series, I wanted to show that the cemetery was part of the overall landscape, as opposed to being separated from its surroundings. Notice that there is no lens flare here. I use a technique that has me standing there with the camera held up to my eye, holding it with my right hand and then using my left hand and arm to throw a shadow across the front of the camera to keep the lens from flaring. I did that here.

Now we've finished the "Oakesdale Cemetery" series and I hope it has helped give you some insight into how I see and work. Far be it from me to assume or require that my interpretation of these pictures is the only interpretation. You bring your own precepts, background, education and aesthetic to anything you look at. Did I really have it so together in this group to shoot sixteen frames in just the right sequence? Hardly. I've learned I have to make about four or five times as many pictures to get a series. That was true here as there are four rolls of twelve exposures each shot compared to the final 16 photo-graphs in the series.

One more note about the Oakesdale series: For many years I combined music with my pictures when giving slide presentations. For Oakesdale I used the main theme from Thomas Newman's score for the movie "An American Quilt". I still feel it was a perfect fit.

I hope you've enjoyed this insider's look at some of my work. If you like this process, let me know. In between other things I plan to post about others' work, about some of my experiences from being a photography teacher for so many years, and about exhibiting work so many times, I plan on writing more about my series work.

As always, you can email me directly at: Neal's email

Topics: Oakesdale

Permalink | Posted December 15, 2012

Oakesdale Cemetery Take 3

So here we are looking at the next four in the Oakesdale portfolio: 9-12. These pictures are the very core of the series and what I've been leading up to in the first eight. They also are very simple.

Number 9is primarily a single tree on the perimeter of the cemetery. I am asking the viewer to make the assumption that we are still in the cemetery, although there is nothing in the frame that verifies that. But I am also including the very edge of a tree on the right and left sides of the frame. Why? To lead you to the next photograph and establish this as a row of trees. This is important.

Number 10is made by simply shifting to the right a little and moving backwards. The Hasselblad Superwide camera I used to make these pictures, and in fact, all of the series from this time period, is a fixed lens camera. No zooming in and out to frame the picture as I wanted. So it would make sense that if I was to make a picture of two of the trees in the row I would need to move backwards. This is born out by the fact that these two trees are slightly smaller than that single tree picture. Why did I do this? Because I am now making a sequence of pictures within the larger full series of sixteen. Oakesdale Number 10 is once again referring to the outside of the cemetery but this time as a kind of release between the barriers of the trees to the left and to the right. You can probably predict where we are going next.

Number 11is much farther back on the hill and contextualizes the row of trees much more in the overall landscape of the wheat fields. In more recent years since I made the series, there is now a house built on the hill right behind these trees. Every year that I go back to shoot wheat fields, maybe fifteen times since 1997, I visit this cemetery. 

Number eleven makes a connection to the religious trilogy: the father, the son and the holy ghost, but only as a way to lean the viewer towards something a little more somber and weighty. I am not religious but went to a high school that exposed us to daily sermons in a chapel. So here we are, coming to the single picture that is the foundation of the series and I've led us up to it by starting with one tree, then two, then three. This is three pictures and three trees in the third picture. Threes is key in this series.

Number 12:back to a single tree, closer and smaller and turning left away from the previous three frames. And, to me at least, this tree is more dead than alive. Yes, it has some growth on it but it is clearly struggling. This tree is the main reason I go back to the cemetery whenever I am out shooting wheat fields in Washington, to check up whether it is still alive.

This is from last August, 2012:Clearly it is, 16 years later.

So why so much emphasis on this one tree? What does it symbolize for me? One of my very good friends from graduate school was seriously sick and died of cancer a year after I made the Oakesdale Series. He was on my mind and this tree was him somehow. So this picture is intended to be the emotional center of the series and I wanted the rest of the photographs in the group to swing around this one fulcrum.

I stated earlier that the Oakesdale series is a center and base to the body of work done over my career. If that is true then the single tree picture is the base to the series. We felt this concept was important enough that we used these four pictures to symbolize my series work on the cover of my monograph "American Series", published in 2006.

In Oakesdale Cemetery Take 4, I will take us through the series to its end.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Oakesdale

Permalink | Posted December 14, 2012

Oakesdale Cemetery Take 2

The Oakesdale Cemetery series is a total of 16 photographs. So far, I've written about the first four. In this post I will discuss the next four: 5 through 8.

The fifth imagefurther grounds the series in the fact that I am shooting in a cemetery. Did I know that this is dangerous territory for a serious artist? That cemetery photographs have connotations akin to sunset pictures and perhaps even baby pictures in terms of cliché? 


Did it stop me?


So, why this picture? Hard to see but if you click on it to make it bigger you may be able to see that there is a plastic flower on the gravestone in the ground. This struck me as poignant and personal. I framed the stone with the leaves of the tree up close to the camera to emphasize where I was paying attention.

Next up, number six:No escaping this. I had read "Where's Waldo?"to my daughter Maru when she was growing up. If you don't know "Where's Waldo?"they are a great series of books of drawings where you need to search through hundreds of tiny figures to find "Waldo". 

And here he was, six feet under. For me it simply answered the question emphatically. This goes into the category of a gift of a picture and too good to pass up. Note the wildflowers again.

Next, number seven:Hopefully, the meaning of this picture isn't lost on you. This is my way of bringing us back to where we are, surrounded by wheat fields. We've been immersed in the inside content of the cemetery itself for several frames. Now we can breath a little as we have some escape out of the space into big sky country. This also sets us up for number eight.

Number eight:We are now smack dab in the middle of the series. So far we've looked out and we've looked in. Nothing very heavy or deep but this one forecasts perhaps more substance to come. We are, in effect, looking up and it is a darker "up" than anything so far. It is also a respite in shade from some of the other pictures that are very bright. 

So where are we going from here? You could cheat and go to the full series on the site but you're going to have to go there on your own without the click-on that I usually  give you. But I think you could guess that things are going to progress along more emotionally, maybe that I am going to make pictures more intuitively, as felt responses to content rather than thought responses. You'd be right. Stay tuned for Oakesdale Cemetery Take 3 coming up.

Topics: Oakesdale

Permalink | Posted December 12, 2012

Oakesdale Cemetery

One of the advantages to getting older (along with what feels at times like a longer a list of disadvantages) is the ability to look back at work done earlier. I made the Oakesdale Cemetery pictures in the summer of 1997. (See Oakesdale for the full series.)

The series is something of an anomaly as I was making pictures at the time of housing, both new and older developments but also neighborhoods. I remember thinking that there was too much hard edge and objectification in that work and it should be all right to have some felt reaction to content on a more emotional level. I also hadn't made any series pictures of landscape.

So I made these pictures in a hillside cemetery outside the very small town of Oakesdale in Washington, the first summer I went to the Palouse to photograph wheat. 

In a review of the work in the Boston Globe, Mark Feeney wrote "What makes the sight of that truck on Oakesdale so thrilling isn't just how perfectly it's placed. It's the additional knowledge that someone parked it there before Rantoul clicked the shutter and someone later drove it away."

I couldn't have said this better. I was so excited at the combination of all these incredibly beautiful visual elements being displayed in front of me, just begging me to take their picture, that I shot the truck twice:

If there was any doubt in my mind that I was starting now to make a major series for me it was these two consecutive frames that convinced me. This second frame was intended to "essentialize" the set, to establish just where I was (in the middle of wheat field country). As a way to confirm this but also to allow a look out to just the wheat, the next frame gives us just the grass, the wheat and the sky (with tiny little wild flowers scattered in the foreground):

This frame becomes important later as you will see for I have now set up a repeating structure that I will return to throughout the series. The third image in the set is my paying respect to minimalism but also sets us up for the next frame which I believe is crucial because I haven't yet  shown that we are in a cemetery. I do this by spinning around 180 degrees and looking in for the first time instead of out:

Thanks to an increasing list of subscribers to the blog I am now confident that I have you reading my posts. Thank you. It is rewarding to have you along for the  ride. So, I am now going to leave you hanging with only four of the sixteen pictures discussed in "Oakesdale", with a second installment to come along soon. I hope you stay tuned.

Topics: Oakesdale

Permalink | Posted December 11, 2012