Tom's Neck 3

In Tom's Neck 1 and Tom's Neck 2 we looked at a new set of pictures I made a few weeks ago on the island of Chappaquidick, off of Martha's Vineyard, MA.

In this post, we'll finish the Tom's Neck series.

But before we conclude, I also worked to extend from some of the "facade" ideas, to lend to the depth of the project but also to allow some actual depth (foreground to background) into the pictures as well.

I did that by beaching the boat, getting out and photographing conventionally, both with the moderate wide angle lens I'd already been using, but with a longer lens as well.

I was seeking to  convey a greater immersion into the landscape, as opposed to sitting outside of it and photographing like an observer.

I also used files shot aerially that gave a broader perspective on the area from a different angle:

When photographing aerially it becomes hugely important to "get it all". This simply means to circle areas that are crucial, to photograph them with front light and back light too, as reshoots are almost always not possible.

As I headed farther down the inlet that is Tom's Neck in the kayak I was confronted with a choice. I could go down to the very end where there is a sandy beach and a point:

or contain the series within the framework I'already established. I chose the latter.

I know, if you've followed along and are invested you may be saying, "Neal, you idiot! What were you thinking?"and I will have to live with that. My reasoning was that the series was beginning to head off into something different and would therefore dilute the impact and cohesion of the other pictures. I was already doing quite a bit in a group of pictures: telling a story, representing a finite area with pictures taken weeks apart, from the air and from a boat. Let me show you what I did conclude with. After making several more like this:


I paddled across the inlet to get more distance from the Neck than before:


Then, for the last picture, paddled back across the inlet to turn the boat around 180 degrees on what I'd been photographing, putting Tom's Neck at my back, and made this picture:

For the first time we are seeing what else was out there. This isn't that unusual a thing for me to do at the end of a highly sequenced series, where I tell a story or take us on a journey. It is also structurally similar to the first in that it is three horizontal bands. 

For the sake of the blog I can show you what all this is:

(Thanks  to Google Maps)

The red X marks about where I made the last picture from. You can also clearly see where I had worked for all of these pictures, from the Dike Bridge at the bottom of the map all the way up to Tom's Neck Point.

The last photograph is the image that intends to lead the way out, or to another place or perhaps another series over the horizon, yet to come. What's on the other side of that spit of sand, beyond those bushes? 

So that is the new series of pictures I made above and in the water of Tom's Neck  on Chappaquidick Island.

I hope you like them. It is not hard to let me know what you think: Neal's Email

BTW: I leave for Paris in a couple of days. When I get there I will drive down to northern Italy to stay with friends, then drive back for Paris Photo the middle of the month. I plan on posting while away. Hope you can come along for the ride. Will I photograph? Is the sky blue?

Thanks for reading.

Topics: Tom's Neck,Digital,Color,Northeast,Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted October 30, 2014

Tom's Neck 2

In the first post (here) on this new series of pictures we looked at the written introduction and the few pictures that set the stage for the subsequent photographs. Now we'll be getting into the main body of these pictures.

Before we get there, I need to make this point: I knew, before I was going to make these pictures, that I was on to something important for me. While I can't say that they will be seen as important photographs by others I can say that I knew these these pictures would move me ahead as an artist, that, if I didn't screw them up, I was about to make real "work". Not try, hope for, aspire towards, or presume but to make work that would stand as fundamental within my oeuvre. 

As I paddled down the length of Tom's Neck that day I came across several variations on a theme.

I used all these pictures and their formats throughout the series. A word about the prints: they are 21 x 14 inches printed on 22 x 17 Canson Photographique Baryta paper. 

I also made a few that referenced where I was, such as:

That little building is the entrance to the Cape Pogue National Wildlife Refuge, where you can, with a permit and a four wheel drive vehicle, drive along the beach at the end of the island.

As you work your way through the Tom's Neck series of pictures, every third or fourth print does this:

which, in effect, provides you with a map to what is is being presented in the pictures taken from the kayak.

But also notice that your perception of the area is drastically altered by the inclusion of the aerials. There are many elements seen in the aerials that are not even considered or thought of in the pictures made from the water. Such as: ponds, fields, layers of trees and a rich landscape beyond the "front" or "facade" seen from the boat. This is one of the key points of the series for me; that our understanding of an area or region is altered by our perspective on it. I know, very obvious. But not so obvious when drawn out for us in pictures that show us just how powerful those differences are. 

The analogy for me is the old American western towns with false fronts on their buildings, made to look more significant and substantial than they really were.

This from Old Trail Town, Cody, Wyoming, a set of pictures I made in 2004 (here).

You can almost look at these pictures made from the kayak as two dimensional, flat and planal:

But I didn't just stick with that one point or idea. I was trying to make a variety of pictures too, to maintain my interest and the viewers as well, but also to broaden and deepen the set. I also needed to deal with the idea of how do I end this.

In Tom's Neck 3 we will do just that.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Tom's Neck,Northeast,Color,Digital,Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted October 28, 2014

Tom's Neck 1

This is going to get a little complex but bear with me. I will split this blog into three posts as it would be too long otherwise. This is about a piece of land, some pictures made a few weeks ago, an airplane and a kayak.

Let's start here:

The Day Before I left the Vineyard This Fall

The day before I left the Vineyard this fall I put the boat on the car, drove to Edgartown, put the car on the Chappy ferry, drove to the parking area next to the Dike Bridge, unloaded the boat, put a camera in the boat and paddled out to Tom’s Neck to photograph.

First Time

First time putting a good camera and lens into the boat with me. Always before, the camera would go in a Pelican case in the hatch, sealed up. I would then put in, paddle, beach the boat,get out, open the hatch, shoot whatever, then put it all back in and paddle on. This time I wanted to shoot from the boat while it was in the water where I positioned it. This was using the kayak as the platform to photograph from.


I developed a system. Paddled and looked and headed down the Neck a couple of times before committing. Came back, got the boat about right, pulled off the spray skirt, dried my hands, picked up the camera, photographed, reversed the above and paddled on. It worked.

The Following

The following pictures were made along the ocean facing side of Tom’s Neck running north from the Dike Bridge. The bridge made famous by Ted Kennedy as it’s where Mary Jo Kopechne died in 1969, jammed and trapped in an upside down car several feet deep in the water of Poucha Pond. Ted Kennedy wasn’t able to save her that night. But he and his family sure worked hard to save his political career after that night. Safe to say that evening changed the trajectory of his career and his life. And ended young Mary Jo’s life.

At Any Rate

At any rate you are looking at a two part series. This being the short stretch of land nestling up against an inlet of water photographed from the air in a plane and from my kayak in the water two weeks later. Why? Because it is exquisite. To me, it is a garden of Eden, looking like some sort of paradise. But also because one approach informs and enriches the other. Look, photography is changing, becoming ubiquitous at a phenomenal rate and used in unimaginable ways compared to just a few years ago. Remember, when Harry Callahan made a double exposure in the 1940’s with his twin lens Rollei, one frame right side up and click the second upside down, he was doing this for the very first time in the history of photography. We are very much beyond that now.

Interested In

I am interested in nudging photography forward to the best of my humble abilities. Yes, these are conventional looking pictures at first glance. But, upon closer looking, they are different. People assume that I work solely within tradition. Not true. I work within the knowledge of tradition as it serves progress. To me, progress is seeing things differently and beautifully.

Tom’s Neck

The Tom’s Neck pictures are like that: an effort to extend traditional definition and understanding into a new way of looking at the landscape. The aerials informing the other, the ones from the kayakdeepening our take away of the aerials. Even this statement, this introduction to the pictures, is an effort to extend, to deepen and to more fully explore photography’s capabilities and extraordinariness.


Still with me? Sheesh, are we going to get to pictures here? Yes, yes, yes: we will. I promise.

So, what is all that wordage up there? It is the artist statement to the full series about to unfold. It sits at the front of the set, as a kind of title page and introduction all in one. I know it is long but the Tom's Neck pictures require a little time and thought to wade through them and explanation as to methodology and philosophy. 

So, let's carry on.

Next up and the first actual photographs are these two side by side:

These set the stage in which we are about to work. They provide context and aren't arty or pretentious, they are simple statements: this is how the pictures were made, these are the platforms the photographer used to make the following pictures. I believe the logistics count here. 

Next print in the sequence? The first real substantial photograph in the series:

Pretty straightforward, yes? Let's look at it a little as it forms a precedent for subsequent images. Only water in the foreground so I must have been standing right on the shore or, shooting from the kayak. Bingo, you know I am in the boat from the way the intro set this up. In fact a lot of the pictures in the series look like this: water, content and sky; a classic three horizontal bands landscape photograph. Before we leave it, take note of the birds nest sticking right up there. This is really an osprey nest or possibly an eagle's nest, not really intended for a seagull, but that's what was up there the day I was out photographing. 

If you had to guess what was to come next it would seem to be important to show the other approach here, to  have right up front like this an aerial, and ideally, one of the same scene so simply shown here.

And there it is. Now, I can't really make these pictures all on the same day or even in the same week, unless the sun shines on me and the photo gods are fully aligned. In fact, I made the aerials a few weeks before I made the ones from the kayak. But look carefully and you can see the birds nest that references that we are in the same place from a very different perspective. But also notice that there is much more conveyed in the aerial; in effect, it maps the future efforts on the more grounded ones, the boat ones to come. Notice, in particular, the bare tree on the right side of the frame.

There it is, up close and personal, no longer looking like a placeholder on a map but fully engaged and occupying front and center in a picture that just changed our previous format to four bands of horizontals: water, grass, trees and sky from the  previous three.

So now we're set up structurally, we have a few preliminary pictures that provide us with a framework. We know we're going to see some pictures taken from the boat and some pictures taken from the air of the same stretch of shore along Tom's Neck on Chappaquidick Island in October, 2014.

Cool. In the next post we're going to get into the main body of the series.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Tom's Neck,Northeast,Digital,Color,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 26, 2014

Quincy Quarry 2009

In the early fall of 2008 I fell and ruptured my quad tendon two days before I was leaving to live in Italy for three months while on a sabbatical leave from my teaching position at Northeastern University. How I fell is far too bizarre a story to tell here and I won't subject you to details.

At any rate, I was promptly in surgery, then laid up at home, then in rehab and taking a cab to physical therapy, my leg in a brace, starting to get around on crutches, etc. etc. By January 2009 I had deferred the sabbatical and was back at teaching, initially on crutches.

Where was photo during that fall? Nonexistent, of course. To someone who is wedded to the medium this was like being starved or alone on a desert island without a camera. By late fall I was just being allowed to drive. I could loosen the hinge on the brace on my left leg, lift my leg up into the car and drive.

I chose Quincy, about 30 minutes from Cambridge where I live. I remember the first time I went. I got myself extricated from the car and hobbled on my crutches for about 20 feet, sliding along on about an inch of snow. Realizing this was insanity, I turned around, got back in the car and drove home. On the second trip I used a  camera on a tripod while stumbling along on crutches and managed to make some initial pictures. They weren't very good but it was a start. As my health improved I went back and back and the series developed into something as my leg allowed me to do more.

Quincy Quarry has a rich history. 

Arthur Griffin's picture of young men diving off the cliff into the water below ended up on the cover of Life Magazine:

Quote from Paula Tognarelli, Director of the Griffin Museum.

The Quarry also had the reputation for a place to dump stolen cars and dead bodies. The films Gone Baby Gone and The Departed come to mind. It was filled in with dirt from the Big Dig in the early 2000's. 

Since I was interested in the graffiti spray painted on the cliff walls, I took the project from an initial few prints made in black and white and transtioned slowly to color.

This is really a project about color, with the idea that photography works well as a comparative tool. Colors are more striking when contrasted with black and white.

This then allowed me to move in closer and to really look at the elegance and aesthetic of what these night time taggers did.

And what they did with color.

Do I know how clichéd a subject this is? Do I know that graffiti is a constant theme used by students in photo programs in big cities across the USA? Yes. Doesn't make it irrelevant, does it? And it didn't feel to me like I couldn't make a contribution as well.

I've now put the full series up on the site here.

I would  be interested in hearing what you rethink of these. You may also subscribe to this blog. 

Reminder: The Focus Awards are at the Griffin Museum this Saturday, starting at 11 am for brunch. See you there.

Topics: Northeast,Color,Black and White,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 23, 2014

Where I live

This one will fall into the category of being quasi photographic in that it uses photography in no artistic way to show you why it is so cool where I live.

First of all: I love where I live. I have lived in Cambridge, MA since the mid 70's and have been in the small condo I am currently in since about 1990. Cambridge is right across the river from Boston. I live in the lower non-posh part of Cambridge known as Cambridgeport. I am close to the Boston University Bridge that spans the Charles River.

Last weekend was the first time I'd been home in about month. It was also the "Head of the Charles" boat races and it is always fun to go. Best way? Ride my bike and cruise up and down both sides of the river. My favorite view is from the middle of the BU bridge

which also has about the best view of my favorite city, Boston.

But also, as I was riding to the gym to work out, I came across this:

Yup, the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town and they use this RR spur in Cambridge for their amazingly long train while they are here. This is where they live while on the road. It is also how they transport the circus and the animals from city to city. Some circus train facts:

Ringling Bros. is divided into two simultaneously traveling unit trains: the Red Unit and the Blue Unit.Each circus train has a designated trainmaster who is responsible for the safe operation and timely movement of the unit train. Each railroad train crew is provided with a circus radio for operational and emergency communications. In addition, the circus trainmaster monitors the carrier railroad's radio frequency to be aware of other traffic on the railroad.Ringling Bros. provides an instructional booklet detailing train operations and emergency procedures to all employees.Maximum train speed is 60 miles per hour.The stock cars, for the elephants and other animals, ride directly behind the locomotive where the ride is the smoothest.Individual stock car water tanks and electrical generators provide continuous water and power supply while the stock cars are separated from the coaches for unloading.

Unit Trains

Average number of personnel who ride the train (performers, staff and maintenance crew): 326

33 conventional passenger cars for circus personnel and their families

4 custom-designed animal stock cars

2 container flats for concession storage

17 piggyback flats which carry equipment, props and vehicles

6 hours to unload the train and 12 hours to setup the show

Red Unit: 55 cars, 3,985 tons and 4,877 feet long

Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,378

Blue Unit: 56 cars, 4,055 tons and 4,959 feet

Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,265

This is from Train Web

(The above picture from the Web, no attribution)

Both of these very cool things were here simultaneously about 2 blocks from where I live. Like I said: I love where I live.

Do you love where you live? Do you photograph close to home? Do you carry a camera with you and take pictures of things as you walk your dog or head off someplace? Do you use a Smart Phone to capture things close to home? I always carry a camera with me, these days a Sony DSC RX 100 II, a wonderful little camera that is best at just that: grabbing a picture of something because it is unique and unusual, funny, ironic, sad, or just happening in front of me right now.

A friend of mine says that my photographic preoccupation is with imagery of the highest possible quality and he's right. I use a DSLR a little like I used the 8 x 10 view camera for 25 years. If hand holding, I work to keep the camera steady and use it in enough light to allow ideal shutter speed and aperture settings. When using a tripod (over 50% of the time) I make sure everything is set for maximum quality so as to allow large prints. I guess all those of working with the 8 x 10 had its effect. But I also like having a small camera with me, to pull out and take a picture of something as I see it.

Topics: where I live

Permalink | Posted October 22, 2014