Three Amigos 1

Last month we had our first of 3 Three Amigos parties this winter at my studio in Allston, MA. If you've read this blog for awhile you might remember we are: Fred Sway, John Rizzo and me. We had two Three Amigos exhibitions a few years ago; one in Harvard, MA and another the following year at the New England School of Photography Gallery in Boston. 

Our recent evening was to gather friends and family for a winter supper of chili and cornbread with a glass of wine to look at work we'd hung that displayed each of our photographs and then to highlight the work of one of us. This one featured Fred Sway's work.

These above are recent works  from a show Fred had at the Brookline (MA) Library in the fall of 2016.

After an hour or so of talking and socializing we quieted the group of about 25 and Fred showed some work from another series at the big table in the center of the studio.

Fred is retired now but very active photographically. He comes from a background of doing his gradate work with Aaron Siskind at the Institute of Design in Chicago, was a teacher for many years and was the director at the New England School of Photography in the mid 70's and 80's. From there he was head of Boston University's Photo Services until he retired in 2008.

We had guests from all over. Many were friends or family that weren't in the photo community. Didn't matter. Some of the best questions Fred got were from people who didn't know photography that well. Fred enjoyed himself and the guests did too.

This was a wonderful evening and a great way to share work with people in a personal and informal way. People really enjoyed their time with each other, looking at Fred's pictures, having something good to eat (and drink) and getting a break from the stress of our new president's first weeks in office.

Finally, I think this is a perfect way to look at art. Personal, easy, informal and amongst friends and colleagues. Our Three Amigos party might serve as a model for you in your community. Hope so.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2017

PRINTING


This one's going out to those of you that print your own photographs. There may be information in here that might help you if you send your files out to be printed by someone else, but principally this post will be for photographers that make their own inkjet prints.

It seems few make their own prints anymore, that printing has been relegated to a non-creative process, to a "technician" to translate the original files into a two dimensional representation on a piece of paper. But if you're an artist doesn't this seem a little bit skewed? It does to me.

As a career teacher I get that people struggle a great deal with making good prints. It can be very challenging. In darkroom days it often took students a whole semester to learn how to make a good print. But it doesn't have to be such agony. Let's start with the tools you are working with.

A reasonably capable computer is good, one that can handle your multiple files and that either has enough internal storage or enough external storage in RAIDS or  hard drives not to get bogged down. I am an advocate of keeping up to date, within reason, on Operating Systems and updated firmware as to fall behind means you might get locked out of some applications. Knowing Photoshop and your file management system, usually Lightroom these days, is also a prerequisite.Take a class if necessary to become skilled in these.

Your choice of printer probably means less than you think. Of course, maximum print size is the primary issue. How big do you need to print? Several of my  friends don't print large, usually.  For that special situation when they need something larger, they go to a lab or a friend who has a big printer. For most that makes sense as big prints are a pain; hard to handle, difficult to look at unless tacked up or framed, expensive and difficult to store. Don't get me started as I make many large prints. On the other hand a 5 or 6 foot print can be simply breathtaking if the quality is high.Whatever printer you are using should not have clogged nozzles, not have a terminal disease, and be clean and not destroying the paper you run through it. It does not have to be the newest one out there as long as it is healthy. Finally, the paper you choose is a topic for a whole workshop, let alone a short blog but suffice it to say that almost any paper is capable of making an excellent print. Also, you do get what you pay for with papers. If demand is high for a breakdown of papers I can go into this in a new post. Let me know.

Your workflow needs to be fluid and known. Work out a logical system for your- self. It is important that you be somewhat systematic. Can you get back to the file at a later time? Is your filing system understandable and organized? I make RTP files that sit in the project's folder. RTP means Ready to Print and this means the files in that folder are color corrected, sized, sharpened, cleaned if necessary and  ready to be sent to the printer.

Monitors and calibration. The quality (and size) of your display is another  important part of the equipment you use to make prints. I used Eizo's for years but have two different ones that I use now. My primary monitor is a Sharp PN-K321 which is 32 inches and very good. When on the road I usually bring a  Apple Thunderbolt large display that I use with a Mac laptop computer. This is a  reasonably good display and a lot cheaper as well. There is a great deal written about calibration and I am a believer, particularly when setting up a new monitor. Flat panel displays drift far less than older monitors but still they do age. 

Also, be aware of the light in the room where you work. It  shouldn't be too light or too dark. Also be careful to provide a viewing light to evaluate your prints. This should be close to daylight, not too warm(yellow) or too cold (blue).

Finally, to one of my main points: Closed Loop System(CLS). What's this?

A CLS of your own is self contained and holds few variables. CLS is your system taken as a whole, familiar and predictable, because you don't impose something new to it, at least not very often. Take your RTP file to someone else to print and you are now in an Open Loop System (OLS), meaning you are interjecting unknowns into your final results. CLS uses components that are yours, that you've debugged, calibrated and worked with over time. This makes problem solving easier and often results in superior prints. However, CLS means you are responsible for it all, including stocking the inks and papers needed. I went into this a little in my blog on Bob Korn Imaging (here). Part of Bob's expertise is his knowing how to get a great print from your file. Send your file off to someplace you don't know and can't speak with and who knows what will happen to your photograph. Clearly I am not a big fan of distant large printing companies with anonymous operators.  Buy local here if you don't make your own. 

ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles. Important? Yes. Don't know what these are? These are used to key your printer to the  kind of paper you are using. This isn't hard. Do the research and use them as they will affect your prints.

What else? Be patient. Great printing takes time to learn. Define your work as if you were a student, learning from your mistakes. You need to teach your eye/brain combination just what a really good print looks like. Look at lots of prints, judge them critically. Common mistakes: weird and overworked files that are oversaturated for impact and over sharpened because people think more is better. Take a class, a weekend workshop or a day long immersion into printing. But make sure the person teaching it knows what they are doing. Don't follow a false prophet. Be prepared to blow some materials in your pursuit for perfection. Do good printers make the best print the first time?  Hardly. For me, I am always trying to do that, for my first print to be magnificent. But it seldom happens. Same was true in the darkroom. No differents now that I make my prints with a computer and an inkjet printer. 

Look, good printing is a skill. It takes real ability to make a good print from such a wide array of hardware and software, a massive amount and yes's or no's or on's or off's in this digital world that it is a wonder we can get the results we do. So, it is a science. But it also is an art, needing great sympathy and empathy for the original intent to come to fruition, a sensitive person that interprets and uses the tools that are available to mold, meld and make a print that is evocative and expressive. Who knows that better than the person clicking the shutter in the first place? Committed to your work? Then show that commitment by getting serious about your prints. Even if you don't make prints yourself, knowing printing informs you as to what is needed from the person you choose to make your prints. 

Making beautiful prints of your imagery? Lost art? Doesn't have to be. 

Topics: Printing theory,Printing,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 15, 2017

Hershey Again

I know, here I am pushing the new book Hershey, PA again. But bear with me, as I have a reason behind this. BTW: It is printed, it is available and it is very very good. You should get one.

It is for sale at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, MA and also at 555 Gallery in Boston and through me by emailing me at: Neal's Email

This is a very important series in my career and the second of twelve books we are printing that showcase my series works in black and white that I made from 1981-2005. These are elegant small books, 7 inches square and are signed and numbered. They are $25 each plus shipping.

So, now that I have covered the necessaries, let me explain what I believe to be a new business model that is brilliant. Yes, I thought of it myself and no I am not a business person. I am an artist. But how can I put out these books, which I think are important, and not lose my shirt in the process? Print books, sell them and use those funds to print the next one, book after book. Yes, you need some up front funds,  but once the seed money is there, if you are successful in selling the books, you can perpetuate the run of all twelve by turning the funds made into printing the next book.

Let me give you some specifics. As a trial we printed 25 of the first book called Oakesdale, WA.

Big run, right? It sold out quickly, not surprising as we printed only 25 of them. It cost $715 to print using Blurb (an on-demand printer) and we made $625 in sales. Okay, a loss. But with Blurb  if you print more, over 50, you get a 25% discount. So, learning from my loss in the first one, we have now printed 50 of the Hershey book. 

Let me step aside here and address the issue of print quality. I have been making books now for a very long time and have made both traditional offset printing press books and many on demand books with many printers, (Apple, My Publisher, Blurb, Mag Cloud,etc). On-demand books have now reached a quality level that is very high.You have to keep the publisher's nose to the grindstone, however, in that sometimes a press run will come through too dark or the colors not right. You need to send them very good files and follow through to make sure they get it right. No one wants to reprint a whole run of books but occasionally they will need to do this. It is up to you to make this happen.

Is this a model for huge profit? Not so much. Is it an effective way to print several books, one after the other, as a way to get work out to a larger audience? Yes. Is it brilliant? Well, I might be a little biased but I will leave that decision up to you.

Downsides and drawbacks? Yes, Blurb's printing cycle takes two weeks and sometimes longer so there is no quick turnaround. Right now we are printing one or two first to see the book as a proof before committing to a bigger run. This is essential, at least in my case. Each time we do this we catch mistakes in the first run that we can then correct before printing many copies. Add another two weeks or so. Blurb's shipping costs are very high, I believe as a way to make more. And finally, they package poorly, sending the books in cardboard that barely makes it to its destination.

Finally, we now have a design "template" that we can plug the photographs into. This streamlines the design process and makes the design coherent through the run of the twelve books we plan. 

In conclusion, here I am blogging away, revealing all my secrets and my business acumen. Yeah, right. At any rate, my hope is that this might spur you on to use the idea for your own photographs you want made into books. Lastly, we are starting to work with a local printer to see if we can get the same high quality we had with Blurb but for less cost. Trying to buy local. Stay tuned.

Topics: Books,Black and White,vintage,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2017

What's Coming

What's coming up in the next few months:

The show at 555 Gallery in Boston called " Pairings" continues. For more information go here

I am honored to have several of my pieces in the show. If you never got to see any of my work from Iceland made in 2013 this is a good opportunity as two of the large photographs called " Rock" are on view:

The gallery also has the full "Rock" portfolio in  their flat files. Just ask to see the work.

On April 6 a new show at the Boston Athenaeum will open that will highlight works from recent acquisitions called: Works on Paper. It is open from April 6-September 3, 2017. Several years ago the museum purchased my series of "Peddocks Island"  for their collection. The show will feature some of those photographs. For more information go here.

©Neal Rantoul 2005

                                                            • • •

On April 13 I will speak on my photography for the Griffin Museum in Winchester. This lecture comes from a talk I gave for the Westchester Photographic Society in December called "Series Work". Here is the description:

As photographers we all work in series in some form or another. After all, assembling a group of pictures into a portfolio from a trip or that have the same subject can be called a series. But to turn series work into something meaningful and a significant art form takes a different approach. One of Neal Rantoul’s characteristics as a career artist is to take the everyday and raise it to a far higher level. He has worked serially his whole career, forming narratives that deepen the meaning of his photographs and extend our understanding of a place, a circumstance or a mindset. In this lecture and visual presentation, Rantoul will share several of his own series as clarification of the larger issue
of just how we can elevate our photographs from the mundane to the sublime.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have been making photographs in series since 1981. I am looking forward to sharing this way of working and hope you join me at the Griffin for what will be a special evening.

Here is the link:  http://griffinmuseum.org/event/neal-rantoul-series-work/

Topics: lecture,Presentation

Permalink | Posted February 2, 2017

Having Prints Made

Three things:

1) Diving into printing your own digital photographs isn't for the feint of heart.  It is intimidating, alienating, infuriating, expensive and massively time consuming. The learning curve is steep and the road to making beautiful prints is long. I know. I have made my own prints since 1969 until 2003 in the darkroom and using inkjet printers since. I print all my own work.

2) Making really first rate prints that evoke the depth of your photography, the wealth of feeling and the sheer uniqueness of your photographic circumstances takes great skill. Furthermore, if you choose to have someone else take on the task of making your prints, it takes someone who's invested with you in seeking out the depth of your best imagery. 

3) These days many don't know what a truly excellent print is and certainly don't know how to make a one. Often these are skills acquired over many years of work making prints. Good printing is an art and it takes an expert to make a superb print. Marrying art, technique and technology, a good printer also relies on communication skills to work with the photographer to determine what is needed.

Many photographers choose not to undergo the frustrations of making their own prints.  Because they are too busy, prefer to be out shooting, don't want to be sitting in front of a computer editing day after day, handle and order paper and ink, store materials, swap out ink cartridges, head clean, swap out the maintenance tank, check head alignment, or deal with a real uh oh moment: "some nozzles are clogged"on a printer's display. Furthermore, photo inkjet printers are big and heavy machines, often requiring floor space and a stand to hold them, to say nothing of how expensive they are. OMG! What a hassle. You can see where taking your files to someone else to print could be the solution. But where you go has a tremendous effect on the quality of the prints. Addto this that anyone you hire to print your work is involved in an interpretive process. He/she is intuiting what they think you want your prints to look like. What if you don't know? 

One of the solutions may be to work collaboratively with a printer to interpret together how the prints should look.

In my eastern Massachusetts area there are numerous really good labs that print for photographers. But there is one on the Cape in Orleans, Bob Korn Imaging, that is perhaps unique.

This picture of Bob's workspace shows us present day printing requirements, including a calibrated display, a couple of scanners, a 44 inch Epson inkjet printer  and, in homage to earlier days, his 8 x 10 enlarger, no longer used.

Long time color printer Bob Korn becomes your printing teacher, mentor and  collaborator when you ask him to print for you. Your work needs to be printed as technically flawless photographs but you also want your prints to be expressive, reflecting the subtleties and nuance of your intention. Bob knows this. As a master printer he has been printing for people his whole career and has printed for many of the greats over the years. 

Since Bob no longer prints conventionally and his shop is all digital he's reworked his space to be part lab and part gallery. He is now showing some seriously top people with prints he's made. This serves to validate his printing, never a bad thing, but also raises the bar for anyone looking to have first rate prints made by Bob.

There is a long tradition of artists working with and collaborating with skilled craftsmen to realize their art. Photography is no exception. Bob is a warm, bright and extremely knowledgeable man who has dedicated his life to making consummate prints for his clients.  Highly recommended.


Bob@bobkornimaging.com

508-255-5202

Topics: Commentary,Endorsement

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2017