Photographic Fulfillment

In the large movement of the thing we call "photography"where it has become so large as to be pervasive I believe most are looking for photographic fulfillment. Let me qualify: this pertains to those of you that call yourselves photographers.

Sure, perhaps not so much when you're young or just snap shooting but, yes in the world of artistic photo expression, fulfillment. Simple, really. In your list of aspirations, being realistic, are you going to get discovered all of a sudden (whether you're in your fifties or sixties or thirties and forties, doesn't matter) by getting that key slot in the Whitney Biennial this year, the solo show at MOMA, the MacArthur? Probably not. But to derive satisfaction from your work, to be fulfilled by the art you make, well, there's just about nothing better.

So, what is that? This ambition we have? This drive? 

Is it solely because we love what photography can do? I don't think so, although that's in there.

Is it because we have a gift and are sharing it with the world? (Read my post on  Nobody Cares about Your Photography: here.).

Is it because our audience demands it? Again, not so much.

Ah yes, love this one: is it for financial reward? Hah! Very funny.

Is it because we're God's gift? Probably not.

No, I believe it is mostly for fulfillment, or what little spark of completion, resolution, redemption, satisfaction we get when we touch close to this holy grail. Once you've got some years of experience under your belt, once you've lived a while and what serves as wisdom that comes from hindsight is in there, when you're practicing this rather odd thing of going out into the world to make pictures with some tool around your neck, it is fulfillment that sustains.  Complete a new body of work, something that holds to my standards, finish and look back with the realization that I learned something and grew and shared some perceptions that I believe are worthy of your consideration, to add some beauty poetry and music to someone's day, to share in our common human experience. Yes, that's very fulfilling, both to me and to you if the work is good.

But this isn't so easy todo, is it? This work we do, trying to reach something unobtainable or at least extremely illusive, often glimpsed but seldom achieved. That's probably why we keep coming back for more, as abusive as it may seem. For me my specific hot point is something I think of as being "sublime".  There have been many over my career and, I hope, many more. Let me show you a few: 

Nantucket 1981

It is very hard for me to disassociate the single picture from the series it comes from, so I usually don't. However, I certainly can find the one key picture from a series, as in the Nantucket one above, as it launched in essence my whole career.

Hershey, PA 1996

Healsdburg, CA, 1999

There isn't always complete alignment in what I think of as being sublime with viewers of my work. That's okay as each brings their own baggage to looking at work. But perhaps the level is what is most important, that I have raised the bar on a viewer's expectations.

Bermuda, 1980

Professional viewers, curators, collectors, gallerists and critics look at photographs a little differently this way: how the work might fit in the stable of photographers they show, fit into their collection, fit in a historical context, fit in a show they are working on down the line or even if my sex, age or race fit, whether by showing my work or purchasing it will look good in their colleague's eyes, move them up in their own careers, and so on. It is never as simple as great work getting acclaim and being committed to.

 "Mona" from the Monsters series, Fitchburg, MA 2014

Where does this leave us in our pursuit for fulfillment? Well, keep the bar high, of course. Making art is not really about compromising or settling, at least in this context. I also believe we are lifetime students, hungry to learn, progress and move forward. Finally, I don't know that I've ever been completely satisfied by something I've done, content or fulfilled by a a completed series; frequently close, but perfection is illusive after all.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD 2014

It's simple really. Keep working. Ever heard of a retired artist? Artists don't usually retire, they just die.

Near Pullman, WA 2013

One thing is for sure, finding photographic fulfillment while sitting around and not photographing is mostly impossible. When have you ever regretted going out to shoot? Me, never. Something usually happens, some idea forms, some way of looking at things differently presents itself, some perspective on my surroundings shifts a little, opening a door to try something, to click the shutter. Actually, that is very fulfilling.

To close, one of my teachers way back in the 70's was Aaron Siskind. What a great guy and photographer. He called the fulfillment I've been writing about here "the juice", as in how something ordinary like an olive tree or a stone wall becomes elevated to a high level through our eyes with a camera. So true, imbuing something mundane with something special so that it transcends its own existence. One of the things we do, yes?

The Palouse from above, Washington 2016

Topics: Commentary,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 6, 2016

This is Big

This is big. What I am about to write about needs prominent placement. Well, maybe not on a scale such as the election of our next president, the North Dakota pipeline debacle, numerous mass killings, earthquakes, forest fires, terrorist attacks, etc. But nevertheless big in the present day photo and art making world where imagery comes from some sort of  digital capture. I have written about this topic before, hit it tangentially but never hit it straight on. If ever there was a time you should perk up and read a blog of mine right through, this is the time.

It doesn't matter what you call yourself; a photographic artist, a documentarian, a photo journalist, a commercial photographer, an amateur. Whatever your definition of how you use photography, you must make prints of your work. It is that simple. 

Starting right off, I am going to go with the topic of death here and what goes on after you die. Forgive me for speaking of the collective "you" in such terms but yours and my death can happen any time and, after all, we all die. 

Say you die. What happens to your work, be it a career's worth of photographs or pictures just made recently because you're new to photography. Well, if it is in printed form, stored well, searchable and accessible then there are great options for it. Your heirs can donate it, show it, publish it and so on. 

But if your work sits as files on a computer, back up hard drives, raids for redundancy, in the cloud somewhere then nothing  will come to light of your work. It's a bold and blanket statement but think about it. No one really is going to go in there and make prints of your work contained in folders and files. The only situation I can think of where there might be an exception is that you've worked with an assistant or a partner for years and he/she is tasked and funded to continue working to get your work printed, seen and recognized after you die. Otherwise, forget about it. My nightmare is this: the tower or significant desktop computer is unplugged, brought down to the basement or the back of a closet to sit there unloved and unused or worse, wiped clean by that computer geek nephew who likes the idea of using your super high end Mac or PC for his computer gaming. OMG! Can you imagine? Literally years of work gone, dragged to "trash" and emptied. Not pretty, right?

If you have made work you believe worthy of more than just sitting in a hard drive  then it must be made as prints, made to the highest of standards you are capable of, sequenced, titled and annotated so that when it is looked at all questions are answered. In brief, work that is made as a portfolio that is publish-able, exhibit-able, donate-able, purchase-able. 

Or, again, back to after you die. You had a significant reputation while you were alive. People followed your work, came to your shows, collected it, purchased it and valued it. Your photographs are housed in many museum permanent collections. It is in book form (good, btw).While many or more prints you made are gone or scattered all over, the really excellent work that is made but not printed yet, sitting on that h.d. #3 that you cranked up only rarely to retrieve those wonderful files of the major photo shoot that was an epiphany for you years ago  on Baffin Island that summer where you made those incredible photographs that changed your perception of everything... whoosh, whisked away into thin air one weekday afternoon by some geeky 14 year old nephew who asked if he could use that computer that's gathering dust sitting on the floor in the basement to make more space for his "Grand Theft Auto V."

Listen, all the back ups and redundant storage of files, projects, RTP's (ready to print) are very important. But only while you are still working, still alive. You expect someone to go inside your computer  to find that stuff  and print or send it off somewhere? Not bloody likely. You want to saddle your partner with this task, perhaps a daughter or a son?

Don't. Make prints. Into portfolios, labelled, filed, sorted, dated and accessible, sitting on a shelf or in a flat file drawer. Turn the digital into analog and therefore making it relatively permanent, and certainly long lasting. Trust me. Make it so.

Prints have a great history as archives. Most prints are relatively stable and recognized as objects that last. Can you say that about your computer files sitting on a hard drive? Prints can be pulled off a shelf, looked at, reordered, edited, sent, exhibited, published, purchased and collected as valuable objects. RTP's (ready to print) files on your computer? While certainly valuable to you and thought of as  the reference for images you've shown, received critical acclaim for and perhaps sold, not so much. And most likely, totally worthless after you are gone.

Lastly, what qualifies me to write all this, to take such a strong stand making the assertion that prints are what matters? My career as a photography professor and experience for one. But also because a colleague and I started and continued as members for the past two years a working group formed to deal with just this kind of issue, called Photographers Legacy Strategies (PLS). Comprised of highly qualified photographers, lawyers, archivists, museum directors and curators, PLS tackled this head on. The issue of the need for photographers to make prints of their work came up early in our discussions when we realized that this was the only way to preserve important work in our digital age. Please. If you've made good work, work you believe should out survive you, make prints of your files on high quality paper, using good inks and store those prints well.

Finally, finally. The above article pertains also to viewing work and is why I will not look at files on a laptop or iPad at a portfolio review. Too much electrons moving around on a screen and not enough to prove the work will be the same, In effect, too slippery. Not fixed. Could be " here today and gone tomorrow" or at least different tomorrow. Prints show some commitment as well as demonstrate your skill.

Disclaimer: I do not receive anything from printer, paper and ink manufacturers. I accept no advertising or sponsorship and I have no reason to. While I use these things, I receive no discounts and am not loyal to any one brand. 

Thank you for reading my blog.

Topics: portfolio,portfolios take 2

Permalink | Posted November 30, 2016


Thanks to my friend and colleague Andrea Star Greitzer, I have a logo! Never had one of those before. We started with several designs. This was an earlier iteration but I felt the colors were wrong.

There are three things that are primary in my career and Andrea knows them probably better than anyone:

1. I am all photo all the time.

2. My earlier career spanned over 30 years working just in black and white. It wasn't until the early 2000's that I started working in color. 

3. I am a stickler for technical proficiency and high quality in my photography. We felt that it was appropriate to include an aperture, as a universal symbol for a technical characteristic of photography.

Here's the final one:

Why a logo? It helps to establish your "brand" as it identifies what you stand for and speaks to your aesthetic in a symbol. Think about the issue of "identification", trying to state with just one photograph what your work is all about. Impossible, right? But a logo, while seeming to put you in with large companies and corporations, gives a visual clue to what your work is about.

With thanks to Andrea!

BTW: I am sending this blog out today, November 25, 2016 on my 70th birthday. To celebrate this, many close friends and my family met in Orleans on Cape Cod last weekend for a get together and party that started Friday and lasted until Sunday. I thank all for coming and bringing wonderful food and drink. I especially thank Suzanne, longtime friend and former student, for loaning us her wonderful home in Orleans.

Topics: Darrow,Fred Sommer,Harry Callahan

Permalink | Posted November 25, 2016

Oakesdale Book

It is a distinct pleasure to be able to announce the publication of something very special. The new book of the Oakesdale Series is just out, as it just arrived this week.

This is the first in a run of small books that are going be printed that showcase my vintage series work from the 1980's and 90's. Each book will have just one series, and will be numbered and signed by me.

The books will be small, 7 x 7 inches, modest and inexpensive but beautifully designed and printed. We are making an initial run of twelve separate books and will offer a slipcased box to hold them in.

Currently either in process or under consideration are the following series:

Hershey, PA

Yountville, CA

Nantucket, MA

Peddocks Island, MA

Old Trail Town, Cody, WY

Solothurn, CH

Moab, Utah

Chaco Canyon, NM

Northampton Fairgrounds, MA

Billings, MT

Thompson, CT

I can't express just how good they look. They are gorgeous. Oakesdale is now out and Hershey is in the final editing phase:

The books will be sold locally in the Boston area and also available online through my website.

If you're interested, please let us know (Neal's email). That way we'll know how many to print in subsequent printings. I believe earlier numbers in this limited edition project will be prized as collectors will want to get in early,  as well as lower numbers in the edition will be cheaper. Pricing will be tiered: the first 100 copies of each book will sell for $25 each, with shipping and handling added to that. The next 100 will increase in price and so on. Finally, you will be able to subscribe to all twelve books, receiving one after the other as they are published. Caution: don't order yet. Let us put in place the payment and shipping structure first so that we can get these books to you in a timely and efficient manner.

I like to think of these new books in this way: while most who follow my work will never get to see the original prints from these series, you can, for the cost of a few cups of coffee or a modest meal out, have a signed and numbered copy of a book that is elegant and dedicated to individual series, photographs that constitute seminal work from my career.

These are very beautiful books. Designed by Andrea Star Greitzer, a valued colleague, former student and key friend, Andrea is the force behind most of my publications and is responsible for any branding associated with my name and work.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Topics: Analog,Black and White,Domestic

Permalink | Posted November 17, 2016


Going shooting. Out photographing. Photo road trip. Meaning the act of photographing, usually outdoors. It's what I do and many of you too. But I wonder how many of the photo trips you make, whether they be day trips or longer ones, are done solo.

I just ended a ten day trip to SE Washington to photograph, incessantly, the fields in the area, and working alone is much on my mind. I have a theory about this, this solo approach: it allows you to get inside the work better. Maybe another way to say that is a solo trip gets you looking at decisions you are making and cutting through noise to allow you to be in synch or in unison with the pictures you are making. On this most recent trip I didn't have a conversation longer than a couple of minutes with anyone since I left home. Long days driving on farmers' dirt roads makes for much thought: about the pictures I have made, am making and will make. Long nights when the light has left the day were spent biding my time sleeping, waiting for dawn, recharging myself and my batteries, downloading files, writing blogs, occasionally going out for a meal or a beer. But my myself, solo. 

 Working solo is immersive, as it should be. 

I learned a long time ago how to make pictures in a group or with a friend. I don't have a problem with that as some do. After all there were countless field trips, hauling students in a van to various places to shoot, on class day but also on weekends. I would photograph on those trips as well.

But the solo photo trip, the road trip where time is spent on the prowl for pictures by yourself, day after day, getting completely into the act of photographing regularly, establishing a routine of shooting, looking, assessing, discriminating, rejecting, accepting, waiting, hurrying up, making decisions, missing opportunities, screwing up, succeeding, being jubilant, being crestfallen, talking to yourself, being bored, needing to take a leak, getting in the car, getting out of the car, setting up, tearing down, taking a break, looking at files, day after day. That's the kind of trip I am talking about. 

To many outsiders this all looks like a vacation. And in some ways, of course, it is. Certainly it's a vacation from sitting in an office doing stuff you don't want to do. But it is work too. I think of it as what I do, my work, what I have done my whole career. It is an essential part of my process, my methodology as a career artist, intrinsic and as intuitive as making my prints in a darkroom for 25 years or working the files and inkjet printing the results. 

It is also something more of my adult students should do, photograph alone. Often there is a non photo partner along. Not so good. Distracting and conflicting, as supportive as they may be. Look, this thing photography is hard, not as easy as going "click" with a camera up to your eye. Photography is amazingly illusive, to do really well. It takes all we've got and then some to make truly significant photographs. Truly great work is almost impossible, a few in a lifetime, I figure. So, work hard and increase your chance for success. Think! Concentrate! Look! Research! Discriminate! 

What does that say to you, to your family and friends if you make a trip just to photograph? It implies a level of commitment and dedication. Ultimately it doesn't matter where, the exotic and gorgeous (which, as you probably know, has its own problems) or the run down and/or ordinary. It's a "frame of mind" thing, isn't it? To flip it a little, think about going to say, Albany, NY to photograph. My choice of cities is arbitrary but for most of us we wouldn't ever have any reason to go to Albany, let alone photograph there. How freeing is that? Pick a place and don't go for touristy things only. Go for pictures. 

And try photographing  solo.


This blog is provided to you as a public service, to increase awareness and understanding of artistic process, visual communication and my creative career. While I shamelessly promote my own work, I frequently look at others' as well and try to write posts that improve our knowledge of this discipline we all love. I accept no advertising and do not endorse for compensation any products used in the making of my work. 

If you read the blog and believe it a worthwhile addition please let me know:

Thank you.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2016