Louis Kahn Exeter Library

Ever hear of Louis Kahn? A few years before contemporary architecture moved into its Postmodernism, Deconstructivist, Post-Post Modernism, etc. phases
Louis Kahn, one of our most brilliant architects, designed late in his career a library for Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH in 1970 that stands as one of his greatest pieces.

A friend and I took the day and headed up there from Boston,  11/2 hours away.  Had a good lunch too, at the Green Bean Restaurant, right in town (highly recommended).

With some ideas from the Coliseum in Rome, the library, named the Class of 1945 Library, is a brick and glass cube that integrates with the other 19th century buildings nearby on campus, also in brick.

Minimal and understated, the exterior stands in service to the library's function, almost neutral, as a counter to what's inside.

Which is a tour de force of innovation, engineering, warmth and solemnity.

Huge supporting concrete blocks formed as large circles or openings letting in light, keeping the space open and spacious. Circles within a cube: simply breathtaking and elegant.

Look up and you find this:

With a prevailing palette of concrete, oak and beige carpet with a little hint of marble  thrown in for good measure, the building exudes quality, class and impeccable pedigree,  appropriate to this high-end and rather exclusive boarding school.

We were there in June so things were slow, virtually no students at all. But I can't imagine the library being raucous and loud, as it felt more like being in a tomb or place of worship to me. Whispers came almost without thought, in regards to the  place itself, a kind of reverence and respect for being in a place of  truly exceptional design.

I found a few of the details wonderful:

Yes, but Neal, I hear you asking, isn't this a Photo Blog? Well, yes, it is but in something like what I call a creative life (same category when I wrote last spring about Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water) inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. This is about input and seeing what happens from it and, mixed in, sheer joy. 

It is my pleasure to bring this to you. 

Want to read more about Kahn? There's a great piece in the New York Review of Books about him, here, written by Martin Filler. 

Topics: Architecture,New England,Color,Digital,Falling Water

Permalink | Posted June 24, 2017

Facades Revisited

A while back I wrote a blog about photographing facades (link: here) and mentioned that I had a print in a show of the same name in the late 70's at MIT.

At the time I couldn't place my hands on the work and was mourning the fact that I didn't have a copy of the poster that came out for the show.

Well, I found both the work I submitted for the show AND the poster:

It seems I was showing with some great photographers: Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Philip Trager, Rosewell Angier and Robyn Wessner.

I also found my submission photographs

This feels a little like looking at someone's else's photographs, and, in some sense, it is for it is work from almost 40 years ago and this was a time when my career was really just starting. It is interesting also what I chose to submit. I am reminded that the well wasn't so deep in those days, meaning I simply didn't have great depth in this way of seeing yet.

Here's the image that was in the exhibition:

from downtown Boston, a building that is still there. 

Topics: facades,Black and White,vintage

Permalink | Posted June 18, 2017

WET

This is pretty much what I had for three weeks at Martha's Vineyard this spring. This is the table we sit at outside the kitchen on the deck in bright sun at breakfast sipping our coffees. Some of our conversations can go on for hours here with seconds and even thirds on coffee so strong that thirds are only for those made of hardier stuff than me. But today, in contrast, there is a "gale force winds" warning, it is 48 degrees and yes, it is raining.

Mind you, I am not complaining, for a cold rainy day at the Vineyard is a far cry better than the same almost anywhere else, but it has been like dodging bullets the past week or so trying to make pictures. I keep the camera in the car ready to go. Plus the clock is ticking on my time left as I have just a few days. It is always like this, I am beginning to get some work done and I have to leave.  Visual ideas are coming as needed these days and this place is certainly gorgeous. But really, looking at it through the car's window isn't quite the same as being in it. But, like I said, I am not complaining. It has been exceptional as flat light can be gorgeous.  A lot of my landscape work over a long career looks like it was made in optimal conditions, but not this new work:

Update: I  am now back on the "mainland" for two days and fully immersed in a life with traffic jams, lines to wait in, deadlines to meet, people to see, emails to answer, book proofs to review, prints to make and bills to pay. Spending time on the island puts much of your regular life on hold, a benefit in some respects but a detriment in others. The character of the island makes you step off, disengage, take a vacation and recenter your daily life to a different set of priorities. To be honest, for me, much of the mainland goes away. Although, I admit, I did watch the Comey testimony last week, it came through with the peculiar filter of watching something distant as though coming from a different country, amazing to hear what he was saying but not directly important as I  wasn't really there, was I?

Ah, Martha's Vineyard. Thinking of visiting? Try it off season, spring or fall. It is even amazing during the worst weather months January-March although come prepared. Summer is a form of siege on the island, not my favorite.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England

Permalink | Posted June 11, 2017

The Vello

What the hell is a Vello? It is an adapter that mates Sony E mount mirrorless cameras like the A7R mk ll with Nikon lenses.

Why go there? Because Sony is arguably one of the hottest things in high quality capture these days with its 42 mp A7R mk ll. Plus it offers this in a much smaller and lighter package than the DSLR's Canon and Nikon make. 

Let's play this out in a scenario: long time pro photographer Louise invested in Nikon cameras and lenses over many years, upgraded her cameras to stay current with new generations of digital capture and has both fixed focal length Nikon lenses and zooms in her kit. She just recently bought a Think Tank rolling case for all this gear as she can hardly lift it. She dreads traveling on assignment. Watching her negotiate stairs or rough terrain with the Nikon gear is not pretty and she's sore at the end of a work day.

When the new mirrorless Sony came out she read all about it and finally bought one, thinking the camera might serve down the line as a traveling camera capable of high quality results. Now started the struggle to buy Sony/Zeiss glass for the new camera. In the early days there weren't many lenses for the new camera. One of the key advantages to the Sony was that it permitted the use of adapters to allow other  lenses to work with the Sony. Except for Nikon. Evidently this was harder. And there were rumors that some adapters claiming to work with Nikon lenses were actually breaking the Sony cameras when attached. Not good. So, she waited and, to be truthful, she still preferred the Nikon D810 when its weight wasn't an issue. This was partly due to the really excellent quality she got with the Nikon lenses she had. She couldn't dispute the high quality imagery she was getting from the Sony but it was an off putting little thing, eating batteries, and with a menu made by the devil. The Sony was like trying to learn a different language. But, through forcing herself to shoot with it, she found she was slowly coming around to liking it more and trusting what it did.

Time marched on and the buzz online was that a company called Vello made an adapter that worked, called the LAE-SE-NF with firmware Version 4.0, for $400. The photographer Brian Smith was publishing data about a whole bunch of adapters Louise found very helpful. By now she had some good lenses (slower, lighter and less $) for the Sony but the new really excellent lenses now made for the camera, called G Master lenses, were fast, expensive and as heavy as the Nikon lenses she already had. She thought this through carefully and ordered the Vello adapter.

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8

The results? It worked, mostly. Louise found in testing that apertures and shutter speeds were displayed on the screen accurately, metadata transferred fine and autofocus almost always worked. She tried the Vello out with all her lenses and found that one older 50mm Nikkor lens wouldn't focus automatically but that otherwise it worked fine. And all her newer Nikkor lenses worked perfectly, although sometimes the camera hunted more trying to find something to focus on.

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikon 70-200mm f 2.8, 3rd gen

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikon 80-400mm f 4/5-5.6, 2nd gen

This $400 experiment had just saved Louise thousands of $ and had succeeded in lightening her bag when she was traveling on assignment. For her next trip she was going to take the Sony with her three lighter (and slower) Sony/Zeiss lenses and two Nikon lenses along with the Vello adapter.

All this would go in the Thank Tank case that she could now lift. Problem solved.

After spending the day testing this new stuff,  Louise treated herself to dinner at her favorite restaurant around the corner and ordered a half bottle of champagne for she was definitely celebrating. 

Note: The Vello is a quality piece, nicely made and finished. 

I do not receive any support for my equipment reviews and buy gear just like you do.

Topics: Equipment

Permalink | Posted June 5, 2017

New From Martha's Vineyard 1

Since I no longer teach I get to spend time every year in the spring and fall at Martha's Vineyard. My parents built a summer home here in 1964. After they died my sisters I inherited it and have kept it. We rent it out during the big tourist months of July and August and use it for ourselves and a large extended family in the spring and fall. (Interested in renting? Go to Vacasa.com and search for the Eliot Noyes house.)This results in me and my camera being here about three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

Being a compulsive photographer means that I work here, sometimes on specific projects (see Tom's Neck and Spring and Fall or MV aerials) as well as making pictures I see as I travel around the island. It is ironic that we acrue real miles driving from place to place here. The island is 25 miles long and our house is in Chilmark, called "up island" by locals. As the towns, hardware stores, markets, restaurants and much of anything urban is "down island" this means lots of driving. I almost always have a camera and a tripod with me and will often combine a trip to do an errand with a stop to make pictures, especially if the time of day is right or the light is exceptional. One of the advantages of living on an island is nothing is so very far away.

This spring my time here so far has been notable by the weather being really awful: cold and rainy. The Vineyard in the spring, with the island surrounded by cold water, can often be shrouded in fog. 

In between downpours I've been able to get some pictures I like from places like Chilmark Pond, Wasque on Chappaquidick, the cliffs at Aquinnah, Squibnocket Beach, Lobsterville and Long Point in West Tisbury. This in between going for lobster rolls in Menemsha, shopping for ingredients down island we will use that night cooking for guests at home, excursions and showing the island to first time visitors, home improvement projects, trips to the beach, driving to drop friends off at the ferry or to pick them up, driving to buy wine or beer, getting the island car inspected and on and on. A never ending combination of fun stuff and regular stuff on this island just a few miles from the mainland, yet a world apart too. 

The Vineyard has its problems, of course: a loss of industries such as fishing, rich people building mega houses,  affordable housing, a work force more dependent on immigrants each year, too many people in the summers, the Wampanoag tribe at Aquinnah fighting for the right to build a casino. One, for me as a photo-grapher, is that it is far too pretty. Years ago when I was teaching a workshop here, the photographer Bruce Davidson and I had a conversation about the difficulty of photographing on the island. Substantial and relevant pictures in an island paradise? Not so much. In some ways, it is a unique and large challenge to transcend the completely beautiful environment here to say something with your pictures.  This I mostly fail at, but not for want of trying.

Perhaps my most elegant solution a few years ago was to photograph it from an airplane. 

This allows abstraction and a sort of wonder at its sheer magnificence.

I will stop here for this post. But I will continue as so much work has come from here. In Martha's Vineyard 2 I will go back a little into pictures made in past years, some good some not so good and trace my exhibition history here as well.

Sty tuned.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted June 4, 2017