Topic: Southwest (22 posts) Page 1 of 5

A Loss

No, I haven't lost a loved one to Covid 19, although I know some of you have, and I am apologetic about citing my loss at this time of such incredible human pain and suffering. So, my apologies at the outset.

My loss is of some work that is leaving the fold of being in my ownership and possession for the past 21 years. This coming Friday Maru and I will take three bodies of work to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA to be added to their permanent collection.

I  am giving the Gallery two selections from larger portfolios: 6 Paradise CA prints 

and 4 aerial Potash Evaporation Pool pictures from Salt Lake, Utah.

Both of those are digital capture and inkjet prints, meaning I can make new prints easily if needed.

But the third group of photographs are something else entirely. They are a loss for I am giving them to the Addison, original analog prints of images I made in 1999 of some unique rock formations and petroglyphs in Bluff, Utah. There are 17 photographs in the set and there are no other prints if this work in existence.

This must be what a painter or sculptor feels when parting with an original piece. I have friends that do this all the time and they cite that along with the loss comes the sensation of being freed from the weight of something made in the past. I hope so as I am having a hard time letting go of these.

I wrote a post about this work a few years ago: 

https://nealrantoul.com/posts/bluff-utah

Why would I want to give away my art? What possible purpose could it serve to let it go, to donate my work to museums? Another way to think about this is what possible reason is there to hang onto it? Better for works of mine to be in a permanent collection in a climate controlled environment than in a flat file case in my studio. Yes, we are speaking of a legacy. In this case mine. 

Why the Addison? I showed my work several times there, the first time  in 1978! Also, there is older work of mine in their collection from 1982, so this is a chance to update what they have. Finally, the Addison Gallery is a wonderful museum with a rich collection and a long history of featuring photography. Right now they have one of the only sets of prints from Robert Franks' "The Americans" on display.

Additionally, there is this. There is freedom in no longer being encumbered with your artistic past. What you did then that is now gone means no baggage in future efforts. And yes, no less important, you have now externalized your work, put it out there in the world along other works from your colleagues and peers, from a community of artists. That feels good to me. No longer will good work be hidden away. And Bluff is good work.

Long ago, I had this thought that when I got old, I would spend much of my time still alive on work I had made already, hoping that museums and collections might be interested in collecting my photographs. That has come to pass, thank goodness. What an honor to find that museums are interested in having my work. Yes, of course, it would be great to find that they would purchase work, but that is not happening, for whatever reason. So be it. Not to say that in the future my work will remain a freebie. But for now, it is fine.

Last thought in this somewhat loaded post. It is not enough to make the work. Yes, that is crucial, but you need to nurture it, to massage it so that it is the best it can be. Then shepherd and manage it to see that it is respected, valued, and placed with an eye to its longevity.

Maybe someday you can go to the Addison and see some of my work from the collection.

Like this blog? Let me know: email

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Southwest

Permalink | Posted February 3, 2021

Salton Sea 2 Part 2

Continuing and finishing a look at the Salton Sea 2 series made in 2012. 

The Salton Sea, a simply incredible place, as if from another planet. The soil crunching under my feet and turning to powder at my step.

The "sun behind the pole" trick used here with some slight band of color where there's water in the background.

The first photograph in the series with a preponderance of color, some kind of fetid and polluted pond that stunk. The lens is now taking a larger role here. Push a wide angle lens down and verticals bow out.

Back to our original structural device... long, blacked-out rectangular windows and here just a hint of the pond through the building, in color. This is one of those where the actual the print (at 22 inches across) makes a huge difference. Everything is probably too small here to see the subtlety.

Moving on we turn to the right and find another expanse of what looks like devastation:

and 180 degrees:

showing the mountains in the far distance.

This photograph brings us to another abandoned structure, shot square onto the   pointed edge of the building, a clear divergence from all the others which were made as parallel plane photographs. Another pond coming up, seen through the window, is shown full frame next.

I think of this image as being the most brutal, as this pond filled with some unimaginable liquid that looks viscous, fills the frame.

Then next to the series only vertical, back to where we started from

Then to the last two images in the series, when exhibited put side by side to each other, the same file printed twice:

with the black and white image conforming to the rule that says water is color, over there on the far right of the frame, a judgement call on my part and not without controversy as some feel the print should be all black and white.

I didn't so much mind breaking my own convention as I wanted to try to prove the efficacy of the device I used. 

By showing these two in this way I wanted to present the series as yes, from the otherworldy Salton Sea and its altered reality but also to drive the point home that I was using this work as a vehicle to make a statement about contemporary photography and how the rules ordering the use of color and black and white are no longer in effect. Photography has advanced in maturity to a "no rules" system where anything goes, much as all art has. So much of present-day photography either ignores precedent or its maker is unaware of what was made before or doesn't care.

On a more personal level, although often thought of as a conventional landscape photographer, I am not. In this case, I sought to use this place as a canvas. My palette is black and white and color. I've chosen to make my painting."Take em or make em", we say. Let your photographs come out the way the tools and technology choose or impose your own ideas and construct in your work.  Salton Sea is not a conventional landscape series of photographs for I am using where I was as a vehicle or platform for what I chose to do to it. 

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

Permalink | Posted May 17, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 5

The last of an analysis of some pictures I made in Utah in 2010.

Know the music of Sufjan Stevens? It is wonderful. He's probably some kind of genius. At any rate, I often thought that he had difficulty with the ending of his songs. I sympathize as the endings of my series are difficult for me too.

Let's see what you think. 

We have, in effect, looped back to an earlier place, the barn seen in #11. The sun is flooding in to the inside of the structure, implying  no door door at the left end of the barn. This is another oblique angle photograph just as the first barn picture was.

Yes, we're reviewing some of the discoveries from earlier in the series, in this one, the motel. The open and black hole of the door is key here.

These photographs as we draw to a close are recapitulations.

  • Recapitulation (music), a section of musical sonata form where the exposition is repeated in an altered form and the development is concluded*

*Source: Wikepedia

Here we are referring to frames #5,#6 and #7, the same side of the house we saw earlier, here moved in tighter to allow closer study, just we did with frames #13 and #14

And last,

this is the back of the earlier house and, for the first time, a photograph looking the other way showing what has been behind us for most of the others. In effect here we've retraced our initial progression, but now from behind. 180 degree turns loom large in my series work. And we've revisited some of the key sites seen earlier, but shown a different perspective on them. Why this one as the finish to the series? Because it contains both the reference to the earlier frames from the house in the series and that it faces the other way. And finally, this last photograph also shows us a blank face, with an off center dark hole of an open door on the left, probably evoking more questions than answers. I am okay with that. I wonder if you are. 

Thus ends the Thompson Spring series. My own summary of this work places it in a "mature" period, in both execution and concept, meaning that in earlier digital days there were quality issues. This is no longer true. What was captured nine years ago holds up well in comparison to the files I am creating now.  Conceptually, the Thompson Spring series fits in the mainstream catalog of works to date as opposed to being anomalous (of which there are many). If you work long and hard over a career at something, what you have done will reside as a hierarchy. For me, Thompson Spring lives in the "A List"of series works. They have not been shown or published. So it goes.

It has been a real pleasure to bring these five short essays to the blog and therefore to you. I am grateful for your readership and numerous comments. Two things: please subscribe to the blog (and confirm when you get an email ), and secondly you can always reach me at: Neals email

Topics: Southwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted March 30, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 4

Here we go. Not the last but the next to last of a run on the pictures from Thompson Spring, Utah I made in 2010. 

Let's get down to it.

Where have we been so far? Abandoned, decayed, for sale, empty, depopulated, discarded, disregarded and neglected. Can you imagine my coming across this? The building, a warehouse or a garage of some kind, so clean and pristine, as though new, the light skidding across its surface, the elegant curve of the roof, the slightly off-center squares of windows, the delicate lace of the tree's branches, the blue blue sky. I could have been struck dead right there and then and died a happy man. This picture is a present, offered as a relief. For me, this is one heroic image. It is hard to say, but if not placed here, in the context of the other photographs in the series, it could be dismissed as well. Can something be made stronger and more beautiful by the context in which it is placed?  I don't ask for much more from photography than something like this gift from time to time.

For all the openness and unfiltered boldness of the previous photograph, this one is a little more subtle, nuanced and intricate. Work your way through the foreground, to the covered boat and Weber grill, to a few gorgeous fruit trees, through to the distance and we have our first picture with a background that is important, the hills on the other side of the valley. Notice the framing, tight on the left and right, containing the picture and pushing you through it. This is what a very wide lens does to a space when the camera is held dead level. The content can look deceptively normal but then why would those three support columns pull back so or why would the building on the right have such strongly converging parallels?

Step to the right and we see now what that huge canopy was connected to and we see it all is for sale. We've really been away from the original content in the series here for a while, haven't we? The difficult issue of the abandoned buildings and the ghost town character of Thompson Spring. Although still in this small town in Utah, we went to the aesthetic, to photographs in their own right, a different chapter perhaps, an offshoot of our original intention. Well, here we're back. This is a hotel for sale and we can predict why. This has us thinking back to the earlier ones in the series; the gas station, the house, and the motel.

This one goes off script a little, perhaps mimicking the structure of the picture that proceeded it, but in miniature, though more open and less full framed, letting this little shack, tool shed, snack bar(?) sit there bathed in light, looking a little forlorn and neglected.

Let me revisit how I try to make these pictures work with each other. Remember: you can't unsee what you've seen, can't unlearn what you've learned. Of course, its easiest to think of this working in pairs, like the hotel for sale picture and this one. But it is vastly more complicated, isn't it, as the photographs read both as a whole portfolio and as a narrative with subplots, chapters, highs and lows, a rhythm and pace as well as a beginning, middle and an end.

So, we're getting to the finish but we have some circling back to our origins to do and I will finish these in Thompson Spring 5.

Stay tuned

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 29, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 3


The third in a group of posts on my blog looking at a body of work made in 2010 called Thompson Spring, Utah. 

This one, looking at the side of a barn, is the first real change in structure and also content, for we are no longer sliding along the main street of the town. It also presents a far more difficult path with its screen of wire fencing and bushes to get through.We are now looking at the subject for the first time at an oblique angle, which is inherently different than our parallel plane photographs from the portfolio so far. Also, a series of photographs such as this assumes viewers will retain the previous image in the sequence while looking at the one in front of them but not know what is coming ahead, as in turning pages in a book or flipping prints in a portfolio. The presumption is that we can't unlearn what we've already learned, that we can't unsee what we've already seen.

We've also gone a little darker and the structure of the photograph isn't like anything we've seen up until now. The pictures have been "parallel plane" photographs so far, taken square on to whatever was in front of the camera. If you follow my work and/or read the blog you know this is a primary driver behind Neal Rantoul photographs. As a device being parallel contains the photographs and makes them begin and end at that surface. The above picture slides from left to right and therefore out, leaving a little relief or escape from the dark to the light. 

The tactic is similar to what Eugene Smith did, the very famous documentary photographer in the mid 20th century making incredible photo essays on assignment for Life Magazine. Look up Minamata and The Country Doctor for examples. In this, Smith's own children walking up the dark hill to the light. 

Credit: Pinterest

Heavy symbolism, out of the dark tunnel into the light. From painful days after being wounded in WW ll, with almost two years of convalescing, wondering if he'd ever photograph again.

Let's move on:

Back to parallel planes. This one looking relatively modern or contemporary, nothing indicating decay so much but clearly closed and empty. That cafe didn't look like it would would open anytime soon.

Then to this, planal again and with minimal convergence, which means I worked to keep the camera level as opposed to pointing up. So beautiful to me that I did this:

moving in closer and focusing on the light skidding across that ribbed wall framed by the single window with a closed curtain inside. Not the first time I'd moved in to isolate something I felt strongly about.

So, since I have some space here, let's summarize where we are now that we've looked at about 2/3 of the pictures in Thompson Spring. We began way back at  the start with the gas station picture and quickly established the "ghost town" character of where we were. Then this overall definition continued through the house pictures and, though different, the motel pictures. We then changed things up by moving off the main street to the barn (which we will see again soon) and then back to show the cafe and then the small house with the beautiful window being hit by early morning sun. Remember, we can't unsee what we've seen but what proceeds will inform what is to come. 

I hope you're enjoying this break down of some pictures I made nine years ago.This is a good place to stop, as we're about to see some more changes next in Thompson Spring 4. 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 27, 2019