The Bermuda Portfolio

A while back I told a story about making a limited edition portfolio called the Bermuda Portfolio. This was where the guy that backed the project with the name of Steve Rose skipped town in a metaphoric hail of bullets with his creditors chasing after him.  This was in 1982 and the post is here.

At the end of the post I said I would show you the portfolio. Well, here it is.

A 20 x 24 inch custom white box

with twelve mounted and overmatted signed prints

that are printed on 16 x 20 inch Ilford Galerie paper that I archivally processed  and toned with a system I developed that combined a couple of different proprietary formulas. The work was shot in 120 mm square and combined conventional black and white (panchromatic) and infrared emulsions.

Originally there were twelve of these, there is just one now, although I do have extra unmounted prints. 

The full twelve from the portfolio are here on the site. These were the end result of several trips to Bermuda to photograph. The work's intent? If I remember this right, my efforts back then look a little like someone trying to establish himself as someone who makes beautiful photographs. This isn't necessarily a criticism of my past self as much as it is an acknowledgment of our different stages as we work through our careers. Different era, different sensibilities.

I just posted the full portfolio on the website. Take a look: here.

Permalink | Posted August 21, 2016

Save the Date

On Thursday  September 22 from 4-7 pm David Bram of Fraction Magazine and I will be presenting our thoughts about our websites, blogs, etc at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA.  Should be good. Hope to see you there.

Permalink | Posted August 20, 2016

The Mystique

I don't know if I can adequately describe the mystique of the 8 x 10 view camera and the photographs it produced  in an earlier time when digital didn't yet existt. First of all many masters worked with it: Weston, Adams, Bullock, Avedon, Penn, Sommers, Callahan, Siskind, Abbot,Newman, Atget, Evans, Strand. Some still do: Linda Connor, Emmet Gowin, Jim Dow, Nick Nixon, Stephen Shore, Sally Mann, Stephen DiRado, Frank Armstrong, Bruce Myren, among others.

Deardorff 8 x 10

Most photographers working today have no idea. To them it was just an old style big camera. But the sheer difficulty of using it and the quality it was capable of raised it in my estimation to the top tier of all that was photography, an essential and fundamental tool that could be paired with legendary and extraordinary lenses to make photographs that were unsurpassed.

The camera itself was big and bulky, always needing a tripod, was almost impossible in the wind, prone to light leaks, needed to be well protected due to its fragile bellows and needed to be kept clean and as dust free as possible.

The format had the potential for unbelievable levels of technical quality; huge amounts of information rendered on a large negative that could convey things with such fidelity there was more there than what you saw when you were there. Prints made from it were to be studied, savored for their richness, tonal range, luminosity, clarity and sharpness. In short, there was nothing like it.

If you were an 8 x 10 photographer you were something quite different than others. You had a studied, more contemplative way of making pictures, you were working with a device that was not only a camera but a discipline that required you to work more precisely, analyzing and keenly observing the world with a vision that was acute and concise, attributing large importance to things small and subtle.

The Toyo 8 x 10 Field Camera

While the potential to get quality was always there, the actuality is that it was exceedingly difficult to master the format. Real study was required. Discipline and heavy duty working habits were also needed. Things like cleanliness, a dust free environment, procedure, an anal retentiveness to taking notes and recording conditions, working to establish and refine methodology to get the best exposures, the best developed negatives, the best prints, researching emulsions and papers, chemistry and toners, trying different processes and researching what others in positions of authority were doing. All of this was required to tap the format's potential. Add to this countless hours in the darkroom to massage fine prints from recalcitrant negatives, to realize the negative to its fullest potential, to work intuitively and intellectually to make prints that were expressive and also as close to perfection as possible. You could not just dabble or play in the format, plunge in and work with it as you would with a Leica or a Nikon, pick it up, take a few pictures and put it down again. This was serious stuff, and those that made real commitments to 8 x10 would spend years perfecting their methods.

I worked in 8 x 10 for over twenty years. Many of the pictures I made during that time lie at the foundation of the work I've made over my career. But there is no way I can show you any of those photographs unless I scan them and then work those files to bring them to you here on my site. In present day practice, I make prints with an inkjet printer to exhibit or for purchase.  The prints are then made into a portfolio or framed for exhibition. This is what I've been doing, hiring an assistant last year who I trained who does most of the scans and "cleans" the negatives, using the cloning tool in Photoshop to eliminate dust and small scratches. I then work the files to make the images into prints that are as good as or better than what I could make in the old days in the darkroom. Simply stated, the image rendering tools we have now, the ability we have to do things to the image in precise ways is far more and better than in darkroom analog days. I can make better prints now from scanned negatives than I could using an enlarger and light sensitive papers developed in chemistry then. 

As time marches on and the medium of photography has advanced into astounding levels of digital quality with cameras that are small and hand held, fast, smart and reliable, and that are attached to newer lenses of exceptional speed and versatility, photography's past of the view camera is slipping away into relative obscurity.   A few practitioners hang on, using the materials and tools from another century and they have my respect, for there is no dispute that the results are beautiful. 

My career began in the early 70's when there was no such thing as "digital" and analog technology was fairly mature in terms of having tools that were highly evolved within a longstanding tradition of emulsion based output.. Now we have a medium effectively transformed and revolutionized into something vastly more complex while capable of truly astounding levels of fidelity and quality.

Over twenty years of working in 8 x 10 now serve as the foundation of my aesthetic and qualitative perspective in the present day.  It is through that lens that I work and look at others' work today.  I remember in early digital days when I was still shooting in 8 x 10. I had this dream. The dream was that someday there might be a camera, small and hand held, that could render my photographs with as good quality as the 8 x 10, that would allow big prints with fine detail, no noise and great sharpness, great color gamut, excellent color rendition,  a wide dynamic range, a deep D Max and even archival qualities and excellent permanence. That there would be all this from a camera I could hold in my hand seemed like some science fiction, just a dream.

Where do you think we are today?

Permalink | Posted August 17, 2016


In September I will have two of my photographs included in a large lot of photographs available for sale in an auction by Skinner Auctioneers in Boston.

This one, called "Sockanossett School for Boys, Cranston, RI" made in 2003 and  this:

called "Opening Day" made the day the Zakim Bridge opened to traffic in Boston in 2002

The top one is about 60 inches across and the bottom about 30 inches. 

Interested in bidding on these? Contact Skinner at: Skinner Auctioneers

Topics: auction,for sale

Permalink | Posted August 13, 2016

GRAVEL by Marc S. Meyer

(Note to readers: I  have written the following short story about a fictional character named Marc S. Meyer. He simply does not exist. The new photographs do exist and were made by me over the past month or so. Why all this subterfuge? Think of this as an author who writes under a pseudonym. I call this "Photo Fiction" and it allows me to get into the head of a different character and to photograph with a different emphasis. The other two portfolios of Marc's do exist as do the corresponding blogs about the work  and are viewable on the gallery page of the site, listed under Marc S. Meyer.  This is the first time I've come clean with who Marc really is, or isn't. As there are now many more readers of this blog it seemed  disingenuous to continue the pretense. I have just added the pictures to the website and they are here. Needless to say, I am very interested in your reaction to all this. Please feel free to respond at Neal's email)

Marc S. Meyer

I’ve written before about Marc S. Meyer, the young photographer who made the portfolios Beach Club and Baldwinville.

We haven’t heard much from Marc for a couple of years and since I am serving  as his spokesperson for his work I wanted to bring you readers up to date. If you remember, I agreed to take on his work within my site as a way to promote it and allow larger numbers of people to see it. One of the reasons Marc is as private as he is, is that he has a condition that tends to keep him out of the public’s eye. Marc has given his approval for bringing you into this a little as it is important in the context of understanding his work. Just suffice it to be known that part of his condition has a physical manifestation and therefore his privacy is of a large concern to him.

Marc’s condition is also a progressive ailment in that as time moves on he will decline and eventually he will die from it. Despite this we’ve seen the quality of Marc’s work and know his intelligence, drive and devotion. But also, considering the limitation imposed on him by his disease, he has been working to make a body of photographs that is the culmination of his oeuvre, as he knows time is running out for him. In the past couple of years Marc has been very sick a few times so his future is unknown.

In brief, this may be the last complete body of work we will get from Marc S. Meyer.

Let me see if I can accurately characterize Marc’s intentions with this new work. It is fascinating to learn his thinking behind his process. He wanted to work within his discipline of photography to minimize and partially deny content to allow his intent to come through. Obviously, these are emotionally charged pictures but they are made without so much as a hint of emphasis prescribed to the actual subject. He has always been a proponent of the thinking that goes, “What if I…?”, that innate curiosity that makes his pictures so compelling. 

Marc tends to think of the world out there as a canvas in which to make his photographs. Not exactly a blank canvas, but adaptable to what he wants to say, malleable and formable to his intent.

Marc understands that to be a subtle and quiet revolutionary is never easy.

There's really no other way to say this than to lay it out: Marc chose a gravel pit across the way from a new Market Basket supermarket in Athol, MA as his subject. Nothing could be more enigmatic or better. Gravel, dirt, sky and perhaps a little of the surrounding hills in the background. That’s it. The photographs are beautiful, and we expect this from Marc, but they are also empty and carry minimalism to its logical conclusion, while staying firmly within realty-based practice. Is this Marc dealing with the void left after he dies?

Or is this Marc taking us someplace else, perhaps reaching farther than the mundane nature of shopping for food or looking at a gravel pit? No answers are given. But we are forced to place this work in the context of his other photographs, which in review now take on a larger significance, these empty and abandoned places. The new pictures, made in summer on sunny bright days with deep blue skies seem counter to the earlier work but in this context they take on something more sinister.

Marc gave his permission for me to ask his wife, Theresa, for an interview as they are very close, almost collaborators on his projects. I met Theresa for coffee one morning in rural Maryland where the couple lives with their 4 year old boy, Jonah, who was in day care at the time. Theresa is a significant force on her own, trained as a research biologist with a PhD in molecular biological functions from UC Berkeley.

Theresa is clearly very much in love with her husband and it became apparent as we talked that she was as committed to this project as he was. I asked her how it all started. Marc had followed the story about the Market Basket company a few years earlier, a Massachusetts based supermarket chain that was involved in a hostile takeover by one family member over another. This was the case of the Demoulas family, with the company employees striking to disallow the change over as they were loyal to the original owner. It is a case now studied at the Harvard Business School as it bucks present day trends. The company is back in good health with its original owner. In fact, it is expanding. Hence this new store in Athol, a small town a little over an hour west of Boston.

Theresa told me that this turned out to be a perfect site for Mark as he wanted the resonance of the back story of the attempted takeover of the Market Basket to inhabit the pictures he made. Initially he photographed the site under construction, to directly confront both the company’s issues and his own. After obtaining permission to photograph the complex under construction (the company was very helpful in this regard) Marc grew increasingly concerned that this was not the right approach. Remember, he was driving back and forth from Maryland to make these pictures. 

Each trip he would think about what he was about to do and on the return what he had just done. 

The project wasn’t going well and, remember, his health was a constant player in these trips he would take. Theresa said he had a breakthrough one trip. Construction  crews started to clear a site across the way from the supermarket which was almost finished. Graders and loaders were at work to first clear the land but then massive amounts of gravel were being trucked in. The crews were building, what looked like to Marc, mountains of gravel, piles of different types, some almost black, some almost white. He started to photograph them right away.

Theresa remembers that time well as Marc was re-energized, excited to be heading back to photograph every couple of weeks, shocked to see a mountain disappear on one trip only to be replaced by another made of a different kind of gravel. He told her one night laying in bed that he felt he’d found it, he’d arrived at some place in his work that would allow him to share his perception of the actual world and conveying in his pictures something other worldly as well. This, he felt, was what he’d been after all along, to take the inane and ordinary and imbue it with meaning, both personal but also universal.

With thanks to Theresa for talking to me, when I got back home, I next drove out to the site to see what this was all about. As you might predict, what I saw was mounds of gravel in an empty lot. No magic, no universal truth, only gravel, green trees and blue sky. Nada. To think that Marc S. Meyer could get meaning, beauty, substance and universality out of these mounds of rock is just unbelievable to me.

How can you charge or load photographs? Can you build or imbue your pictures with a back story or some context so that they will matter? How do pictures made by a very ill artist of some gravel in a parking lot across the street from a new supermarket in rural Massachusetts make any sense? Is it the nature or the outright enigma that conveys something? Or is it all so anachronistic as to be meaningless?

Of course, the simple answer is that it all needs to be in the pictures, that the true art in Marc’s approach needs to lean little on the conditions around the making of his pictures. Wouldn’t Marc’s inherent abilities suffice?

On the other hand, one thing’s for sure. If you read what I’ve written carefully and retain the story in your mind, then go to the pictures to see what they look like, you are altered in your perception, biased in fact, by what you’ve read. Is that what Marc’s doing here?

I can’t answer all these questions for you but I can urge you to look at the work, to see if you can align his thinking with your reaction. 

Personally, I find the pictures very powerful, as though all that weight of that rock mined from the earth and crushed into gravel makes some kind of bond in an allegory to the weight of Marc’s physical condition bearing down on him. 

Add in some tangent about of a story of a supermarket chain’s failed takeover and you have a rich stew of precepts carried into the work, visually pure and minimal pictures about as close to the core of Marc S. Meyer as anything he has done or will ever do.

Neal Rantoul

July 2016

* The Beach Club, Baldwinville and now the Gravel pictures exist as separate printed portfolios and can be seen at 555 Gallery in Boston. Please call Susan Nalband, the gallery’s owner, for an appointment to see these works.

My blog posts about Marc’s work and a brief biography arte here:

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted August 9, 2016