Topic: Southwest (15 posts) Page 1 of 3

What if?

What if a photographic artist went back to a place where he made work before? What if he was working within the overall definition of "landscape photography"? What if he took the opportunity to make the final prints a divergent opinion from what he had done before? 

That's what I am working on, as a recently turned 72-year old career photographic artist with close to a thousand separate printed portfolios of work made over my career. Another way to pose this is: what would be the point of going back to Utah to make the same pictures you made before?

Spoiler alert: I am looking at the trip through a different lens.


We all know we can do anything we like. We all know we have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, the only penalty being how our work will be received. I am working on these files to  alter the subject more, to apply a more individualized set of controls, to interpret and direct more, rather than hang on to a factualized record of time and place.

I also made some panoramics, something I don't do often. Let me share with you how I do them and why.

Of course, there are two ways to make these. One, to simply crop a wide angle image top and bottom. The other is to shoot multiple frames, usually from left to right and then bring those files into Lightroom, Photoshop or another software to merge them all together. This has advantages and disadvantages but for me is the only way to go. A downside is that this then ends up being a very big file (this one is 830 mb, for instance). This takes some serious grunt and time for the computer to work through. But the fidelity and ability to make this a very large print is unsurpassed. I have one in my studio from Iceland that is 86 inches long!

Another approach I  am working on is to minimize the photograph in content and skew its colors to divorce it from reality. This is tricky as the work can be easily dismissed as gimmicky and contrived:

I have some history of doing this. Last winter's "Washed Out" from Malibu, CA made pictures that were distinctly not pretty (here). BTW: Washed Out are from the same canyons in Malibu that burned due to recent fires.

And finally, as I was at Thompson Spring a couple of times this trip, revisiting the site where I made the series

 Thompson Spring (2010)

I noticed the loudest and most prominent aspect in this almost ghost town was the train going right through at high speed.

So the RR line became a fascination:

Which, of course, I followed until the road ran out.

(I know, hard see on your phone so small is the evidence of the RR track going though. This is a little easier in a 22 inch print.)

That's what I am working on so far and links you to my current thinking as well. This is a process that takes time, thought and perspective. And finally, and this is big, I am relying upon literally decades of experience as I sift through this new work. Past efforts are at play here, as I reference these pictures to ones made in Utah before and a broad array of my work, both from earlier analog days to current digital practice. I also have no interest in being repetitive. The very best part of having done this so long, I really know what I am doing. As well, the adjustment and configuring tools are so amazing these days that I find it a miraculous world of possibility and opportunity to explore, interpret and invent. Are you an artist or a documentarian? If the former, you really have amazing freedom of expression. Use it.

Topics: New Work,Utah,Southwest

Permalink | Posted December 2, 2018

Utah Day 8

I left Moab yesterday and drove the 3 hours up to Salt Lake City. What a boring drive! It's all I could do to stay awake.

 But in the early a.m. I drove out to

which you get to by driving on the northern access road just out of Moab to Canyonlands Park. This essentially is a peninsula above the desert valley. It is an extraordinary place and, from this vantage point, essentially like standing on the bow of a ship.

It felt like aerial photography with the advantage of not going 100 mph, giving you all the time you wanted to study and look. I loved being able to roam around this whole expanse with a long lens and pick and choose my pictures.

As I was photographing, looking through the lens, I found myself thinking of macro versus micro economics, minimal versus maximal, a world view versus a hyper-close view.

This was oddly powerful. I don't know that I have ever been accused of having a God complex but if ever that were to surface now would be the time, as though, click the shutter, there I've made another butte, click, another canyon, click, another wash, click, another spire.

Last, another thought along a different line, at what point would the image break down in terms of intelligibility? As I pushed the medium and the limit of my lens, as I reached now across miles of information, content compressed through great distance, the image would just lose its comprehensibility and break down into abstract lights and darks.

I know, "Neal, what were you smoking?" Right? I swear, I was substance free. But you'd have to be clueless to not have deeper thoughts in a place like this. Our world can feel very large here, and us, very small.

To wrap up my time in Moab I leave you with this:

with the shadow of me and the rental Jeep in the picture. I hate goodbyes, always hard when you leave what you love, but Moab continues to be a place close to my heart, something about its scale, its color, its shapes and forms, its accessibility, draws me in. Goodbye Moab, I hope to see  you again soon.

Topics: Digital,Color,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2018

Utah Day 7

This was my last day in Moab and I used it to drive  40 miles south to the lower entrance to Canyonlands National  Park, then another 40 miles west  into the park itself. A lot of driving but some of it was very beautiful

This is also where the petroglyphs are at Newspaper Rock on the way into the Park

160 miles of driving for just a few photographs but we cannot live by photographs alone and I enjoyed the day, nevertheless.

Back in Moab I downloaded the files as usual

on to an early 2013 13 inch MacBook Pro that is everything when I travel, never having let me down and a real workhorse. It is how I write blogs while on the road, place new works on the site, teach from, edit my work in Lightroom and send files for publication, plus do all the things we need a computer for these days, including streaming.

One thing I don't do often while away is prepare files for printing, saving that for the studio when I return home and can work on a 33 inch Sharp display. 13 inches is small for deciding how a file will print, at say 17 x 22 inches. As it is really past time to replace the MacBook I have been thinking of replacing it with a 15 inch one, the idea being that it would be large enough to prepare files for printing while on trips, and therefore cut out or reduce one very large step in the workflow. I do love how small the current MacBook is, but perhaps the bigger laptop would be a better solution. Any of you out there use a 15 inch? Your thoughts on this much appreciated. Neal's email: here

After another trip at dawn to photograph the upper Canyonlands Park I will head up to Salt Lake for a couple of days. I plan to continue daily posts until Tuesday the 13th, when I fly back home.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 10, 2018

Utah Day 6

I've referenced the last time I was in Moab in 2010 during this trip in a couple of my other posts. But I was in Moab before then too. Back when we all used film, in 1998, to make our pictures, I made a series I called "Moab, Utah". They were of the railroad tracks along a mining spur on the way south from Moab along the river close to Potash. I made the prints in my darkroom.

They are on the site: here. I also wrote about them: here.

I drove by there yesterday, now twenty years later. And thought about whether it made sense to reshoot. I chose not to. Mostly I don't do that, relying on the pictures I made to stand. Much here in the Southwest  is timeless, of course, or seems it. Or perhaps it is that rock is less susceptible to perceived change than our frenetic need to make things that are new. 

At any rate, I also was back at Thompson Springs off of I 70 the other day and found what had been where I made the first picture in that series (here).

A favorite of mine, made eight years ago. This time things had changed quite a bit:

I was told by a neighbor the roof caved in and the town deemed it a safety hazard so tore it down. 

I can't forget my first experience with things ephemeral. I was making the pictures for my MFA thesis while a student at RISD in the early 70's. My subject was cars in a junkyard. I'd made a picture of the tail fin of a 1957 Buick that I liked. A week later I went back to photograph it some more only to find out that not only the fin was gone but so was the whole car! Lesson learned.

Programming note: Please don't assume I am not susceptible to what has gone on this week: Tuesday's election, Trump's bizarre press conference, Session's firing and subsequent threat to the Mueller investigation, another shooting, this time in California, only two weeks after the last one in Pittsburgh and the wildfires in Paradise, CA. All that in the past two days! I am as influenced by all this as you are, unable to escape it even here in Moab. In many ways it seems it is the worst of times. This makes my pictures taken here in a Utopia of rock and river and blue skies seem like escape. On the other hand, maybe we need a little beauty in our lives right now. 

I hope you can find a little Utah in your day today.

Topics: black and white and color,Analog,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 9, 2018

Utah Day 5

From downtown in Moab on the way to Arches, turn right just before the bridge and head north on Rt 128. This heads you up a canyon close to the Colorado River and eventually, a couple of hours later, to Interstate 70. From there drive west and meet up with the main drag back to Moab at RT 191. Total time: maybe six hours, more if you stop often.  What a trip.

Of course, the dilemma is what do you do if you are an artist that uses a camera? Succumb to the beauty and the temptation to photograph this glorious scenery? Part of the trap is to "acquire" pictures as proof that you were there or perhaps to share with those back home. I am as guilty of this as anyone else, yet it isn't quite what I do, is it? But it all is incredibly seductive, and this trip up the canyon is among the most seductive I have ever seen.

Will I use these? Will they end up as framed prints in a show somewhere? Not likely, for they don't do anything or say much besides where I was and it was very beautiful there. Of course, you might think that is enough. To chronicle the place, to document something so exquisite as lit up Aspen trees in autumn, all gold and shimmering in late afternoon sunlight.

Of course, if you practice photography to a larger stage than just yourself, your family and friends, this then does become a dilemma. What are you known for? And what contribution do pictures like this make to your overall body of work? Real artists don't make pictures like this, or perhaps it is safer to say, a certain kind of artist makes pictures like these. 

I used to deal with this problem when teaching in Italy in Venice. I would tell students in the first class that they had the next couple of days to make all the pretty touristy pictures they wanted but after that I didn't want to see them. Once done, then I would assign them to work in very specific ways, to search to tell a story, to make pictures as an investigation into something that caught their interest, to begin to make pictures that were specific and intentional instead of ubiquitous and generic.

Last, what if you feel you can make pictures like these from the drive up the canyon that are better than anyone else's? What if you know you can make a contribution to this way of seeing that is unique, has your own perception as a creative individual  and is motivated by your passion, commitment and hard work as well as the considerable cost of the gear you use to make pictures that are truly magnificent? Then by all means have at it but know the world is a competitive place and count me among the skeptics.

Programming note: Bringing you this blog every day is a lot of work. I get up early to work on it for a couple of hours before heading out to shoot. I am happy to do it as I know I would love to travel vicariously with someone who was making pictures daily in Moab. But, let me know you're along  for the ride, if you can. There are lots of ways to share your thoughts with me. Put a comment  on my Facebook page or on Instagram. Or shoot me an email: here.

And thanks for coming along.

Topics: Southwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted November 8, 2018