Lebanon, NH 1997-1999

1997: seems like a lifetime ago. It certainly is in terms of photography and how it has changed. I was still fully immersed in shooting film then, for instance, and making my prints conventionally in trays in a darkroom. I was scanning negatives by that time too but inkjet printing was in its infancy so had no real way to print my output.

In 1997 I was working in two ways: one, in making series work like the Lebanon, NH pictures coming up. Sequential bodies of work, designed as a portfolio of prints of consistent size and tonality that were very often of a specific place. The other way I was working was with the 8 x 10 view camera, making large bodies of photographs that mostly weren't cohesive. I called these "incidental" photographs in that they were usually made while on shooting trips, such as a trip across the US in 1993, or while teaching in Italy in the summers.

The Lebanon, NH pictures fall squarely into the former heading, made with the SWC Hasseblad Superwide, hand held and tightly sequenced. This was a series principally about how something changes through the seasons and the years.

My idea was to return to the "scene of the crime" so to speak, to be in front of something I'd photographed before and reinterpret and work to revisualize that place in a new picture. So, the end result was a pairing of photographs: the first being the earlier picture of the subject and the second being the reshoot, usually in the winter, but not always. As you can see from these two openers, I had no interest in a factual reshoot or duplication of the framing of the original. Too boring, I felt. I am not a scientist, I am an artist.

Very often series work allowed me to set up a structure or, maybe, "rules of the game". Lebanon certainly did as when viewing these as a stack of prints in a boxed portfolio, you now had the expectation that the next picture would be the first of a pair. And that is exactly correct:

As these two conform to the rule. But they also begin to break with the convention, to split up the frame, to throw something very different in there. These are two of my favorites as they push the scale and the rendering, as the first plunks the larger house on top of the smaller truck, freaking with what we know to be true. We've also now moved into town, where most of the pictures for the series were made. Finally, I altered the pattern by pushing the camera right up next to something, very different than the first four pictures.

Imagine you're looking at this one for the first time, it sits in a stack of matted prints, one on top of the other. You're now looking at this one, but you have the expectation building of what the next one is going to look like. That's a different way to be looking at a photograph isn't it?

Notice how the scene has changed spatially, how things important in the first frame are subjugated to less importance in the second. I loved that; still do, in fact.

Okay, so let's continue.

This one flips the sequence, okay, perhaps to establish that rules can change or perhaps to set the stage for what is coming. I'll let you in on a little secret: this is the last of the paired images in the series.

Two BBG grills as two apartments. At least that was what I thought. Also, the comparison continues: seasonal changes. The bike rack on the car but no bike in evidence. The single grill in the upper picture.

We will stop here as Lebanon needs a multi-post blog. But before we finish, I'll give you a few facts about the series. Lebanon, NH has never been shown. I thought of titling this post "The Basement Tapes" as this work is a little like that. Played but not issued as an album. Made but not seen. Colleagues, friends, some collectors and curators have seen it. But the photographs have never sat on a gallery or museum wall, were never arranged in a sequence, never published as pages in a book. In fact, you are the largest audience to ever see the work.

So now I know you're totally excited. Do me a favor, share this blog and sign up to subscribe if you haven't already. I know there are many of you that read it but don't subscribe. I think that's a little like listening to NPR but not donating during a fund drive. You want to keep the blog going? Show me the love by subscribing. BTW: I never solicit anything from subscribers and have never shared the list with advertisers.

What is your expectation of what's coming up next? Next up: Lebanon, NH Two.

Permalink | Posted December 17, 2014

The Best Photos of 2014

Every year we see lists like this in December: "The Best of ..." This one is from the photo staff at the Boston Globe (here) and it is a wonderful and rich assortment of pictures from some of photojournalism's best, with the context provided by the photographers.

As I've been looking at these lists now for several years I can find a couple of trends and key points. One is that photography has improved so drastically that pictures like these are rich and full, with vibrant colors and that allow the photographer the ability to capture truly significant moments, sometimes with very long lenses, much better than ever before. The other is that many of these pictures are made by shoving right into the scene, meaning that photojournalists no longer seem compelled to be on the outside observing but are right inside whatever is happening. I am also struck by the consistency of using foreground to background information, of framing the pictures with something prevailing in the foreground. These pictures are made by professionals that know their craft and apply skills based upon hands on training over sometimes long careers.

Finally, this is photography displaying the richness and complexity of our human condition, almost without exception. Landscape? No. Architecture? No. Even the aerial of the jet plane crash evokes strong feelings of what lives were extinguished in a fraction of a second. 

My hat is off to all of them at the Globe. Thank you for another year of excellent photographs.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted December 10, 2014

Paint

I don't know about you but paint floats my boat. Paint as in "painting" as in "art". The texture of the stuff, its thickness, its luminosity, its depth, its color. In the hands of a master painter, well, it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Love painting.

While I started off as a young artist as a painter, mine were all large spray paintings, not at all like conventional paintings. I have always envied those that made their art with a brush on canvas.

Why is Neal taking us off topic once again? Because I finally got over to Boston's MFA to see the Jamie Wyeth retrospective before it closes in January. Worth seeing? Definitely. Change your life? Probably not as it's not clear to me he's one of the truly great painters, but it is easy to relish the way he uses paint.

Last month I showed some paintings from the Contemporary Art Museum in Torino, Italy (here). Those were older and wonderful but Wyeth is a painter in present times. Some of what I saw at the MFA was painted in 2013.

Just like with photographs, I like to go in close and really examine what a painter has done to make his/her work look like that.

Such a timeless subject, looking highly classical in its form and design. But go closer and you can see evidence of a sort of  "camera vision" to the way he's painted the horses:

foreshortened and photographic.

This one stopped me in my tracks as I had made a picture quite like it in the 90's at a place called "Blackwater Dam" in NH:

This one of the sheep seemed odd and out of character to me.

and

and

I don't pretend to know what was going through Wyeth's head when he was painting these but there does seem to be some involvement in the paint itself.

Here is my favorite:

and a close up of the couch:

I wonder if it has been difficult being a painter in his father's (Andrew Wyeth) shadow.

and

Ah paint. Am I envious? A little. It seems as though, with much photography, we are struggling still for legitimacy, particularly in found subjects we choose to photograph. Painting right out has that in spades. Make a painting of something and it is art, you don't have to argue its case or establish its credentials for it to be valued and respected as a work of art. But it is also surface, texture and depth too that painting has and photography lacks, looking so smooth and manufactured.

Love paint.

The Jamie Wyeth show is up at the MFA until December 28.

Permalink | Posted December 4, 2014

Marc S. Meyer Profile

Marc Meyer? Yes. Never heard of him? That's all right. You will know his work soon. I am going to show this young photographer's work for this post as I am struck by the strength of these pictures. I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Here's Marc's bio and artist statement:

Marc S. Meyer

Marc photographs throughout Europe and the United States. His work is characterized by its use of strong design elements combined with an acute sense of color.

Marc was born in Germany in 1987 and his family moved to Tulsa, OK when he was very little. Marc’s two sisters and three brothers were educated in the US through high school. Marc then studied art and photography at the Kansas City Art Institute, receiving his master’s degree in 2009.

Since then Marc has been working (barista, auto mechanic, waiter and now designer for a small web based startup company), traveling and photographing. Marc and his wife live near Baltimore, MD and have one child, a boy.

These pictures were made on a sunny afternoon in late September 2014 on Chappaquidick, a small island reached by taking a two-car ferry from Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.

Marc writes about the work:

Beach Club

My wife and son and I were on vacation. It was the first time we’d been to Martha’s Vineyard. We’d heard about it over the years due to Obama’s going there. We were staying in Edgartown and I told my wife, Theresa, that I was going to take off for a few hours to photograph. Walking around town I came across a ferry shuttling people and cars back and forth. I asked where it took them and was told “to Chappy”. I asked how much it cost to go and return, paid and rode the ferry across the cut in the harbor. When I arrived, there wasn’t much there but a single road. I walked along the road and the first thing I came across was the Edgartown Beach Club. I photographed there for a couple of hours, walked back to the ferry and rode it back to Edgartown.

I hoped to convey a sense of this place off season, free from all the activity that takes place during the summer. I was struck by the light, the forms created by the space and the colors.

I hope you like my pictures.

Beach Club:

The pictures are bold. I would even say: in your face. The guy has great design integrity, though. Not much color to start out. He works in sequenced series. In other words, this is a body of work we're seeing here, not just a collection of images.We've seen #'s 1, 2, 3.

Hard to get him to talk about them, meaning, I assume, that they are close to him. But he'll let a few things loose as we meet up to go over this work.

He talked about the required focus he needs to pull off a series like this. This is Marc working pretty hard, over just a couple of hours, nervous the whole time as he was trespassing.

He uses the "NoTrespassing" sign as the cover for the series.

I think these are inherently coherent visual statements.  Simple really, but complex when you work at them a little, as there seem to me to be about 6 emotional states throughout the group. I think they reside in some highly purified air of the guy's aesthetic. He cuts through a lot, which is much appreciated. I love the ones that do color.

He's one reductive SOB, though isn't he? They make a Robert Frank image from "The Americans" look positively complex. But hugely appropriate in this week where we've just heard about the death of Lewis Baltz, at 69. Marc talked to me about seeing "New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California" for the first time when he was a student and how they shook his world. 

Clearly.

One of the things that strikes me about this work is its remarkable maturity, as though someone far older and more experienced made them. In person, Marc exudes rationality, reason and a steady pace. This comes though in the pictures in their sure footedness. Placement is considered and known here. I asked him about the focal length of the lens he used. He smiled and said, "it's wide". That's all I got but I'd be willing to bet he feels the lens's extreme width is an integral part of the group of pictures.

I like his sense of humor:

Evidently he was discovering the beach club while he was photographing it. Got that? Yes, he hadn't walked it before he'd shot it. He walked it AS he shot it! Imagine. The guy's good, yes, but his confidence is big too.

So here's a discovery he made

as he came around the corner to the back side of the club. This last one is now referred to in the Meyer family as "Dad's Dinosaur Bones Graveyard Picture."

Does he know when he's making good work? Yes, I think he does. I know he's very excited when he's working this way. Here he's flipped the banality of the place and the off season time of year right over and made the place like a set or a perfect park, ready and prepared for him to photograph it. Like it's been staged. Quite the frame of mind. Marc says that's where he has to go or the pictures don't come out right. Attributing great significance to the passed by and passed over is nothing new, of course,  but this series proves the tactic's efficacy.

He ends:


with subtle shifts into grays, muted yellows, ochres and light browns. What a palette. I have to be careful here as I could be a little jealous.

And then really ends with:

I presume because there is some vestige of the previous season remaining in this toy shovel that was left behind as a 4 year old little girl heard her mom yelling,"Lisa you get over here right now, this instant!"on the last hot day of summer in early September before packing up to return home to the mainland. 

It is also fitting that Marc ends with this pink shovel, as the first photograph in the series includes it:

this being a crop of the first picture:

This is textbook Marc Meyers, thinking of these two pictures as bookends to what is  contained within the body of the series.

That pink shovel, fixed right there through the future of fall rains and winter snows, storms and mid February starry nights with the temperature in the single numbers making everything crisp, sharp and still. Wet from April showers and dark sand, to be picked up early in the season in May when the college kids come in to clean up the place to get it ready to open next June.

Marc Meyer is hoping to show these pictures to Susan Nalband at 555 Gallery in Boston as he has selected 555 as the gallery he most hopes will pick up his work. 555 Gallery is the best new photography gallery in Boston.

Interested in his work? Want to see the prints? 

Bug the gallery.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted November 30, 2014

Miracle

I don't know about you but I tend to be a little skeptical when it comes to miracles. I don't think of myself as being a tried and true cynic but some healthy perspective on things seems good to me and when confronted with a "true" miracle I tend to be wary.

But I can't really tell you what's going on here:

These two guys were sitting there in the central piazza in Torino, Italy a couple of weeks ago. There was no visible support and no guy wires. They were stoic, with no changing expressions on their faces and no acknowledgement of anyone passing by. All I can think of, since the fabric covered their arms, was that there was a steel armature and structure that ran down the yellow one's arm up the pole and down the red guy's arm to a seat. John and I discussed this, the possibility that the yellow man's hand was fake, as the weak link in this display seemed to be his hand.

Presumably they sit there, hour after hour, like statues, proof that miracles do exist and that with true faith and belief in God's higher powers, anything can happen.

I am not so sure.

Topics: Italy,Color,Digital,Foreign

Permalink | Posted November 25, 2014