Dog Days


I am declaring that we're in them-the dog days of summer. If it's too hot and too humid, if all you want to do is hunker down with an icy drink where its cool. Dog Days. If the idea of being out at the beach is like death to you- that's it. Dog Days. Here in Boston it's hot, it stinks and everyone's moving a little slower with more deliberation as though things are harder. After last winter it seems almost sacrilegious to say anything about it being too hot but, face it, it is too hot!

Dog Days.

 "You think he's going to get to something at least tangentially related to photograhy in this blog?"

"I hope so. Guy's a piece of work."

Here it is. I've been getting a little relief from the Monsters work currently under construction on the new show to open in September called "Wild Thing" at 555 Gallery opening September 12 (hint hint, please mark your calendars). We had a day this week framing and will have another next week. Thank you to my helpers all. 

Actually going on concurrently is the 8 x 10 work we've been scanning and I've been printing that I wrote about here 1 and here 2. That one is ongoing. Man, it is good to see theses pictures again after all these years. I am printing them 30 x 24 inches on a most wonderful paper: Innova Smooth Cotton High White, a mat watercolor paper.

But this one, this post is to serve as notification for new work just up on the site called the Tomato Portfolio, which you can see by clicking here. Well, new work yes, but not just shot, as I made them last year.

"What the hell is a Tomato Portfolio?"

"You know, I've got no idea. Let's take a look."

This is the story:

Driving south from Boston to teach at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina in May 2014 I stopped at this Tomato warehouse under constructon in rural Georgia.

This is the kind of place where the tomatoes we get at the supermarket are grown. 'Factory' hothouse tomatoes devoid of flavor, with tough, bruise resistant skins, little color and that last a very long time. Why rural Georgia? I assume because the land and labor is cheap, the climate is right and the shipping routes are good.

I was driving by on the interstate and saw this way off on the horizon in very flat country. It was hot and it was May. Any idea what the place would be like in July or August? Fierce heat. So I stopped, asked at the trailer if I could photograph, went in and made some pictures, got back to my car, got in, and drove off. 

"So, let me see if I've got this right. Guy calls the pictures the Tomato Portfolio and there's not one freakin tomato in the whole group of pictures?"

"Yup"

"Guy's a piece of work."

Take a look (here), let me know what you think (here) and remember, you can subscribe. It won't hurt to join, and has no downside (except reading the blog) as I don't sell the email list or use it for any reason except to send you notice that there is a new post up.

And stay cool.

Topics: Georgia

Permalink | Posted July 28, 2015

The x 10 Work 2

Where we left off with The 8 x 10 Work last time was that I knew I had a problem and was questioning how I was going to solve it. Hundreds if not thousands of 8 x 10 negatives, processed, but not printed, not scanned and, unless I did something, never to see the light of day. Okay, this is not solving the world's major issues, but is important to me. Think about it this way: lug around that super big beast of a camera, sometimes hiking for several miles with it over my shoulder to make one picture. Process the film, four sheets at a time, in trays, in total darkness and then not see it as a print?

Let's back up a little bit. Lest you assume I was totally clueless back then, I was constantly making prints from what I shot. I was a darkroom printer for most of those years and had my own darkroom at Northeastern (part of the perk of being a professor there), and was regularly processing film and printing with an 8 x 10 enlarger. I had shows of that work; a big one at Panopticon Gallery in about 1990 (thank you, Tony!), another on the Vineyard in 1994, another in Camden, Maine one summer, another at the RISD Museum, another at the Canterbury Shaker Village in NH and so on. I would often present work to local museums like the DeCordova, the Fogg, the MFA, even MOMA and the National Gallery,  and so on of portfolios made from 8 x 10 negatives. But a good print from an 8 x 10 negative usually took hours to make and it wasn't unusual for me to need a whole day just for one photograph. So being prolific got me in trouble as I was increasingly printing highly selectively from what I shot. And falling behind. I remember one summer teaching in Italy, coming back with 700 sheets of film shot. It took me six months just to process the film.

So let's move up to the present, and perhaps there's a lesson in here for some of you as well as for myself. Now I am shooting solely digitally. OK. But I have this huge backlog of analog negatives in 8 x 10 and yes, also in 2 1/4 (a story for another time). Some of this work is good and deserves at least some exposure. Do I allocate serious time to making the scans? Honestly it isn't really the scan making that is so time consuming. It is the cleaning that takes sometimes hours per image. Assuming I can bear this (I cannot, by the way) I would be taking time away from what I clearly love and that is shooting. My solution? Drum roll, please: hire an assistant.She is a senior at Lesley,  and her name is Hannah. Hannah had no previous scanning experience but has proved herself to be valuable beyond words in that she is meticulous, careful and precise in the handling of my negatives. And, a very big and, she is very good at cleaning and making the images RTP (Ready to Print). Will I get through all the negatives in just one summer? No, but I have begun the project and have paved a way for future work in its cause.  We have started and it is good to finally begin to see these pictures after all these years.

Finally, I am sure some of you are thinking why not just print the negatives normally, they way they were intended, in the darkroom? Two reasons: I don't have a darkroom anymore and don't ever want to print in one again, and two, we've already covered the need to scan the negatives anyway, why not do it right and then give myself the option of printing them any size on up to several feet by several feet? Don't think inkjet prints are as good? Don't get me started on that one as I know they are as good as gelatin silver prints and have proven it. That's why.

BTW: You've probably guessed but the photographs interspersed throughout these two posts are from scans of some of my 8 x 10 work. More to follow.

As always , thanks for reading and..... stay tuned.

Topics: 8 x 10,view camera

Permalink | Posted July 24, 2015

The 8 x 10 Work

Most of you know what that means. For those that don't this is photographs made with an 8 x 10 inch view camera. The format has almost mystical importance in the canon that is art photography. Think Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, early Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, Wynne Bullock, Emmet Gowin, Nick Nixon, Jim Dow, and on and on. It also is universally regarded as the most difficult of conventional film-based systems to master, for good reason. Big, cumbersome, slow, heavy, tied to a tripod and surprisingly crude it is also the single most effective tool for incredible high quality: tonality, sharpness, fidelity, depth of field and the luxury of almost limitless print sizes. 

I worked, practically without exception, in 8  x 10 from 1983 until 2005: 22 years. I   hauled it out west many times. I packed it on trips to Europe at least a dozen times, shot throughout the Southeast and Southwest, made numerous trips to shoot wheat fields in the Palouse in SE Washington with it and made so many exposures with it locally it's almost absurd. Called in to photograph my daughter Maru's school picture? 8 x 10. Family portraits over the years on the steps at the house in Martha's Vineyard? 8 x 10. Day field trip to the north shore with senior thesis students? 8 x 10. Quite simply, I didn't think much about whether to take it, it was my camera, the one I made my pictures with. It looked like this:

I haven't used it in years and gave it away to two young friends to share last year. Already they are making far better use of it than I was.

Mt Saint Helen,1993

But there is a problem. And it is this: the literally thousands of negatives made with this camera, for all intents and purposes, are not part of my oeuvre, my life's work.  Why? Because they are not all printed and not all scanned. One of the cold hard facts of modern image use in art photography is that, irregardless of whether you shot with film or not, and even if you make your prints in a darkroom, with light sensitive emulsion-based papers, you still must scan the work. Me too. Want to submit to a grant? Scan your image. Want to enter a call for artists? A residency? A competition? All require jpegs made from scans. Seems unfair doesn't it? If you believe in film and its inherent qualities, you still must succumb to a digital world. I can remember a similar frustration long before digital came along. In order to submit to any of the above I needed to make 35 mm slides of my pictures shot with the Toyo 8 x 10. Talk about shrinkage! It was offensive, distasteful and wholly not representative of the care and quality of my imagery-but I did it because I had to.

Narni, Italy, 1994

So, where does that leave me? With the daunting task, as I age, to get to work, to go through those thousands and edit down to a few, a representative sampling of 8 x 10 negatives to scan and to clean (not physically clean but to clean in Photoshop with the rubber stamp tool to remove dust and scratches, the most significant obstacle to making beautiful prints). There's also the requirement that the scans be good, really good. Does a conventional flatbed scanner like the ubiquitous Epson 750 scanner  cut it? It does not. Does an oil-based drum scan at some ridiculously high dpi make it? It sure does, at great cost, requiring great skill and care so as not to destroy the original. 

Kudzu, Georgia, 1990

So, what's my solution to the single largest dilemma of my creative life and work?

Stay tuned for Neal's nifty answer.

Topics: 8 x 10

Permalink | Posted July 21, 2015

Quick Post-NEPR This Weekend

Hello all. Just a quick post to say that the New England Portfolio Reviews (NEPR) are this weekend at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA.

Sunday afternoon is reviews and all day Saturday and Sunday morning there is wonderful programming on what are called "legacy issues", meaning what is going to happen to your work after you are gone.

This is simply too important to ignore. Want more info?

Go here.

And I'll see you there on Saturday.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 14, 2015

In Production

He's in production.

   -He's what?

He's in production.

     -What's he in production for, making cars or something?"

I think he's printing his pictures for a show he's having.

      -Oh, no big deal, right?

Well, he's not answering his phone and nobody's seen him for weeks. I guess it's a big deal to him.

       -Those artists, man.They're kinda whacked, right? I try to stay away.

Actually, hopefully said without pretension, it is an intense time. It takes some serious focus, working with blinders on to get the best from pictures that sit there on a computer screen. I've never thought that was easy, to go from screen size and back lit to print size and on paper. And honestly, the tools aren't that good. I am sorry, but there is still a huge disconnect from screen to print. I simply do not know what it is until I've got a print of it, printed to size. I know, now the print almost doesn't matter for most of the people most of the time. But I "show my work" meaning I make my pictures to be seen on gallery and museum walls. Think about this: say you or someone else working for you makes a bad print from a good file. Too much sharpening or not enough, color casted or not sharp where it should be, no detail in bright whites or deep blacks, too flat or too contrasty, tonalities not adjusted well. Not good. Talk about having your act together. This represents you, this print on the wall. I can't tell you how many times I have dismissed someone's work because I am seeing it poorly printed. In portfolio reviews and to students I always tell them to make the print as the absolute best it can be for where they are right now in their development. This is simply doing the best that you can.

Something new for this show which I'll share here, this new work to be shown at 555 Gallery in September. As the prints tend to be large (I think the smallest so far is 22 inches square) there is really no way to see them unless they're mounted. So that's what I am doing. I make them then cart them off to be mounted and then when done bring them to the studio to look at. Will some get edited out and not shown? Yes, exactly. Once mounted Susan Nalband (the owner of 555 Gallery) and I will meet to decide yes or no. That's something else that is different here, this is a collaboration between Susan and I as we are co-curating this show together. 

There are many different ways decisions are made about what work gets hung in shows, of course. Co-curating is one, where the artist and the gallery or museum decide together what work will be in a show. Another is when the artist is told what work is going to be hung (sounds cold, doesn't it?). Another is when the artist decides everything, perhaps when work is shipped to a show far away. Best is when there is a level of communication and trust between the two parties. The artist often needs to work to listen to this "partner", to understand the gallery or museum's needs and objectives and also to grapple with intention verses outcome. It is not uncommon for an artist to believe the work is perceived one way and for the place showing the work to look at it differently. 

What's the stuff he's printing?

      -Some photos he's calling Monsters.

Monsters? Like werewolfs and zombies?

      -More like Halloween masks and mannequins.

Really? That's some weird shit. Like I said I try to stay away.

Permalink | Posted July 11, 2015