Baldwinville, MA 2015

This is the second time we've shown work on the site by the young photographer Marc S. Meyer. Marc lives near Baltimore but photographs frequently in New England. To read more about him and his work go here.

Marc writes about the photographs:

I’d seen this abandoned building from the road earlier in the fall and marked it on the car’s GPS so I could return. I picked a day in early January where the cloud cover was heavy and there was snow in the forecast. When I arrived the air was still and electric with the coming storm. I worked for several hours in the cold, returning to the car to warm up and look over the pictures on the back of my camera that I’d just made. There wasn’t a soul in sight, only the occasional sound of a car going by on the two-lane road nearby.

The sky was important as it would serve as the drama needed for the pictures but I also wanted it to have visual weight. This was tripod work, as I would combine several frames of the same scene into one image later on in post processing.

Of course, no artist knows if he will be successful if an image or a few of his images will be seen as important in a larger context. One can only hope. But these few large photographs are intended to represent the first half of the equation or analogy, if you will. Man made structures decay if left on their own outdoors. Fact. This large warehouse made to take care of a region’s municipal needs outside the small town of Baldwinville is also a fact. But we seem to have no problem making something, using it and then discarding it when we no longer need it. We do it every week when we take out the trash.

As a large issue this building sitting empty and forlorn outside a small town in rural Massachusetts serves for me as an example of skewed priorities. Used and thrown away.
On a smaller issue and on a more personal scale, I have always found photography’s ability to beautify fascinating. I would doubt if “beauty” came up much when the architects and/or engineers were designing this building. But there it sits; empty, discarded, dismissed and beautiful.

This work is deceptively simple, almost minimal. The prints are large, at 30 x 24 inches and unusual in their depth and tonal range. 

Assigning such nobility to what is, in effect, a piece of junk is of course Marc's point.

But then he takes us inside the structure, almost as though we're headed into a tomb.

and ends with:

That's it. The series seems to end even though it just got started. No frills here. I've said this before but: get in, get it done and get out. That's what Marc did here and the reduction serves the overall purpose of the group of pictures: the force of their impact, their remarkable color palette, their emphasis on containing information both within and without the building.

Marc Meyer seems to be moving on from his rather straight representation of the small world of the Beach Club pictures to a more interpretive and subjectified manner of expression. It's as though he is using the warehouse building in these pictures as a springboard to reflect his changing views and perhaps, to flex his muscles. 

Does it work? Do you find these photographs compelling? Let us know at: Neal's Email

Marc's work is now available for viewing at 555 Gallery in Boston. The Beach Club portfolio and this one (Baldwinville, MA) are in the gallery's flat files. I urge you to take a look at the prints in these two portfolios as this is very strong work. A blog is a wonderful thing but used as a vehicle to look at art? It is is just perhaps the first step. Prints are king.

Topics: Color,Series,Marc S. Meyer

Permalink | Posted January 22, 2015

Profile: Christopher Payne

Christopher Payne is a documentary photographer who started out as an architect. His website describes him as, "specializing in the documentation of America's industrial architecture and landscape." 

Chris's work is currently on display at the Clarke Gallery in Lincoln, MA through January (along with 8 x 10 contact prints of nudes on the beach at Martha's Vineyard by Stephen DiRado). Gallery owner Dana Salvo has hung an impressive show of the work of these two first rate contemporary photographers. 

Chris lives in New York and is largely self taught. Working in various architeture firms as a younger man he knew that architectural photographers used large format cameras to correct for convergence and control the perspective on buildings photographed for their clients. He always liked to draw as a student and when traveling so he would sketch what interested him. As time went  on he found, however, that he needed to take snapshots too as the drawings took a long time to make. As time went on, he found himself wishing for better quality from his photographs. Like so many others, photography had begun its seduction and he began to learn to make real photographs of places that interested him.  This led him to his first real project

of subway power substations no longer in use in NYC. He works in the 4 x 5 inch format, shooting film that is then scanned and printed as large inject prints.

Chris has an uncanny ability to sense when a project is timely combined with strong interpersonal skills that help him gain permission to photograph these sites. In the Asylum work shown at Clarke Gallery, he is showing large predominantly color prints of closed state hospitals and asylums from all over the USA. The work is remarkable, lucid and clear, with Chris's respectful and reverential feelings coming through for some very beautiful places, long abandoned and for most of us, unknown. 

This last one is of cremation urns.

In another project of North Border Island in New York Chris gained exclusive access to what he describes as the  unique circumstance of an uninhabited island of ruins in the East River, a "secret in plain sight." Chris uses one project to build a case for obtaining permission to get in to the next. He does not trespass as so many others do, as he works with various bureaucracies, often showing them his books, to build an alliance with those in charge of these mostly abandoned structures.

North Border Island, NY

Lastly, Chris's updated site is very good: and quite deep with clear descriptions of his projects and even a little about how he's moved on. Feeling he didn't want to just photograph abandoned sites, he has been shooting in textile mills and small companies like Steinway. This work includes portraits of workers.

Chris's work? Impressive.

His show? Highly recommended. 

Clarke Gallery, Lincoln, MA... through January

Note: Christopher Payne's book "Asylum" is also available at the gallery.

Topics: Profile

Permalink | Posted January 19, 2015

About 2014

Skate Park, Santa Rosa, CA

So this blog is primarily about my work. There. I said it. Click and Clack the Good News Garage guys on NPR (although Tom is no longer with us) have a "Shameless Commerce" section of the show where they push their own stuff. I always think of that when I push my own stuff but this is important: Ever wonder what you would do as an artist if you had all the time you wanted, the wherewithal to go where you wanted and the ability to make all the work you wanted? Would this allow the floodgates of limitless creativity to open for you and would the world welcome this new output with open arms? Or would the well run dry? Below I share with you one person's account.

Read on dear reader, as I welcome you to my nightmare.

First of all, you could get complacent. Kick back, relax, put your feet up, languish on some tropical island and view the world through your Ray Bans. Although there certainly are times when I do just that, mostly I work.

2014 was a good year for making art as it turns out as I made a lot. Many of you know I retired  from teaching in 2012 and ever since have devoted most of my time to making pictures, with frequent travel to support the making of new pictures.

In 2014 I did this:

-Aerials, CA
-Before and After Aerials, CA
-Skate Parks, CA
-Tafoni, CA
-Function and Form, Wheat, WA
-Monsters, MA
-National Museum of Medicine and Health, MD
-Tom's Neck, Martha's Vineyard, MA
-South Woods Farm, Oak Bluffs, MA
-Connecticut River Trip NH/VT
-The Wall, Chelsea, MA
-Car Show, Martha's Vineyard, MA
-Waves, Martha's Vineyard, MA

In addition, as I spent a couple of weeks in Europe in the fall, there is work coming from there, but not yet finished.


Call me up, or contact 555 Gallery where I show my work, and ask to see any of these. They are printed and ready to look at. This means they are specific portfolios and range from 13 x 19 inch prints on up to 24 x 30's and larger.

What can I derive from all this work I make now that there is at least the perspective of looking back at it from early 2015? That there is good and bad news. To have this much work shot, made and finished is a good thing, definitely. It better be a good thing as I have worked long hours here. Work finished and sitting on a shelf means the freedom and ability to move on to new projects. I am proud of much of these photographs and my work has grown and deepened too over this past year.There is more written text that goes along with my work, not as an explainer so much but to set the emotional tone of the piece. I think this is the influence of writing this blog so often. I am more aware of writing in general too after co-teaching last spring at Penland with the author Chris Benfey. As a younger man I don't think I could formulate words to go with my work very well and there wasn't a vehicle for putting words out there the way there is now. With some exceptions I am working more symphonically, to use a musical analogy.  Therefore, I am making statements that are broader in scope, with analogies to things going on in the world, in the  environment, in art and with my own perceptions. I still have a sense of humor as I am not a total cynic. I still make smaller pieces too, shorter bodies of work that are of a place or a glimpse into something, not intended to be big and expansive.

The bad news is that this is simply too much from one person and too much for anyone to look at and to grasp, handle, curate or show, regardless of whether the work is good or not. Perhaps people need multiple visits to see it all. Good luck with that. Curators are busy people. This is an aside but BTW: This is years ago but a local curator made it his summer project to look at my work made over my career. Just about all of it. He was at the studio faithfully, a day a week, to look at photographs through the whole summer.  Even then there was too much work. At the end of the summer he had a good working knowledge of my work and was conversant on much of it.  One small problem. He died the following fall. I've always wondered if maybe I killed him. One idea is to put work into books... thin, modest, small books made on demand and designed to be available as a number of books, 30 or 40 maybe. We'll see.

Central Valley, CA

I had a museum curator to the gallery recently. She arrived at 11 am and left a little before 2.  She looked at work, we talked and had lunch. It was good. At the end she said, glassy eyed, "No, I'm fine. It really wasn't too much." Of  course it was. I was   tired of looking halfway through the time we had together and I made the freaking pictures! On the other hand, to her credit, this curator has looked at more work in the past few years than many throughout my career and she's still looking.  She's either a sucker for punishment or she sees something worth looking at. 

So, I say this with, believe me, all due humility, no inflated sense of self or ego. This is the way I work. It is not necessarily a good thing but people have to deal with it. An artist presumably wouldn't change his/her manner of working for the end game of sales off the gallery wall or the one person show at a prestigious museum. I have never made work with this kind of calculation. I have just made my pictures.

Part of the problem or good thing (depending on your view) is that I work in series. I   am a professional sequencer, shooting and editing my work to put pictures next to pictures.That makes for more pictures. So be it. Do I ever believe there are too many pictures in a given series? Oh yeah. Do I frequently go back in there and pull pictures out? No, I do not. For better or worse, series are usually done and finished when printed, sequenced and boxed. They are, for me, like a published book. Already printed.

Chelsea, MA

So, my friends, be careful what you wish for. Finally and perhaps more seriously, I would not change anything about my life right now; my work, my age, my income (well, more would be better. I could get the sports car I want and use it to go where I want to make, you guessed it... more pictures!), my relationships, my travels, my daily routines and rituals, all exist at a time when I still can do and am very actively doing.

Thanks for reading.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 13, 2015

What the ....?

I wrote this back in late September but never published it. Now, with it being 16 degrees out, windy and gray with a dusting of snow on the ground it seems like a good time to put a little summer color out there.

What if you had trained to be a painter? What if you were a colorist way back in your twenties when you were spray painting very large canvases with huge areas of solid colors? What if you then switched to photography and stayed with it through 30 years of  black and white prints you made in your darkroom? What if you then changed to the new world of digital printmaking and then a few years later to shooting with a digital camera?

You'd probably still be a colorist at heart, right? Maybe not always, but sometimes. 

Windsor Fair, Maine 2014

I know, there's something else going on in some of these besides color. They're a little scary and twisted, yes?

My brother-in-law Marc Harrison, who died of ALS years ago, always said he hated Disney cartoons and I agree. He claimed he'd been traumatized by watching them in movie theaters as a kid. Cartoons like Dumbo and Pinocchio, where parents are killed and a little kid has to fend for himself. I tend to agree.

Stay warm.

Topics: Maine,Northeast,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted January 11, 2015

Regarding Landscape: Armstrong & DiRado

A review coming out after a show is over? What use is that? Not much if you're relying upon the review to tell you whether or not to go see the show, but of value perhaps in order to consider larger issues. Issues that extend beyond the exhibition itself. That's the case here and I hope you'll follow along.

In discussion is the compact and concise "Regarding Landscape" show of large black and white prints from 8 x 10 inch negatives at The Gallery at Worcester State University this past fall. This was in every way a photographer's photography show, meaning that its concepts and precepts were all about making a point to Stephen DiRado's and Frank Armstrong's followers (and presumably, students) about just what happens when large prints are made and, in this case, large prints are made from 8 x 10 inch film negatives. Briefly stated: something exquisite. 

Of course, this wasn't anything new, nor did it presume to be.  Ansel Adams painstakingly made large prints from his negatives over fifty years ago the old fashioned way: with an enlarger, a very big sink, lots of chemistry and quite a bit of help. In his later years Aaron Siskind had prints made by Palm Press (aka: Gus Kayafas), large prints of his famous rock wall pictures on commission. Now, of course, most large prints are ink jets from large negatives made from scanned negatives and Stephen's and Frank's in the  show were made this way. So technology has moved process ahead some. But they each took care to make sure that the prints, at about 5 feet across, were faithful to photography itself, not looking like they were some digital translation of an analog process. The prints in the show were beautiful; luminous and tonally smooth. No grit, no pixelation or crunchy over-sharpened tonal scales. Just clean and true transparency, for this is the true asset that the large negative gives, the content portrayed with little interjection of process and no contrivance.

Big work means fewer prints in a show, of course, and there weren't many there. But no matter, for the ones that were on view were magnificent.  Showing Frank Armstrong and Stephen DiRado together,  colleagues and friends at Clarke University, allowed us to see their similarities and differences as their aesthetic derives from a different place. Frank's pictures live in a world of fine control, his photographs are purely seen and ordered, his sense of design, placement and light are consummate and refined.

This one above about as beautiful as anything I have ever seen in a photograph. It is almost nothing: some posts in the ground, some sky and a little bit of mountains in the background. I think I know what Armstrong was thinking at the time he made this. I believe his motivation was to celebrate that this scene in front of his camera was so incredible in the light flooding down on it and in the sky that Frank felt that was all that was needed. After all, with photography the light we use has to fall on something. In this case he reduced it way down to almost nothing.

Wheras DiRado's scenes from Aquinnah Beach on Martha's Vineyard are harder to nail down, at least for me. Equally magnificent in their rendering, these photographs place naked beach goers in this other worldly glow of the clay cliffs, some languishing in the sun and others posed, holding still for the big camera's shutter to freeze them in time. 

DiRado is somehow less formal in his approach. There is still critical placement here but edges aren't everything for him; his subject is the portrait, the huge (literally!) comparison of flesh and human form up against ages old clay and sand and sea. His are both modern pictures but also timeles, enigmatic in their juxtaposition of classic 8 x 10 material rendered impeccably with present day subjects heading off after a day at the beach in their Audi or Volvo to fix dinner for guests arriving  from Manhattan for the weekend.

This show was a wonderful way to advance the efficacy of combined process in history: using film with a traditional camera as old as photography itself, a digital scanner which is the device that first brought us into digital photography and the spraying of ink on a roll of paper that is current practice and cutting edge to make these prints.

Finally, the bigger issue is, yes, bigger prints. The 8 x 10 inch contact printed (of which there were several in the show placed for comparison) can be a glorious thing. No quality lost in translation or enlargement, all the tones and richness rendered 1:1. Traditionally, enlargement diminishes quality. But take that big negative and enlarge it just a few times to get to that 5 foot print and you have something to behold. This show did that and revelled in it.

We are all seeing larger work these days as photography is welcomed into the arms of all visual art forms. But we are also seeing work printed too large by artists that are either inexperienced or don't know just how good some large work can be. Frank Armstrong and Stephen DiRado set the bar for large work with this show. Awesome things happen when you stand in front of one of their large prints. You are enveloped into its space, surrounded by the image in front of you, but also it  consumes your peripheral space as well. If you are a photographer, tread lightly here. Watch out for "bigger is better" as it isn't always true. DiRado and Amstrong are two of those that have done this so very well. Maybe it is "bigger is better when done right". Professors Frank Armstrong and Stephen DiRado know exactly what it takes to make work this big this good.

I saw Frank at an opening after his show came down and he told me he'd never seen his work enlarged before. Can you imagine what that was like for him? Lifelong dream fulfilled.

What a pleasure, Stephen and Frank. Thank you so very much.

Note: Want to see some of these prints? Well, after a show comes down, most often what happens is the prints go back to the artist's studio or workplace. Stephen has work up now at Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA and Frank shows at Panopticon Gallery in Boston. Were this my work and the show over and it was now back home I would make the effort to show it to anyone that expressed an interest. I bet they would too.Track the work down, it shouldn't be hard. And know this: it will be worth it.

Permalink | Posted January 9, 2015