Topic: Series (25 posts) Page 1 of 5

The Series Work

Narration, cohesion, flow, connection, sequencing, point made, story line, hinges, contrasts, enigma, on and on.

What happens when you put still photographs in proximity to still photographs? 

Hang two prints on a wall next to each other and right way something is going on. You ask us as viewers to compare one to the other. Stand behind someone doing this and you see their head going back and forth, left to right, forming opinions about darker verses lighter, contrastier verses flatter, closed verses open, receding verses projecting toward us, peaceful verses conflicted, muted verses saturated, on and on.


Same example except now make it three photographs hung on a wall next to each other. OMG! Much more complicated but the general tendency is for us as viewers  is to build a story line, to begin a narrative flow, for we now have a small group so we can go "beginning, middle and end". Our questions might be "Are we into something that is three photographs hung on a wall by the same artist?  Are the three connected to each other in content or intent?" And a big one, "what was the artist's idea, what was he/she trying to say here?" Three has a beautiful symmetry, a lovely pace where we can start, then state with a substantial point and then conclude. Tyrptych, trilogy, the "father, the son and the holy ghost". I think religion was on to something.  

Another way to answer these questions is to refer to someone who's an expert at making series photographs since 1980: me. 

How could a career artist in his 70s' who's been seriously committed as a photographer since 1973 sill be interested in this way of making pictures? To put a picture next to a picture that is next to a picture and so on for at times as many as 35 pictures? Because it all gets incredibly complicated, that's why. Imagine the challenge of making a series that is more than three. Starting out like in a symphony, stating the primary themes and points to come, leading into the main content, explicating, pointing, hinting then affirming later a few photographs down the line, coming across real problems, working to solve and then solving same problems, coming into angst (thinking Mahler here ), strife, anguish, bliss, and then to the lead up to something climactic, the climax itself, and then to finish, to conclude, up or down, major or minor, success or failure, peace or not. Okay, now try to do that with actual content sitting in front of your camera. A barn, a field, a place, an area, a day, someone, a flight, a walk through or down a path. Incredibly hard. Of course that's why I like it. Single still photographs after 50 years of being obsessed with photography? Sure, still do them and still like doing them.  But series work, now that's a challenge.

Want more or at least, verification? Go here (note some of these go on for several posts)

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/nantucket-1980%20Part%201

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/yountville

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/marc-s-meyer-profile

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/poucha-pond

and the most complicated of all, the three series three chapter symphony-in-concept small book called Trees, Sand and Snow:

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/treessand

and here for sale:

https://nealrantoul.com/books

Next up? I almost never know.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Series,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 1, 2020

Shooting Square in San Jose

If you are a photographer from a certain age you probably know just what this means. Otherwise, not so much.

Shooting square refers to the film size used, 120mm and 220mm film. Think Hasselblad, Rollei, Yashica and even Plaubel (although this one used the same film, it framed a rectangle). It was also larger format in that it inherently rendered in higher quality due to its negative size: 2 1/4 inches wide. This allowed bigger prints but also a broader tonal range and better sharpness when enlarged. Less grain too. The cameras tended to be bigger and bulkier, so not as fast as 35mm. But people did use them out and about, as well as in the studio. I was one of those that used them almost exclusively outdoors. 

Made zillions of pictures this way. Go to Nantucket, Yountville, Solothurn,  Portland, Westwood Village, Oakesdale, Bluff, Boston, Fences and Walls, Mountain Work, Bermuda Portfolio, Southshore, Nelson and on and on. Scroll to the bottom of the Gallery page on the site and you'll see them there, all in squares.

Slip up to present day, last week, actually, to our now highly evolved way of making pictures digitally, to the Nikon D850 where, for the first time in my knowledge, Nikon has provided a camera with an image area called "1:1". So, when gearing up to shoot in downtown San Jose, CA I set the camera for an image area of 1:1 and then converted the shot files to black and white in Lightroom and made a series that looks like I did in 1982. In fact, I just printed them.The first series of pictures from a month-long shoot in California.

Next, I will put them on the Gallery page of the site.

Quite simply they are of such astoundingly high image quality that they certainly blow away anything I ever did in 120mm with an analog camera and they most likely are a distinct improvement over anything I ever did in 4 x 5, let alone 8 x 10. I made the prints 14 inches square.

I can hear you asking, if you are a photographer, "What lens, Neal?" The Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8, a lens of now legendary quality and certainly the peer of the famous Carl Zeiss 38mm Biogon mounted to the Superwide Hasselblad that first surfacing in 1956.

Here I am, making pictures now that look very much like ones I made in my darkroom in 1979. But in a whole different world: digital and inkjet. With   quality unimagined, holding the camera in my hands, no tripod, no lightmeter hanging around my neck, no changing film every twelve exposures. No film agitating, drying, snipping and cutting, dusting off, placing in the enlarger, focusing, making an exposure, slipping the paper into the developer, the stop bath, the fixer, toning, then washing and squeegeeing, placing on a drying rack to dry overnight.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Topics: Black and White,Series,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2018

Portland, Maine

The book Portland is now out. This is the 4th in the series of small books that  highlight my series works from the 80's and 90's.

These are available by emailing me directly (nrantoul@comcast.net) or they will be for sale at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Portland is also on the website: here.


Topics: Books,Series,Vintage

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2017

Fences and Walls 1979

I have been talking about and showing my series pictures lately in a variety of presentations so they are very much on my mind. While I usually start with the Nantucket pictures made in 1981 (here) there is a series I made earlier that in some ways can serve as a predictor of things to come. It is called "Fences and Walls" and is the topic of this post.

To recap: I finished gradate school at RISD in 1973 and by 1978 I was teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston. By the fall of 1979 I was teaching at Harvard University as well. I made pictures constantly, almost without discrimination, of anything that seemed remotely interesting. I made major photo trips to Europe, to Bermuda (twice), to the American Southwest, and worked locally.

Looking back at that chaotic time, I remember thinking I was out of control, passionate about now being a career teacher and artist but not able to bring clear focus to any coherent presentation or method. One day while in Newport, RI on a photo trip in the early spring I made a discovery. 

I found I was frequently pointing my camera at walls and fences, separators and barriers we use to edge our property or to keep people out and our pets and children in.

This was the beginning, I believe, of my ability to understand what I was making intuitively. 

By combining the new pictures I was making and sifting through pictures I'd made in the past year or so I found a common thread of a preoccupation I'd had that I hadn't been aware of. This was an odd sensation, to find something in my work prevailing that I hadn't seen before and taught me something about the importance of the subliminal and the need to search our own work for answers. It also helped me slow down and look harder at the pictures I had made rather than only shooting and printing at this frantic pace of making but not looking.

The series also split into two other interests, full and empty, as a subset.

If you've followed along with my writing on other series, such as Nantucket, Hershey, Oaksdale, Yountville, Portland, Solothurn (all searchable by name on this blog), you know that we are looking at the series that predates all those others. 

Whether Fences and Walls can really be used as the foundation series of pictures to the subsequent ones will be for better minds than mine to determine.

But I do believe that in my oeuvre of series works, Fences and Walls needs to be counted as a player in the mix. 

One note here: I don't regard Fences and Walls as a contributor to my idea of "narrative" in my work. That wasn't a concept that had coalesced yet. It would take the Nantucket pictures to make that happen, still two years away. 

The full series is now on the site, way down at the bottom of the Gallery page, as it is arranged chronologically from the earliest to the latest.

As always, I welcome your comments:  Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Series,Analog,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted April 17, 2017

Lugano 1982

Ever hear of it? Lugano is in southern Switzerland, not far from the northern Italian border. Though it is in CH, its history is that is was part of Italy and so the primary language is, you guessed it, Italian. It is a sort of paradise, being south enough to have palm trees along the lake with a view up to snow covered mountains in the Alps, a couple of hours away.

Why Lugano? Because my ex wife and the mother of my daughter Maru is from there. Though we divorced 20 years ago, back then we went to visit frequently, staying with her parents above Lugano in a little town call Breganzona.

We were there over the holidays in December, 1981. I'd brought the 4 x5, intending to borrow a car and get out to shoot in the area. I did just that, coming back to Cambridge in January to make prints. There was no real intention to make a narrative here, just to photograph what interested me and to end up with a portfolio of prints from the best negatives. The full portfolio is in my studio and the prints are about 11 x 14 inches, toned with selenium, mounted and matted archivally on 16 x 20 museum board.

Here goes.

I don't know that there is always wisdom in hindsight but my take on these is that the pictures mix some rather chaotic places with some of real serenity. 

My wife's parents had a swimming pool housed in its own building across the yard from the house. I remember I spent a lot of time there, swimming, reading and photographing. I was reading books like "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard and probably "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Racing" by Robert Pirsig in those days.

In Lugano it could snow one day and then you might wake up to this, rising  temperatures, melting snow and brilliant sun.

The pool and the main house are all gone now, along with my in laws. He to a brain tumor in his late 50's and she just last year. The property fell into disrepair after he died and has been sold, most likely to be torn down for apartments or condos. 

As an aside, one of the mounted prints has this on the back:

presumably because I had it in a show at some point.

My, how things have changed.

Topics: Black and White,Europe,Series,Vintage

Permalink | Posted December 16, 2016