Topic: portfolio (5 posts)

New Portfolio

There are portfolios and then there are portfolios.

A normal portfolio for me and many others is prints that are just the prints, no mounts, no over matts, perhaps an interleaving sheet between the prints, maybe a title page, but maybe neither. All this for efficiency, less weight, bulk, and easier to travel with and store. This is a common print presentation at portfolio reviews. I often show work to museum curators this way. Not a bad system for presentation but not luxurious.

By the way, since we are conversing in the language of photographic prints, I have always made my own prints and will continue to do so.

The old way was that everything had a backing of museum board, a hinged over mat and the prints were either photo cornered to hold them in place, or with even a more ancient system, they were dry mounted. 

For the new portfolio of pictures from Utah made in November I decided to make a traditional portfolio, using backing museum board, white 4-ply over mats in a museum box. This is a boxed set made to high archival standards.

Open this 22.5 x 30.5 inch box and you are confronted with a white sheet of paper and a pair of cotton gloves. Yes, this is a heavy portfolio.

The idea is to set the tone: "Put the gloves on, please, or let one of the staff show you the prints. Thank you". Of course, I don't have staff, but you get the idea. I have worked to make something special here, and handling them entails a responsibility to take care to preserve their pristine quality. Pretentious? I hope not.

Here's the title, alluding to perhaps a second Utah portfolio coming (we'll see, I am working on that now).

Slide the white sheet over and the first image of 18 or so is revealed.

The Museum Box comes from Archival Methods, mats are by Stanhope framers in Somerville. Why not make the mats myself? My mat cutting machine, a C&H 60 inch leaves an unavoidable cross overcut in each corner. The Stanhope mats are perfect.

In fact, the whole portfolio is as close to consummate as I can go. The best prints I can make, the best imagery I can shoot, working to harness sensibilities and skills obtained now over 50 years. Not a particularly new way of seeing, this is landscape imagery that is not alarming or shocking but photographs that hopefully are beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, colorful, and working off the potential for what is in front of the lens of my camera to become photographs that are transcendent and perhaps sublime.

If you are interested in seeing more from this series, please contact Maru at Insight Arts Management.


And, as always, thank you for reading the blog.

Topics: portfolio,portfolios take 2

Permalink | Posted February 12, 2019

This is Big

This is big. What I am about to write about needs prominent placement. Well, maybe not on a scale such as the election of our next president, the North Dakota pipeline debacle, numerous mass killings, earthquakes, forest fires, terrorist attacks, etc. But nevertheless big in the present day photo and art making world where imagery comes from some sort of  digital capture. I have written about this topic before, hit it tangentially but never hit it straight on. If ever there was a time you should perk up and read a blog of mine right through, this is the time.

It doesn't matter what you call yourself; a photographic artist, a documentarian, a photo journalist, a commercial photographer, an amateur. Whatever your definition of how you use photography, you must make prints of your work. It is that simple. 

Starting right off, I am going to go with the topic of death here and what goes on after you die. Forgive me for speaking of the collective "you" in such terms but yours and my death can happen any time and, after all, we all die. 

Say you die. What happens to your work, be it a career's worth of photographs or pictures just made recently because you're new to photography. Well, if it is in printed form, stored well, searchable and accessible then there are great options for it. Your heirs can donate it, show it, publish it and so on. 

But if your work sits as files on a computer, back up hard drives, raids for redundancy, in the cloud somewhere then nothing  will come to light of your work. It's a bold and blanket statement but think about it. No one really is going to go in there and make prints of your work contained in folders and files. The only situation I can think of where there might be an exception is that you've worked with an assistant or a partner for years and he/she is tasked and funded to continue working to get your work printed, seen and recognized after you die. Otherwise, forget about it. My nightmare is this: the tower or significant desktop computer is unplugged, brought down to the basement or the back of a closet to sit there unloved and unused or worse, wiped clean by that computer geek nephew who likes the idea of using your super high end Mac or PC for his computer gaming. OMG! Can you imagine? Literally years of work gone, dragged to "trash" and emptied. Not pretty, right?

If you have made work you believe worthy of more than just sitting in a hard drive  then it must be made as prints, made to the highest of standards you are capable of, sequenced, titled and annotated so that when it is looked at all questions are answered. In brief, work that is made as a portfolio that is publish-able, exhibit-able, donate-able, purchase-able. 

Or, again, back to after you die. You had a significant reputation while you were alive. People followed your work, came to your shows, collected it, purchased it and valued it. Your photographs are housed in many museum permanent collections. It is in book form (good, btw).While many or more prints you made are gone or scattered all over, the really excellent work that is made but not printed yet, sitting on that h.d. #3 that you cranked up only rarely to retrieve those wonderful files of the major photo shoot that was an epiphany for you years ago  on Baffin Island that summer where you made those incredible photographs that changed your perception of everything... whoosh, whisked away into thin air one weekday afternoon by some geeky 14 year old nephew who asked if he could use that computer that's gathering dust sitting on the floor in the basement to make more space for his "Grand Theft Auto V."

Listen, all the back ups and redundant storage of files, projects, RTP's (ready to print) are very important. But only while you are still working, still alive. You expect someone to go inside your computer  to find that stuff  and print or send it off somewhere? Not bloody likely. You want to saddle your partner with this task, perhaps a daughter or a son?

Don't. Make prints. Into portfolios, labelled, filed, sorted, dated and accessible, sitting on a shelf or in a flat file drawer. Turn the digital into analog and therefore making it relatively permanent, and certainly long lasting. Trust me. Make it so.

Prints have a great history as archives. Most prints are relatively stable and recognized as objects that last. Can you say that about your computer files sitting on a hard drive? Prints can be pulled off a shelf, looked at, reordered, edited, sent, exhibited, published, purchased and collected as valuable objects. RTP's (ready to print) files on your computer? While certainly valuable to you and thought of as  the reference for images you've shown, received critical acclaim for and perhaps sold, not so much. And most likely, totally worthless after you are gone.

Lastly, what qualifies me to write all this, to take such a strong stand making the assertion that prints are what matters? My career as a photography professor and experience for one. But also because a colleague and I started and continued as members for the past two years a working group formed to deal with just this kind of issue, called Photographers Legacy Strategies (PLS). Comprised of highly qualified photographers, lawyers, archivists, museum directors and curators, PLS tackled this head on. The issue of the need for photographers to make prints of their work came up early in our discussions when we realized that this was the only way to preserve important work in our digital age. Please. If you've made good work, work you believe should out survive you, make prints of your files on high quality paper, using good inks and store those prints well.

Finally, finally. The above article pertains also to viewing work and is why I will not look at files on a laptop or iPad at a portfolio review. Too much electrons moving around on a screen and not enough to prove the work will be the same, In effect, too slippery. Not fixed. Could be " here today and gone tomorrow" or at least different tomorrow. Prints show some commitment as well as demonstrate your skill.

Disclaimer: I do not receive anything from printer, paper and ink manufacturers. I accept no advertising or sponsorship and I have no reason to. While I use these things, I receive no discounts and am not loyal to any one brand. 

Thank you for reading my blog.

Topics: portfolio,portfolios take 2

Permalink | Posted November 30, 2016

Griffin Museum Portfolio

This is a first. The Griffin Museum of Photography has issued a limited edition portfolio of 25 copies of eleven photographer's works. It is just out and it is gorgeous.

The work of the following is represented:

Caleb Cole, Blake Fitch, Matthew Gamber, Arthur Griffin, Stella Johnson, Lou Jones, Brian Kaplan, Asia Kepka, Greer Muldowney, Aline Smithson and me.

Ten of us were asked by Paula Tognarelli, the executive director, to participate. There is also a lovely print included by Arthur Griffin.What an honor to be in this esteemed group.

 This is the photograph of mine in the portfolio made in 2013 in Iceland.

Check the portfolio out at:

Topics: portfolio

Permalink | Posted August 28, 2016

Vindication: Bermuda Portfolio

Pay Back. Revenge. Retribution. Condemnation. How sweet it is…..


Some of my fiercest fought battles were done by outlasting my adversaries. I could not beat Peter Serenyi at Northeastern, chair of the department, not while I was under tenure review. Behind a thin veneer of cordiality was a layer of mutual dislike. Early on I did have some knock-down screaming fights with him but I learned to hold these in check as he was irrational and I wasn't tenured yet. My motto: lay low and wait. He did retire, and when he did my ability to influence decisions towards positive outcomes for the photography program increased dramatically. 

But, on to the story. This one takes place in Boston. In 1982 I had taught one year at Northeastern and was teaching each fall at Harvard. Things were going well. I was married, my daughter was born in December, we were renovating a house and I was planning a big move, which included dismantling two darkrooms: a color one and a black and white one, both with enlargers to handle 4 x 5 film, a Besseler and an Omega. The color darkroom I'd built for my wife so she could print her graduate thesis for MIT. It had a 20 inch color print drier that ran on a dedicated 220 line that could heat the whole apartment, and often did.

A former colleague from NESOP (New England School of Photography) named Steve Rose approached me with an idea to do a portfolio of my pictures. Steve taught photo history at NESOP . We chose a group of  2 1/4 infrared and conventional black and white pictures from Bermuda for the content.  I had made several trips to Bermuda recently and had work from there he and I liked for this project. I made the toned prints, 156 in total on 16 x 20 inch paper using Ilford's Galerie, which adds up to an edition of twelve with one artist proof. He was to do the rest. A special white box was designed and ordered, board was purchased and, on a very tight deadline, I made the prints that spring. It also was a very full summer coming up that year. I was working on a one man show to open in August at the RI School of Design Museum and I had prints in a summer show at Light Gallery in NY. I remember the printing for the portfolio as being brutal. Relentless, boring, monotonous; printing that many of the same image is always tough. They were also difficult prints to make as I was toning with multiple toners in those days. I remember I threw my back out printing that spring.

I delivered the prints to Steve on time, who lived and worked here:

Wait a minute….lived where? There is no there there. Actually, I just made that picture a few days ago and yes they are tearing down the building where Steve Rose lived and where I delivered the prints.

I love that part where the kid says, "wait a minute" in the movie Princess Bride when Peter Falk is reading the story to him. It seems our young hero and his princess bride were kissing and the kid couldn't take it. All of sudden we're back to the kid's bedroom and his grand father is sitting there with the book in his hand. Stops the story right in its tracks.

I think of this picture as doing that, stopping the narrative in mid stride. Steve Rose's building is being torn down in January 2014 right in the center of the frame. If that means I can erase having to think of Steve Rose every time I go by there, then that is fine with me. But, let's get back to our story taking place in 1982. 

Back to then.

As I said, I delivered the prints. Up to that point I thought we were good. Steve assured me all was well, the boxes were in and his crew were all set do the mounting, matting and assembling. A few weeks later I was about to leave for Europe when I got a call from one of Steve's crew that Steve was leaving town, that he wasn't coming back and that I'd better come over right away and get what I could of the portfolio as it all was going to be trashed if I didn't.


I did just that. I went over, got my prints, some of which were mounted and matted, the boxes and some extra board. Steve had gone by then. Calls to him were not returned. I never saw Steve Rose again. Lucky for him as I would've decked him. The guy hightailed it out of town with creditors on his tail. He owed everyone. And had lied to us all. To say nothing of a large project left in a shambles.

Scandal. Intrigue. Shocking Incident. Transgression.

In the small Boston-based community back then of artist photographers, gossip prevailed. What a mess. What happened with Rantoul and Rose? I took off for Europe, relieved to be free of it for a while.  I came back to pull the portfolio together and, over the years, was successful in either donating it to collections or selling it. Two remain and the portfolio is in the permanent collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art and the Stiftung, which is the photography collection at the Museum of Art in Zurich, Switzerland. Plus, I donated a copy to my high school and several are in private collections.

Back to 2014, to Steve's place being felled by the wrecking ball. Finally, the bad taste in my mouth of Mr. Steve Rose is gone, along with the place I delivered those prints to a lifetime ago, 32 years to be exact. Good riddance to the building being reduced to dust and to Steve being long gone.

You might be interested in seeing what all the fuss was about. I will bring the Bermuda Portfolio to you soon.

Topics: portfolio,Profile,Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 23, 2014


Portfolios....not a big word but one with huge significance these days. It also can have many different meanings. I have been teaching recently on the topic of making portfolios, what a portfolio is, what a portfolio needs to look like and what it is for. It seems I will be doing more workshops over the winter and spring, 2013 on portfolios.

For me a portfolio is a cohesive body of work designed to show off your photographs in the best way you know how. The key here is "cohesive". This doesn't necessarily mean the photographs are from the same place or time. It simply means that the work represented is edited, has a sequence and is shown in the best way you know how at this point in your development.

If you've seen any of my work or spent any time with it on the website, you''ll know I work most often in series. Each one of the groups on the site is backed up by a portfolio of prints that are from 13 x 19 inches on up to perhaps 40 inches across, laid out in a specific sequence, boxed and labelled, sitting on shelves or in flat files in my studio.

Besides the downsides of the labor involved, the cost of printing and boxing each series and needing the storage space to hold and highlight a great deal of work, there are some obvious advantages in working this way. If the work is well organized, it is easy to look at bodies of work made over a whole career. This is key for me as this is the way I show curators, collectors and gallerists my photography. Another big plus to this way of working is that when I have finished a portfolio I can move on to the next. Don't underestimate this in terms of importance. I can't get to new work without finishing and putting to rest older work. 

An additional benefit is that one new outcome of having a website that is as deep as mine is now becoming is that I am able to ask those who are coming to my studio to look at work for the first time to preview various series and come with the request in hand to see specific bodies of work. 

In future blogs I will go into more specifics about portfolios and their preparation.

As always, you  can email me with your comments: Neal's Email

Topics: portfolio,studio,Commentary

Permalink | Posted December 7, 2012