Topic: West (13 posts) Page 1 of 3

Boats

I just added a very early series of mine from the 1970's to the site. Called "Boats" the photographs are black and white photographs made in 1978 and 1979 from two marinas: Martha's Vineyard, MA and Berkeley, CA

They are here on the site.

I made the pictures two years before the Nantucket pictures (1981) and as such, they don't have the emphasis on sequencing and narration that later works did.

Made six years after getting my MFA degree from the RI School of Design the prints show a predominant concern with design and have a full tonal range from 2 1/4 inch negatives. I almost always used Kodak's Rapid Selenium toner. This is evident in the Boats prints' neutral to cool blacks. By this time I  had devised a unique system for agitating the film during developing. This resulted in exceptionally smooth tonalities in areas like open sky. The prints are in perfect condition after all these years and are about 12 x 12 inches.

With so many photographs made over so many years, I tend to categorize my own work in a couple of different ways, mostly as A work and B work. The Boats pictures are solidly in the B column, meaning I believe they are important, but not seminal. To my eye, the concern is clear to see. This was a time of continuing development, as I was refining my own approach and deepening my understanding of the quality of light used to make my pictures. The pictures are about quality, with no interest in boats as a subject whatsoever, simply as surfaces to reflect or absorb light from the sun on early morning bright days. 

Made long before those of us in the photo art community thought of editioning prints, the photographs in my studio are the only ones in existence. If you'd like to see them please email me directly: nrantoul@comcast.net

Topics: Black and White,Northeast,West

Permalink | Posted May 31, 2019

Salton Sea 2 Part 1

I've produced a few bodies of work from the Salton Sea in Southern California. I'd suggest researching it if you don't know what it is. It is unlike anyplace I have ever been.

At any rate, my series from it, called Salton Sea 2 was made in 2013 while I was living in Yuma, AZ  for much of the winter. 

The full series is on the site: here

Let's start here:

#1

A defining photograph and a straight conversion from the color RAW file to black and white. This series is made with the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. We will see its signature look later in the series. This is a "walk around" group of pictures, in that the sequence of the photographs is dictated by the path I took through this abandoned and desolate landscape. Note the sheer brilliance of the light. Bright sun and a cloudless sky were important as this helped to convey an otherworldliness to the photographs. What a severe photograph this is and so expansive, pulling back to a distant horizon in the dried out lake bed of the Salton Sea.

In post-production three months later I had a few decisions to make. What size prints would I make, what paper to print on, how contrasty the prints should be, but what really took time was the work to make these photographs reside as both black and white and color simultaneously. Gimmick? Too tricky? Perhaps, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

#2:

I have moved to the left and made a similar picture in structure to the first, although I have gotten a little closer. This time the lens flared in the upper left corner.  I am okay with that. I like the dark rectangles created by the busted out windows and doors. BTW: We will not see any life, any movement, anything living at all in the series. The Salton Sea is death.

#3

The same building now from in front, 180 degrees turned, sun at my back now but still working in the same language of these rectangles of blacks contained in shadowed areas. This is the first picture in the series that really shows us the extent of decay in the landscape. Next, we go to something different.

#4

So, what's this, now? Rantoul gone off his meds? Well, maybe but this picture will establish a rule and we will adhere to that structure throughout the series until the last two pictures. Water, where it exists, will come through in color. Why? To drive home just how twisted this place is, to emphasize the polluted and fetid nature of what water we do come across, and to shock. Note: I did not alter the color of what water there was or push its saturation levels in the Salton Sea series.

We should stop here as this will be a multi-part examination of the Salton Sea pictures. But let me finish Part 1 by writing a little more of my rational. 

Looking at the history of the medium as an artistic expression we see that in earlier years there was only black and white, then by the late 1920s, Kodak introduced color. Art was still made in black and white for many years thereafter, color was more for illustration and advertising. Along comes Stephen Shore (and Eliot Porter a little earlier) in the mid 70's and rocks the art world by making art in color with an 8 x 10 view camera in a manner similar to what Walker Evans had done in an earlier generation.  Now, we had two tracks, art in black and white and art in color, defined as distinct vehicles of expression. Never to mix, nor would black and white and color be shown together or even be in the same portfolio box together. There were color photographers and black and white photographers, color exhibitions and black and white exhibitions. You get the idea. Now, all that has changed.  We see both interchangeably. So, this series and another one called Grain Silo from the previous year use color selectively within the sequence of photographs. The tactic is to draw attention to the history by showing how so much has changed and to reference how we perceive photographs in the two manners, black and white and color. I believe that photography is, among other things, largely a comparative medium, one thing drawing attention to another and this is a device to do just that.

Next up? Salton Sea 2 Part 2

Topics: Color,Black and White,desert pictures,Digital,West

Permalink | Posted May 14, 2019

Old Trail Town

Old Trail Town. Cody, Wyoming, summer of 2005. I spent a few weeks in Cody that summer, renting a little place above a garage on a side street in town. I'd spent time at a ranch outside of Cody as a teenager and I went back to see what it was like, almost 50 years later. This was the last big shooting trip I made with the 8 x 10 view camera. The good 8 x 10's came fewer and farther between on that trip. I was experimenting with early digital capture. But I did make a series in 2 1/4 (120mm film format) handheld that has lasted well and has been shown frequently. 

I made the pictures of Old Trail Town with an Agfa black and white film, processed the rolls, then made inkjet prints of the scanned negatives. By that time I no longer had a darkroom and didn't print using an enlarger and chemicals. 

Old Trail Town is a rather spare tourist attraction that tears down and reconstructs shacks, corrals, saloons, jails,  barns, hotels from all over the American West and puts them in one location in Cody, making a town that never really existed at all. I found it bizarre and wonderful. It is here on the site.

I shot it just when it opened on a weekday. I'd been the day before when it was filled with people, not at all what I wanted.

These were incredible, these structures. It felt, in an odd way, that it wasn't really there for tourists but all there for me with my camera. I know, presumptuous, right? I was very excited, feeling the pressure of time and changing light to get these pictures on film. Work fast, but clean and right. "Don't fuck up" is often the refrain in times of making pictures like these.  Here I was working with film so couldn't review files that night. In fact, I wouldn't see the developed film for weeks, and make prints weeks later.

Ever felt that it, whatever "it" is, clicks with you and your sensibility on such a fundamental level that you just need to be there and shoot it, that this is not complicated or difficult at all? Old Trail Town had an inevitability to it that day.

It is a big series, 29 or so and takes us from the entrance of the town to the final picture at the town's edge, now emphasizing the landscape more than the buildings.

The Old Trail Town photographs always remind me of  "Music for Eighteen Musicians" by Steve Reich, an exceptional piece. The concept of repetition and derivation on a theme play large in his piece, which is really a symphony. Look at the photographs as thumbnails here on the back cover of my book American Series and you'll see what I mean.

This is how they ended up in the book, at a very late stage in the design: 

After I'd made them that summer, the following fall we were working on the book. Big bucks, a wonderful designer, getting well-placed people to write on my behalf,  making the scans (I made the scans for the book, a whole other story), approving proofs, printing in China; all the myriad details that go into making a monograph. Late in the design, I brought 3 x 3-inch square prints of Old Trail Town to Providence to show the designer Paul Langmuir and pitched the idea of including the series in the book. We revised the book and added pages to allow Old Trail Town to be in the book. 

Old Trail Town serves for me as photographs emblematic of an approach a little like a rock stuck in the tire of a car. Round and round the wheel goes as you drive, every time the rock hits the pavement it makes a noise, over and over, changing in tempo as you accelerate or slow down. My point being driven home through repetition. If you've read this blog for a while you know my philosophy behind the idea of "the same but different". The Old Trail Town photographs are just that.

The last frame I shot that day, winding film out of the camera while walking back to the rental car I saw a family at the gate and another behind them. My revery at Old Train Town was over just in time. The photographs were in the can and I was done.

I've written this before but I have often been lucky that way throughout my career. 

Note: We seem to be emphasizing work from my past lately. If this grates on you, please accept my apologies. Recovering from major surgery always takes longer than one expects and to be fully healed longer still. I am on the mend and working almost daily, but have not dug into anything substantial yet. There are travels ahead and new work will come. You will be the first to see it, have no doubt.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,West

Permalink | Posted April 14, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 1

If you read the blog you know I spent a couple of weeks photographing last fall in and around Moab, Utah. As I often  do, I went back to a few places I had photographed on earlier trips. One was Thompson Spring, about an hour northeast of Moab. I made a series of photographs there in 2010.

We will look at that series in the next few posts.

The full series is on the Gallery page of the site: here.

In 2010 I was still teaching at Northeastern in Boston but was on a sabbatical leave, my last before retiring in 2012. That winter I spent time in Austin, Texas and Moab.

I came across Thompson Spring on a whim, curious to see what it looked like about a mile off the highway.

Not much to look at, much of it torn down or abandoned, the 2010 census shows 39 people living there. Evidently the town's past included cattle and mining and it had been a stop along the railway line you can see going right through town in the above Google Map aerial.

I got there about an hour after dawn and found an essentially abandoned town.

2010

This is another in a long list of projects where I was discovering as I was making. Walking along Frontage Road, the first picture I made served as the first in the series, a gas station, now torn down as I discovered this past fall, 8 years later.

2018

The effort to make a series, form a narrative, say something cohesive and establish a rhythm, to go deeper, often unfolds as I move along. What I had right off was exquisite light and a growing sense that this place was presenting something unique.

I know, the cliche' of an old western ghost town, but something perhaps a little more telling and that was the trailers, double wides and RV's in the back in most frames, as though the occupants simply picked up and moved to another location, discarding their origins.

Again, my interest was piqued as I found what had happened to this town.

In 2010, I was working by then with the Nikon D3X, the second full frame sensor digital camera from the company at 24 mp. The lens is the 14-24mm Nikkor. The prints are 17 x 25 inches.

Next up? Thompson Spring 2.Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest,West

Permalink | Posted March 25, 2019

Going to Paradise Day 4

This was my last day in Paradise, Day 4. Although cut short by rain in the afternoon, some of what I was able to get to in the morning was grim.

Much of this, of course, had a purpose, was purchased at some point, used by human hands for some reason, stored away for use another day, now rubble, debris in a disaster zone.

Three deer came by while I was photographing, foraging and perhaps looking for a handout.

Just before the rain started I ended up in a higher-end neighborhood, with gated driveways, security systems and views out over the canyon, homes perched on the edge.

These are places I wouldn't have been allowed close to before the fire, now, in a perverse form of democracy, wide open, gates unlocked, nothing for robbers to steal.

That's it for the photographing part, the acquiring of photographs, just really the first phase of a project. Next when home I will edit and edit and edit, an endless process of working on the imagery to refine the work to an essence, a core group of pictures that say best, that speak to my intention. For this group I will write the story as well with the idea that perhaps this work deserves attention as a published piece. Not my field or area of expertise. We will see.

With a little research you can delve into the politics behind this particular fire, the worst in Caifornia's recorded history.

The fire caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres, and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. As of November 19, insured damage was estimated to be $7.5–10 billion.

Source: Wikipedia

Was this fire preventable? How did it start and who is liable? Could the town and state have prepared better, plotted a safer and more effective evacuation plan? Will Paradise rebuild?

Thanks for coming along. I appreciate your being a subscriber to the blog.

Topics: West,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted January 6, 2019