Bluff Utah

This is the fourth Southwestern series I've written about and the last from the time period of the mid to late 90's.

The full series is: here.

If you liked the others, Chaco Canyon, Bartlett's Wash and Moab then you 'll like this one too. If you didn't then you have one more to suffer through.

Bluff is a very small town on the southern edge of Utah in the southeastern corner of the state below Moab. It is mostly rock. I found these pictures while on a driving loop that was long and hot, stopping in Bluff to relieve myself but also on the hunt for pictures. I pulled over and took a short walk up a tight canyon far enough to see that I would need to climb to get to where the petrogylphs were. I'd been told back in town where to go. I went back to the car to gear up. In those days several rolls of Plus X  2 1/4  film on a belt pouch, a Pentax Spotmeter on a strap around my neck, and, in this case, hiking boots for traction that were also better protection if there were rattlesnakes, bottled water and a sandwich bought in town shoved in a backpack.  No tripod needed here as it was bright sun. Finally, a note on the dash of the locked rented car saying who and where I was. And, oh yes, the Hasselblad Superwide in my right hand.

Climb up to a ridge, traverse it, then climb again over a small lip to higher ground that was like being on a plateau.

Let's pause here as presumably we're going on to more incessant pictures of rock and sky made in the American Southwest. All true. We are. How can someone do this? Stand in front of some rock in a barren landscape of rock and point a camera at it and trip the shutter? What possible reason would there be for doing this?

Presumably, we're going somewhere. Whereas a single photograph might be nice,  it would really say very little. But put many together, take us somewhere, give us a narrative and the sheer reductiveness of the landscape might actually be used to make a point or to at least convey a broader and deeper sense of place and, in this case, the special nature of this place.

Is this just some middle aged New Englander white guy with a camera reacting to this most unusual of landscapes, responding to the differences between home and here? God, I hope not. Remember, by this time this kind of place is not new for me, this photographing in the Southwest. 

After a few more we arrive here:

which begins to get us somewhere very specific. There have been people here and a very long time ago.

There is also a landscape bizarre and unique. No tourists, not on the map or at the end of a trail, no attraction. This made me feel unique, privileged to be in what turned out to be something of a sacred space.

Here we are, finally, to a line of antelope or deer scratched out of the rock face how many years ago?

Sitting there, year after year, right there on a moonless night in February, with snow drifted up against the base of the wall or baking in the August sun, season after season. To, finally our own more present form of lasting, of preserving something of ourselves long after we are gone:

I remember being so offended at the discovery, from petroglyphs cherished for being authentic and a window into an honorable past to graffiti, the most recent carved into the rock just a few years ago, "DDRA or DORA 2-21-93", as though one was to be preserved and honored and the newer reviled as crude markings by teenagers clueless to our national heritage.

How did I end the Bluff Utah series? With this:

which was a symbol for me of both the real place, this ineffable shrine with something man made in the shape of a circle on the rock floor.

In the last scene in the wonderful 1982 movie "Blade Runner"directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, a "replicant" whose time has run out says, "I've seen things..."

I too have seen things. 

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Southwest

Permalink | Posted October 19, 2016

Bartlett's Wash, Utah

This is another Southwest series and the third as I run through my catalog of works made but not seen, at least by most of you.

The full  series is now on the site: here.

I did have a show of these in the building I taught in at Northeastern University. The atrium at the entrance on the ground floor had glass cases. It was used for faculty and students to have shows in them. Here is the signage, complete with a typo, that hung as the introduction to the Bartlett's Wash work:

The series starts off with these two, pointing down.

These are 1,2,3 in the series and you can tell I am working at shaking things up in the first two by denying the horizon. Then comes

a large subset of horizon and sky pictures, used to counter the first two, getting more reductive as they progress.

And then next to the rock itself which is so phenomenal:

Then to numbers 13 and 14 in the series, where I tried to present the issue of scale by making a frame then shooting my sneakers in the next one:

While this was meant to be amusing, of course, I also now look at the pair of them as being a real comment on abstraction and how photography can take things out of context and distort real things.

I do this less now that I am much older but I wasn't against making pictures then that were about making pictures. I wasn't an artist that shied away from process, as many do. It was okay by me that you could see that I was standing there camera in hand making a picture. I am no purist. In fact in this series I put myself right in there in the last frame:

I believe I came to terms with that as a student when I noticed Robert Frank reflected back from the barber's window in the "The Americans" or Lee Friedlander's shadow in the empty store front window. I am big these days on what gives one "permission" to do something. Well, those pictures and others gave me permission to put myself in this series.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Southwest

Permalink | Posted October 16, 2016

Moab Utah

I've been to Moab several times, the most recent in 2011 when on sabbatical leave. I rented a small apartment for five weeks and made pictures. 

The series I'm showing here comes from 1998 and fits into the ones I am adding to the site for the first time, which means most likely few have seen them before.

The first one was Chaco Canyon (here).

Moab and the region around it is very special. Desert, rock, river; it is brutally hot in the summer, very cold in the winter. Surrounding parks are Arches and Canyonlands. This is mountain bikes and off road trails, 4 wheel drive vehicles scrabbling tough rock falls and up cliffs, ATV's for rent and buttes galore.

How does one make his/her own pictures when confronted with such an incredible landscape? VERY carefully.

I came across some railroad tracks down near the Colorado River that worked their way through the rock canyon to the mines to the south. It was an overcast afternoon when I first found the area. I scouted the location then and thought that a sunny morning would be better, so came back in a few days. Turns out I was right.

I liked the rawness of the place and its stillness, a path for the tracks blasted out of the solid rock.  No trains came through while I was there. This is a sequenced body of work, meaning that the prints are arranged in an order. This is always done as I make the pictures and then in editing but in this case, as this is prints I made in the darkroom from film, by printing almost everything then arranging the prints over a period of days or even weeks to edit images out and to set a final sequence.

Also there are often pairings or subsequences within the overall series, as in here where I paired two together, both in the two above and also in the two below. I made the prints in my darkroom at Northeastern University where I taught. Most times I would go in early in the morning before my classes and print for a couple of hours. 

I remember using these two dark photographs as examples in my classes, trying to drive the point home about how exposure in the camera effects the final outcome. Photography is a little slippery in that what may look like some representation of reality, in fact, isn't. It is the medium's interpretation of the real. Knowing that we can bend the medium to our our desired outcome. In this case, you could either underexpose the film to make a thinner, more transparent negative with the final result being a darker print. Or, you could expose the negative normally (shot at Zone V, middle gray) and then push the print darker by exposing it in the enlarger longer. I wonder if you can tell which system I used here?

The Moab prints are true to form in that they are about 12 inches square, printed conventionally on Kodak 14 x 17 inch Polyfiber paper and toned with selenium,  for increased permanence but also to shift the basic black and whites into a slight color change, from an olive cast to  something a little warmer. 

For this last one I simply placed the camera right on the track.

The full Moab portfolio is now up on the site: here.

For a look at another series I made on the same trip go: here

Topics: vintage,Southwest

Permalink | Posted October 12, 2016

Chaco Canyon

Note: the blog is going to take a look at several series works I made in the late 90's and early 2000's that haven't been on the site before.  I stopped working this way in 1984 and then took it up again in 1996. 

Chaco Canyon. Ever been? Know where and what it is? Chaco Canyon is Anasazi Indian ruins about a 3 1/2 hours drive due west from Santa Fe, NM. It is is what is left of a large complex of dwellings abandoned by the Anasazi Indians as they retreated for unknown reasons in about the twelfth century. They were thriving, building, farming and then they were gone by the end of the twelfth century. A real mystery. Theories abound with the most plausible being a drought that forced the tribe to head north, to become nomadic after more than 500 years in this one valley. 

I've been many times and have even spent the night there, sleeping under the stars. Made pictures there too. 

My series starts off with this one of the large great house called Chetro Ketl, but quickly leaves it as I headed up a trail that carves through the cliff face to arrive at the top looking out on the canyon below and the plateau above it.

Petroglyphs are common here.

Chaco Canyon is strikingly beatuful, accessed by traveling on a dirt road that closes when it rains, hidden away in a valley on a plateau in the desert. It's a mysterious place, filled with ghosts of a time long  gone, of a vibrant community and highly civilized society that simply left and vanished.

Let me provide some context. I made the Chaco Canyon series in 1998. This series came a couple of years after I made the Portland, Maine series (here) and a year after the Oakeksdale Cemetery one in 1997 (here). I was back in the business of making series work after a spell of 12 years or so. I'd concentrated during those years on working in 8 x 10.  That work was far more incidental (individual photographs intended to stand on their own as opposed to sequenced and ordered bodies of work). This was a very prolific time for me as the Oakesdale Cemetery series introduced me to many new ways of making pictures in sequence. My idea behind what the narrative form was also changed during this time. I was seeking now to expand an understanding of a place into many pictures but also to be more directorial as well. Chaco Canyon conforms both to earlier ways of putting pictures next to pictures but also extends it by being a highly specific and intentional journey that was mine alone.

The full Chaco Canyon series is on the site: here

The series concludes with this picture above, carved into the rock floor of the cliff  above the Anasazi dwellings. I was photographing here on a far more subliminal level, trying to convey a sense of a past civilization and a collective intelligence that was staggering. Imagine leaving the home you grew up in but also the whole city around you leaving too.

For me the concept is to imbue my pictures with something of, yes, the place where we are, but also of our perception and emotional reaction to where we are. This is what is missing from so very much of the landscape work we see on line these days. I've written before about "special places", where we find some visceral and personal connection to some place where we are, whether it is something like Chaco Canyon, or something closer and more privately held.

I urge you, if interested, to come to  555 Gallery in Boston to see the prints.

As always, I am very appreciative of your taking the time to look at my work and to read my thoughts about it.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Southwest,Analog,Landscape

Permalink | Posted October 7, 2016

Robert Frank: Sideways

Drove up to Brunswick, Maine last week with colleague and friend Michael Hintlian to see the Robert Frank show called Sideways. The exhibit was at the Museum of Art at Bowdoin College. I urge you to go. It's up til January 29, 2017.

I would describe this as a modest showing of Frank's works, mostly pictures made before the mid 50's Americans work and some after. On the other hand, can any exhibit of Robert Frank's photographs be called "modest"? What the show does is flush out what Frank was seeing and thinking about before he made the epic "Americans" and also after. Fascinating.

The logistics of the show is that it was pulled together by two Bowdoin professors teaching two classes and the students in those courses. We are in their debt. 

My first impressions in coming into the gallery and scanning the prints is that this is truly old work, seen now in the context of the medium's history: 11 x 14 black and white analog points, 4 -ply over matts, black Nielsen frames and Frank's photographs; often grainy, muddy, shot in extreme light and needing spotting. Signature Robert Frank. Doesn't matter, their weight and power are self evident. Everything you've heard and read about Robert Frank's significance is true. The work in "Sideways" only serves to verify this is one of the powerhouses of a medium that had never seen anything like what he did in the mid fifties. No wonder he couldn't get "The Americans " published in the US and had to go to Europe to get it printed. I've seen the work prints he submitted for publication: grainy, muddy, shot in extreme light and needing spotting. Hell, I've failed students for submitting work as bad as that! Again, doesn't matter.  His work is amazing.

Criticism of the show? Not much. The wall plaques are a little over the top... I chose not to read them, which is typical for me. Remember this is a museum on a college campus. There is an educational role to fulfill here.

The show looks a little "pieced together" to me but doing this was a most monumental effort, I am sure. You try finding works like these, getting them from foundations, private owners and collectors, perhaps on loan from other museums. Not easy work.

Curious about the Pennwick Foundation, where a lot of the prints for the show came from? Me too as I'd never heard of it before.

The Pennwick Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to broadening public awareness of art. In addition to publishing a variety of books, catalogues, and electronic media on topics including, but not limited to, fine art, photography, and film, the Pennwick foundation seeks to create educational opportunities and increase access to the arts through the development new methodologies of exhibition. 

Worth over four hours of driving up and back from Boston to see the the show? Absolutely.

Highly recommended.

Closes January January 29,  2017.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 4, 2016