Can you take a break from your very busy day that is filled with things you just have to do, the deadlines you must meet, the commitments you must keep? I invite you to do just that here with this blog right now.

In Providence, RI a few nights ago. A Philip Glass concert. Just Glass playing a  gorgeous sounding Steinway Grand in several solo pieces and then some duets with a young virtuoso violinist named Tim Fain. A most wonderful experience. Ah music. So important. For you too, I bet.

A blurry picture of the Steinway piano Philip Glass played in Providence.

Music has been crucial to me my whole life. Music can save you, perhaps like a religion or faith. I am not religious but I am grateful for the incredible music in my life as I believe it has helped pull me through some seriously tough times. I would not call myself a musician but I have been a piano/keyboard player since I was about 8. I play, I improvise and I compose.  I record too but what I play is mostly not mot  made to share with others. For someone like me who always wants to be the best at everything I do, it is comforting to have something that I do where I am definitely not as good as I want to be and never will be. I like to think that in my next life, if there is one, I will be a musician.

Music has been one of the larger influencers and informers of my life as a visual artist. Different music for different periods, of course. So what music? Short question, big answer. Earlier days as a young artist: Keith Jarrett solo piano, principally the Koln and Bremen concerts, Joni Mitchell, the Fauré Requiem, any Bach, but specifically St. Mathew's Passion and the Goldberg Variations, Stravinsky, Dvorak chamber pieces, Brahms, Sibelius, Jean-Luc Ponty, Mozart Requiem, The Story,  Laurie Anderson, all Steve Reich but particularly Music for Eighteen Musicians, Philip Glass, Aaron Copland. Later: early career Pat Metheny, the ECM artists such as Ralph Towner, Jan Garbarek, Jarrett as a jazz musician, John McLaughlin, the solo pianist and composer Philip Aaberg, Beth Orton, Notwist, early Radiohead, Fiona Apple, Mindy Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Tori Amos, Arvo Paart, Gustav Mahler, Haushka, the Beethoven symphonies, and on and on and on. I have left out many more than I have included.

The ceiling at the Veteran's Auditorium in Providence

If you are old enough to remember before CD's when there was vinyl you also remember that listening to music was different then. We listened, we devoted our- selves to really listening. Now it seems like music is folded into our lives. I listen to music with more dedication and concentration on road trips while driving than I do at home or in the studio. I do not usually listen to music while I am photographing, although sometimes when I am out in the wheat fields, off by myself, I will keep the headphones on. I see two sides here. When we would sit and listen, using the best equipment we could afford, we heard everything or tried to. If the recording was from a performance, we worked at finding the best reading, the best interpretation and we listened for differences. Now, I listen less critically but music is folded into my life more, there when I work out, or drive someplace, or perhaps when working on digital files and making prints.

From the late 80's until about 2003 my darkroom was a separate room in the main lab at Northeastern where I taught. Most of those years I was working in 8 x 10 and the amount of labor required was positively ludicrous. I would print often on weekends, arriving early before the lab was opened by work study students or maybe a former student or volunteer. Behind my closed door, I would crank the music and as the day wore on students working in the gang darkrooms could hear me in there. I had a sign on the closed door to my darkroom that said, "If I am here, I am not available. If I am not here feel free to ask all the questions you like." Sometimes in class students would ask me what I had been listening to last weekend. One of my favorite students during those years was majoring in architecture and engineering. He was quite intense, brilliant,  and the son of a very highly regarded chemistry professor at school. I could always tell how our conversation was going to go as he began with the question, "What are you listening to, Neal?" If I answered with something light we could talk about inconsequential things, but if I answered something like Schoenberg or Messiaen I knew we were going to go deep.

Ah music. So important. For you too, I bet.

Topics: Commentary,Music

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2015

I Love Your Space

555 Gallery in Boston has gone dark for a week as they are busy installing work for the new show,  I love Your Space, which opens March 5. This will not be your  average show, defined as nice work hanging well spaced and framed on the walls of a gallery or museum. In fact, as I've learned, this show won't have anything on its walls at all.

Boston does have a reputation of being "traditional", "stodgy"and "conservative". But none of those will apply to a show you view by looking at a hand held mirror to see prints hanging from the ceiling. This show might even be a little scandalous (dare I say that?). And even my work will be viewed from above looking down as though from a plane at the landscape and water below:

seen here being installed by Susan Nalband, the gallery's owner and Keith Waters, brought in to help with carpentry.

I don't know that my work has ever been shown before as horizontal pictures parallel with the floor. How cool is that?

The opening is Saturday March 7 from 5-8 pm and please note: It is really time to get off our collective asses and get out! This winter has been too long and we've been hunkered down as if in a siege. It is time for us to reclaim our city by getting out and doing stuff. Susan, her husband Ed and helpers throw a great party for an opening. I guarantee a good time. When was the last time you saw art hanging from the ceiling? Seriously, how can you not go to this one?

Want more info?

 Go: Here

Topics: 555 Gallery,reception,Opening

Permalink | Posted February 25, 2015

New Orleans

Next week I load up the car and head off to New Orleans with a slight detour for a couple of nights in Spruce Pine, NC, where Penland School of Crafts is.

Road Trip! Can't wait.

I have rented a VRBO place in New Orleans for two weeks and will attend the SPE (Society for Photographic Education) national conference the middle of the month. I  am reviewing portfolios for a couple of days at the conference. After the rental is over I will head north up through Tennessee and Kentucky before heading home. 

I don't know much about New Orleans and am looking forward to exploring the area. I think it may be warmer (sic). Here in Boston it is going down to zero tonight.

I am looking forward to making new pictures. I will share as I move around the South.

I am hoping to see less of this:

I wonder if it will be all gone when I get back. I doubt it.

Topics: Road Trip

Permalink | Posted February 23, 2015

Do you have a plan?

Forgive me for asking, but do you have a plan? If I know my readers' demographic I predict you make pictures, aspire to make pictures or just plain love pictures. A few of you that read me might be former students. But really, do you have a plan? Why have I asked the same question three times already? Because you should. Doesn't matter: early career, late career. No difference. Not just in photo or making art, by the way. You should have a plan for your life. An objective, something you want to make happen before the lights go out. You know, aspire towards something? 

Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona 2013

Take your pictures, for instance. Want them shown? How do you go about getting them shown? And at what level. The one person show at the Met in NYC? Or the bar down the street? Want sales? Want a gallery to show you and represent you? How do you think that works? Want to publish your work? Want someone else to publish your work? How about a plan? I wonder if you're so caught up in the day to day part of your busy life that you don't dream that much. Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other seems like plenty for any given day. One day at a time. 

Let's stop here for an instant. I am not trying to be antagonistic or for this post to be a baiting tactic but this is what separates the amateur from the professional.  The pro makes his/her art as a discipline. The amateur fits it in there and waits for "inspiration". The pro usually doesn't wait for inspiration so much. The pro relies upon a constant output of creativity that is innate to his/her very being.

What do you do with a young creative genius or a child prodigy? You work them. You don't coddle them or treat them as special with their "gift". They learn discipline and focus and an "off the charts" work ethic. As an aside,  one of my early lessons  was in the late 70's when I started teaching at Harvard.  It didn't take long to figure out that most of my students were smarter than I was. Of course, I knew things they didn't. Over thirty years later in the years before before I retired from teaching, students were surprised at my accessibility and humility. It was because of those early years at Harvard and a lesson well learned. I think it's why I tried to treat students with respect throughout my career.

Back to having a plan. Beyond the immediate objective, beyond whatever is right around the corner, what's the idea? Where do you want to get to? Simple enough. Clarity is good. The plan could be to lounge at the beach in the Exumas for all I care but chances are it won't work out unless you make it an objective. 

Look. Art is hard. (I know I know: there are skeptics among you). It pulls from within and in order to sustain it the well must be deep. By about 24 years old I had found what it was that I would do. From then to now and beyond my job is to do what I do. My plan? It is to make work over all else. Yes there are and were things like a job, relationships, a kid, bills to pay, other career ladders to climb. But what ran constant was the work that I make. Still is.

What is your plan?

I wish you the very best with whatever your plan may be.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 19, 2015

Mt Auburn Cemetery 2014

This isn't the first time I've posted about pictures made in this wonderful cemetery in Cambridge, MA where I live. My first real set of pictures in the 8 x 10  format were made at Mt Auburn Cemetery in the mid 80's: I blogged about them here. Even before then I made pictures there one spring in 35mm infrared.

I still go back, of course, as it is  just a couple of miles from where I live and it is a kind of paradise, often for me a refuge from the storm of whatever is going on in my life; a meditative place. When I taught at Harvard I used to take classes there for field trips. 

But now, as I write this after our fourth snowstorm in a few weeks in Boston in February where it looks like this

I find myself thinking of spring, and color, and remembering when I went over to the cemetery in May last year on a warm afternoon, when the cemetery was redolent with the fragrance of blooming trees, to photograph. I hope these make your day a little better, a little lighter, and a little more colorful.

If you live in the northeast, you know first hand that this winter has been really hard, making just getting about difficult. It has distracted us from our daily routines, our work, our friends, our art and our motivation. And, it seems endless. As I write this the wind chill is about minus 20, I can hear the wind blowing today's snow around into drifts, there was a multi car car crash on Rt 128 in white out conditions and tomorrow it won't get out of the teens in bright sunlight. 

Take heart, my friends, spring will come. It will look like this and the air will smell sweet with blooming flowers. And it will be very very good.

Permalink | Posted February 16, 2015