Now that I am home after my second hip replacement surgery and all is well it gives me great pleasure to announce I will be teaching a class in Creative Practice for the Griffin Museum of Photography that starts in March.

The full description and instructions for signing up are: here

Please feel free to email me if you have questions: here

Class starts March 30 and runs through June 8.

Topics: teaching,class

Permalink | Posted February 10, 2016


People work in different ways, of course. Maybe you want to be off on your own, free with your thoughts and concentrating on what it is that you are working on. Or perhaps you want it all going on around you, noise and traffic and people everywhere. 

If you're a photographer, part of the effort can be to be free from everything, as in a nature photographer working on the east slope of the Sierras after hiking for two days. Or, say you like the idea of shooting on the street in a press of bodies at Rockefeller Center in mid Manhattan on a weekend afternoon before Christmas.

Part of photography's appeal is its incredibly diverse circumstances in how we use it. From pictures of calving  glaciers on one-in-a-lifetime cruise to Alaska to the family portrait at Thanksgiving dinner, it spans such a wide array of intentions, purposes and final results.

For our purposes let's refine this down to a discussion of the pictures we make as art (a very broad definition on its own).  And let's assume we are going out into the world to make those pictures. What comes to mind is the word "intention", at least it does to me.

Photograph by my friend Gail Hill. Used with permission.

By that I mean going out to photograph with something in mind, be it a concept, or a place, or to acquire images to use in some way later, either in a darkroom or with a computer and inkjet printer.

With Gail's picture she used her husband Hal as a model, specified the long coat and the umbrella. Intention.

"What is your intention?" The teacher asks the student. "To go photograph" the student answers. "To photograph what?" the teacher asks and the student replies with "whatever". Feigned apathy in the face of a challenge to step up and take the initiative. I always felt if I could just get them out there, looking through their camera, that some kind of magic would happen. Often it did.

Isolation plays a big part here. Do you seek it or is it something unproductive in making art for you?  

I play both sides, liking the chaos that crowds or busy places make but also liking the serenity of working alone by myself. I do find myself looking from the outside inwards. This is classic photographer /artist territory, of course. We are often "observers" standing on the perimeter looking in. Introverts. Where are you at the wedding reception? Mostly watching them all out there on the dance floor making fools of themselves or are you right in the middle having the time of your life? 

Those newer to photography tend to make generic pictures. The key to more specificity, at least initially, is intention. Photograph some thing, I used to tell my students. So easy to say yet so hard to do.

I recently heard the photographer Lee Friedlander say that when he is out photographing he wants no project in mind. He just wants to see. Later, he might find a theme by looking through the hundreds or thousands of pictures he's made but at least initially, he isn't thinking about outcome, just seeing. There's a purity to that statement that I like. But we must also recognize who made it, an artist so tuned and so practiced in the highest possible form of seeing that it leaves those of us  struggling to make a good picture far behind in his wake.

For the time being, I'll stick with intention. This means having an idea, a concept, a precept, an inkling, a presupposition, a loosely defined aesthetic, a structure, a foundation, even a guess at what I am going after. I'll give in to the idea that this could get formed in process, on location, as it has happened to me before... take a look at Yountville on the, but you've got to have something going on in that head of yours besides "that's pretty", "I like it"or, "maybe that will turn out to be a good one." Intro photo students were perfectly capable of giving me 20 or 40 frames of completely mindless dribble. How could no investment going in possibly create anything good coming out? It couldn't and it didn't. I was known as the professor that made students cry. It wasn't by design but it happened. 


Topics: Commentary,Intention

Permalink | Posted January 22, 2016

Big Changes

Since recovering from my hip surgery back in November I have begun to work with a mirrorless camera: the Sony A7R Mark ll. This is turning into a difficult transition. I believe I've written before that I do not look forward to new equipment and have never adjusted well or quickly to something new in my camera bag. 

This time is no exception.

Neal's new camera advice. Do not buy a new camera just before heading off on a trip to photograph. Do not buy a new camera when starting out on a new project. Do not use a new camera to shoot a project on any kind of deadline. Get the new camera when you've got some weeks, or months, to become familiar with it, to work it into your way of photographing, your methodology.

Actually, I do enjoy new lenses, learning how they see and render, where they are best and not so good. But cameras, particularly current digital cameras with complex menus? Not one bit. There is nothing worse for me than being in front of something really good and not being able to get it because I don't know the tool used to capture it. 

The Sony has me in fits, excited by the prospects but still confused how to use it and work with it. The Nikon I know, have used for years and, although the D810 and the lenses I have are too heavy and cumbersome, these are tools that get me the results I want: excellent files with great resolution allowing big prints. 

The Sony is still an unknown not because of it but because I am not good enough with it yet.

I am persevering, reading tutorials and user experiences on line and reading Gary Friedman's Guide, which by the way is 630 pages!  For instance: there are 16 pages just to explain his setup. Argh!

I read and study, set the camera and go out and make pictures with it. Come back home, work the files and start again. Each time, learning the system a little better, understanding some new setting.

But the camera is major. The files are killer at 42 mp. The lenses so far are really good (with the possible exception of the Sony 24-70mm f4, which seems a little soft to me) and the camera is allowing me to do things I've never been able to do before. It is smaller and lighter by far and, although the setup and use can be confusing, it allows many presets and options. 

Photography is changing  in big ways (again!) and the advent of really superb  mirrorless cameras may predict the demise of the conventional DSLR. 

What's my plan? To become good enough and confident in my abilities in this new format (for me) that I don't need both systems, Nikon and Sony. To start to sell off the DSLR equipment and turn those dollars into more lenses for the Sony.  The only aspect that could change is if Nikon wakes up and offers a mirrorless camera of exceptionally high quality that allows use of their existing lenses as well as builds over time lighter lenses for the new format.  Not holding my breath on that one.

Both Canon and Nikon are completely asleep at the switch so far. BTW: I am writing (in January 2016) this after Nikon made a big deal of announcing the new D5 and the D500 at this year's CES show in Las Vegas. This is a yawn of major proportions as there is no new technology in either of these cameras. "Much ado about nothing" does not impress this career photographer one bit and probably shouldn't impress you either.

One caution: if you are somewhat new to photography, are unsure about your results or your work in relation to others, be careful of the "if I just had a new camera" syndrome. Chances are, you should work on your picture making skills and ideas more than investing in a new camera. Yes, newer cameras have all the bells and whistles and yes there are genuine technological advances taking place but for most these matter not so much in the reality of the actual photographs they make. For instance, there's little point in joining the pixel race of more megapixels unless you need to print large. 3K for the fancy new camera that you've been lusting after or 3K on that trip to shoot those stone walls that you saw that time outside of Bath, England in late afternoon sun in early June? Or driving to rural Pennsylvania to shoot abandoned steel mills, flying to Belgrade to shoot the weekly farmer's market on Saturday mornings, or to the tip of Baja to... you get my point.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Camera,commetary,Equipment

Permalink | Posted January 20, 2016

Launch at 555 Gallery

This is true of any good photo gallery in the US: walk in, look around to see that what is on the walls varies in quality, size, price and prestige. There is often work by photographers you've never heard of and work by some you have. Prices range, often higher with larger sizes, from perhaps several hundred or so on up to several thousand. If you don't have either the space to hang a work of large size or the money to purchase it, you're out of luck. If you're not a frequent collector and the gallery is in your home town chances are you will about face and walk out of the gallery saying to yourself, "I'm never going in there again."

Susan Nalband, owner of 555 Gallery in South Boston is trying something a little different. With the new show called Launch opening this Saturday (January 23) from 5-8 pm if you see a large expensive piece hanging on the gallery wall, you will have the option to buy the big one or an image smaller and cheaper, from 8.5 x11 inches on up to 22 x 17 inches. 

I am a player in this experiment. I have two photographs in the show:

a photograph I made a long time ago on my first artist in residency in Rabun Gap, Georgia at the Hambidge Center. Made with an 8 x 10 camera. I developed the large negative, scanned it and made the archival inkjet print that now hangs on the gallery wall and that sells for, yes, it's true, several thousand dollars. The framed print is 50 x  40 inches.Why does it cost so much? Because I am a career professional with some name recognition, have people that follow my work and purchase it, a proven track record of making very high quality photographs, books published and a gallery that takes a huge percentage of the sale, etc. Finally, the skill level on this image is about as high as it gets. 8 x10? Next to impossible. Big print? Likewise. I believe it is priced where it should be.

Here's the other one:

a photograph I made in the fall of 2009 on a year-long sabbatical from Northeastern University where I taught. From Orvieto, Italy and a reshoot of some I made in 8 x 10 and in black and white in the early 90's. This one is all digital, smaller at 40 x 32 inches, and yes, it's true, sells for several thousand dollars. Same pricing rational as the Rabun Lake picture. 

Let's cut back to walking into a gallery. In this case, 555 Gallery in Boston, starting this Saturday night. Like the Orvieto picture because it is a sort of miracle of scenes or tableaux enacted right in front of you?  A single tree in a clearing front and center, some sort of fence off to the upper left, a row of trees in the background screaming for attention. This may be Eden. The sort of picture you can get lost in and one of my all time favorites. You really want this picture but can't afford the big one and don't have the wall space for it? Buy a smaller one. 8.5 x 11 inches under $200. Frame it and put it on your desk at work next to your computer. Give it a look when you're stuck at work and work sucks. To me, this is what I want to be looking at sitting in the dentist's chair as he's drilling my teeth. This is one of my "go to" happy places and it could be yours too. 

Warning: don't think that after you've seen the show you can delay your purchase. These are limited edition prints, especially at these prices. We have made 4: 8.5 x 11's, 3: 13 x 19's and 2: 17 x 22's  of our images. Once they are gone, they will be no more.

This idea, another in a growing list of Susan's efforts to shake up the staid Boston art scene, is an experiment dependent on you to support it. This is too good to miss: the affordable print buying program of 555 Gallery. I will be heading to the gallery Saturday evening (providing we don't get snowed out) with my checkbook in hand, prepared to buy a print. I hope you will too.

Want more info?

555 Gallery.

List of participating artists I am proud to be showing with: 

Bob Avakian, Deb Ehrens, David Mattox, Jim Nickelson, Neal Rantoul, John Rizzo, Gail Samuelson, Heather Evans Smith, Jean Sousa, Mary Ellen Strom, Sarah Szwajkos, Christine Triebert, Jane Yudelman

Topics: 555 Gallery

Permalink | Posted January 19, 2016

January 24

On Sunday January 24 the annex space for 555 Gallery at 450 Harrison Avenue will be open for viewing works of mine, including the new large Salt Lake Aerials.

I will be there from 2-6 pm.

In addition I will be showing the most recent portfolio called "Form and Function"of aerials and ground based photographs of landscape work from the wheat field area in SE Washington called the Palouse. 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the years I've been photographing in the region.

Hope to see you there. BTW: The 450 Harrison Avenue building in Boston is open on Sundays, with many studios being open. My work is in #416.

Permalink | Posted January 16, 2016