Topic: Southeast (7 posts) Page 1 of 2

I miss

(Late July 2020) As the weeks and months go on, as the virus maintains its grip on our world, as our government fails in so many ways, as I work to stay safe and wear a mask, I am missing many things, as I know we all are.

I miss travel. In many ways, the core of my work over the past 20 years or so has entailed travel. The vast majority of trips I took were to make photographs, the locations and time of year chosen to make certain kinds of pictures; Washington for wheat, California for so many things including damage from wildfires, Utah for its incredible landscape, Europe and Italy for, well, all that is so wonderful about it, and the American South where I teach frequently but also because of a four-year project photographing one town: Spruce Pine in North Carolina. I would be there again in a New York minute if I could.

A small town, nestled into a valley just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. The town is past its prime of being a center for feldspar and mica mining and has suffered from several arson-set fires that were set in 2007. 

My photographs from four years of photographing in Spruce Pine while teaching at Penland School of Crafts a few miles away are not flashy and no single pictures stand out. The work is tightly sequenced within each year and constitutes a survey of the town and my perception at a certain period in its history and as such, serves as a symbol of many small towns across the south, caught at a crossroads between its past and an indefinite future.

I've written several blogs about the work and have tried several tactics to get the work shown, all unsuccessful. Take a look and see what you think:

Spruce Pine 2012

Spruce Pine 2013

Spruce Pine 2014

Spruce Pine 2018

I always wonder if people actually do click the link to see the work. Does that take too much effort? I am sure you'll let me know: Neal's Email

Topics: Southeast,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2020

So Little

There has been so little art going on in my world. I am sure for many of you as well. No museums, galleries, workshops, classes, portfolio reviews, showing work, preparing for shows, hanging shows. Hard, as art is at the core of me.

This happened today in the parking lot of a local museum:

I handed over the Pulaski Motel series (here) to Rachel Passannante, the Collections Manager at the Danforth Musem in Framingham MA.

This unorthodox way to turn work over to a museum's permanent collection was necessitated by the pandemic, of course. 

The history of this body of work goes back to 2013, and to Jessica Roscio the curator of the museum. Jess is one of a number of curators I show work to every few years. Come to the studio, take a look at a few portfolios, make no commitment, be under no pressure; clearly a prerogative of a photo curator and hopefully one of the pleasures of their job, looking at work.

Time and again, Jessica would reference the Pulaski Motel series when she came to look at work, often asking to see them again. These black and white photographs, made during a trip to teach at Penland in the spring of 2012 are made up of a walk around an abandoned motel in rural Pulaski, Virginia one very hot afternoon. No pretty pictures these, they present a dystopian view of a world not quite right. In the context of the present pandemic, they may have been predictive in that there are motels across the country that have gone dark over the past few months.

Foreboding and flat, oddly still, dark and a little creepy; right up my alley. I am very pleased for these photographs to have a new home. 

Pulaski Motel has never been shown, in fact, most don't know the pictures exist.  I have a hunch that will change for Jessica wants to show them. No artist wants his/her work unseen.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Southeast

Permalink | Posted July 16, 2020

Something New on Site

Just a quick post to write that I have new work on the site.

Spruce Pine: here

These were made in late May and early June (2018) while teaching at Penland in North Carolina. Each year I teach there I photograph in the early mornings in town before class, often with students. There are portfolios from 2012,  2013 and 2014 as well.

Menemsha: here

I made these in late June after returning from North Carolina. Menemsha is a small fishing village on Martha's Vineyard. Same thing: get up early, go shoot, every day.

Topics: Northeast,Southeast,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted August 11, 2018

Follow Through

Golf swing, baseball's at-bat or throwing to first base, tennis, almost anything in  sports: I can remember my ski coach in high school yelling at me to "follow through!" in the giant slalom. Well, it's important in making art as well.

After three years of photographing almost daily every morning before class in Spruce Pine, NC while teaching at Penland School of Crafts, I approached the subject this year with genuine doubt that I could contribute anything new. When you've grown to know an area it is harder to eke out new material. But I went most mornings, sometimes with a few students, more often on my own.

Of course, the last time I photographed in the town it was 2014. That's a lifetime in digital photography and I was working a few weeks ago with a present-day camera which upped my game. Back then it was the Nikon D800E, a breakthrough camera with some serious problems. It had a tendency to vibrate, making pictures that were blurry. 

What did I find? This was work this time, the pictures not coming so easily, the fluidity of being in a groove harder to come by. I did make some discoveries, however, and learned that I didn't know this small town as much as I thought I did. I learned that I could speak in very subtle tonalities and colors, conveying huge amounts of information, that less can be more and that it isn't always necessary to scream your point. I learned to let the pictures speak, working to impose less upon them, as most good photography doesn't need to feed the photographer so much. Although working mostly with the same focal length lens as before, I worked to utilize its attributes better rather than to minimize its shortcomings. And finally, this was photographs made under no pressure, as there is no one beating down my door to see this work, no show I am working towards, no one, in fact, knows what I did. Very freeing, this. 

If left to your own devices and mindset, free from outside influence, what is your art like? Mine becomes quieter, as I am no longer looking for the "star" image, no longer thinking that I am a career professional with a reputation to maintain. I can be a student of the medium again. This is really it, the reason we do this, photograph so obsessively, looking looking looking. Let the picture come out, let the content drive the agenda instead of imposing yourself upon it. Become that kid in you, become that person seeing these things for the first time, wondering at what is displayed in front of your camera. 

This is what I discovered in Spruce Pine, North Carolina in the end of May and early June, 2018:


Want to see more? These, of course, are just the introduction. Want to see all the Spruce Pine work? Want to see actual prints?

Easy. Email me: Neal's Email.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southeast

Permalink | Posted June 24, 2018

Christmas Trees


Lying there in a field, thrown away, reminding me of Richard Misrach's dead animals thrown into a pit in Nevada under very suspicious circumstances. The series, called "Desert Cantos" starts off this way:

On March 24, 1953, the Bulloch brothers were trailing 2000 head of sheep across the Sand Springs Valley when they were exposed to extensive fallout from a dirty atomic test. Within a week first ewes began dropping their lambs prematurely– stunted, woolless, legless, potbellied. Soon full-grown sheep started dying in large numbers with the same symptoms — running sores with large pustules, and hardened hooves. Horses and cattle were found dead with beta burns. At final count, 4,390 animals were killed.

photograph by Richard Misrach

To be clear, Misrach offers no answers but uses these pictures to analogize about the atomic bomb testing the US did in this area in the 50's and 60's. Miscrach made his pictures in 1987.

The question occurs to me that I probably couldn't have or wouldn't have made these pictures of uprooted evergreens in a North Carolina tree farm if it hadn't been for Misrach's pictures serving as precedent.

I know, they are only trees, right? There is no real tragedy here. Or is there?

Think about this. I made these late one morning with a gentle rain falling in rural North Carolina in March 2015. We stopped, realizing what we were about to drive right past. Out in a field, uprooted, chopped down and left there what, to be fed into a chipper or buried like Misrach's corpses? What a waste. Sad, really.

Grown to be sold to be a centerpiece in a family's homage to Jesus Christ's birth on December 25th? Or, depending on your point of view, to be cut, bought, brought inside, covered in plastic lights, draped with fake snow and tinsel with gifts from Walmart strewn around its base to be ripped open by children in a feeding frenzy on Christmas morning. Hard sometimes not to be cynical.

I'd like to bend this work and the idea of life cut short into a piece about how our contemporary times ruin everything. How we live in a disposable society and throw what we don't want away. But it's just isn't true. This particular carnage of some evergreens in North Carolina isn't about "now" and the cheapness of things in 2015. For it is universal, isn't it? There is nothing particularly timely about these pictures. We've been ruining things since mankind started.

At any rate, I wrote this pessimistic view last week when it was rainy and cold and New England was relentlessly hanging on to winter. By Saturday the sun had broken out, the temperature was higher and I spent all day at the Griffin Museum mentoring photographers and looking at some very fine work that affirmed my point of view that there is good in humanity after all. 

It didn't hurt that I had beer and a burger that night with Frances and Paula from the Griffin. We told stories and laughed and life was good again.

Topics: Commentary,Color,Digital,Southeast,New Work

Permalink | Posted April 13, 2015