Is It Possible?

Is it possible that we are art while we are making art? Is it possible that the way we move, the way we use our bodies can be part of the art as we make our photographs? Is it possible that our stance, or position, or our fluidity as we place ourselves or react to something we are photographing has a big effect on the result? I think so. This isn't talked about much, isn't acknowledged but making photographs is a physical thing, you out there with a camera in the real world, on a street, in a field, on a train, in a room, in a crowd, in a studio. Where you are and, I would maintain, how you are, affects the outcome in a large way. And yet it is completely counterintuitive for us to try different positions. We tend to make the picture from where we first saw it. Walking down the sidewalk, camera in hand and we see something we want to photograph, we don't move, we stand right there and make the picture. Wrong. What about how our body is, this tool we inhabit our whole lives? What about its well being? Can it move and bend and be flexible to help put us where we should be?

Henri Cartier Bresson, Mr. "decisive moment" would have been right with me on this. He likened the act of photographing to dance, photographing as choreography. You can see this in his pictures, this magic of being in the right place at the right time doesn't just happen by accident.

As an example, I learned the lesson from him early in my career that to to get above and point down is an effective tactic. This states the obvious but to someone who deals with the horizon often in his work a strategy to eliminate the sky has to include getting above things and pointing down.

The result can be a perspective that is both fresh and distinctive. Bresson used this throughout his whole career, as have I.

This photograph used by permission, from my friend Marybeth Groff, its owner.

This one above carries the idea to the extreme. I made this in the 90's with an an 8 x 10 inch view camera hanging out over a railing on a bridge pointing straight down. The photograph from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts is part of what I call the "Down Work"  that includes work from the US, Italy and France, all in 8 x 10. This picture is one of the influencers to me starting to make aerial photos ten years later.

Orvieto, Italy 1992

My point: you can't deny the platform you use to make your pictures. It is your body. Don't deny looking at things from a different position when you make your pictures. Up high, down low, to the right, to the left, standing up on something or lying down on the ground

Moab, Utah 1998

makes a very big difference. 

Part of the art of making pictures.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Utah,Teaching blog

Permalink | Posted January 23, 2017


The second book in the Series Works is about to go to press. It publishes the Hershey series I made in 1997. Hershey is an important series in my ouvre as it reestablishes a way of working begun in the early eighties. This is narrative work and can be thought of as visual story telling.

I blogged about it:

Hershey: here

Hershey Part ll: here

Hershey Part lll: here

The first book, Oakesdale (see blog here), was printed this past November and is just about out of print. If we get enough demand for Oakesdale we will order a second printing. These books are signed and numbered by me, are 7 inches square and are available for $25 plus shipping, each. These books are being printed in extremely small editions and, as each one is signed, they will quickly sell out.The idea is excellent printing, elegant design with modest size and price.

The plan is to publish twelve of these little books and offer a slipcase to house them in. This group of books will come from series work photographs I made from 1981 to 2005, all black and white and all square pictures.

We are now in preproduction on the next one which is Yountville, CA.

Let us know if you'd like either Hershey or Oakesdale (or both). Send an email with your name and mailing address and we will put you on the list, with copies getting to you in about a month. You can also sign up for all twelve books and we will ship each one to you as they become available.

Neal's email: here

Thank you for your interest in my work.

Topics: Oakesdale,Hershey

Permalink | Posted January 20, 2017

Motel Art

For many years I've been photographing the wall art on display in motels I stay at. I travel quite a bit. These days my trips are often domestic road trips in my own car, or from flights, picking up a rented car, driving from motel to motel, night after night.  If I need a room for a night I'll try to book a day or so in advance through Hotwire or a comparable app. 

I pay attention to what's behind the counter as I check in at a motel. This is often what forms the guest's first impression and would seem important, at least to me. Sometimes a chain will hire a local artist or photographer to provide art for the motel, more usually it's handled by a company that does that on a "more for less" basis, art in quantity, with reproduced prints and framed posters in lower-end places, whereas at higher end hotels the quality is better, often showing original or commissioned art.

Different scenarios are that I am just booking into a motel for a night on a close-to-home two day shoot, or far away and on the road heading towards my destination, or booked in for several days up to a week or more in one place. More recently I am using  Airbnb, etc. more for stays in one place for a long weekend or a week or so. I can't help but notice what is hanging in my room, along the hallways in motels and in public spaces. Usually at the end of the day I am just too beat to pay much attention to what's on the walls but will wake up early, head on down to the breakfast area and find myself checking out what they did art-wise. Sometimes it is just too good, or too bad, to ignore. 

Usually the most gruesome spaces are the long hallways and within that genre the airport hotels are most often the most egregious; inhuman corridors, poorly constructed, worn and stained carpet, leading to mass housing on a grand sale, with no sense of anything soothing or sympathetic to our common human condition.

Motels and subsequently motel art, are, for me, an almost necessary evil. Convenient, plentiful, affordable they provide a place to lay my weary head after a long day of driving, shooting, driving, shooting for hours on end. They also can be simply awful; unsanitary, poorly maintained, devoid of aesthetic and poorly run. I search for affordable three star motels, but have been dealt some really poor hands over the years. This picture below came from a hotel in Virginnia on my way to North Carolina to teach at Penland one spring in my bathroom after I'd taken a shower.

Motel Art: I wonder if you do this too, photograph where you stay on a photo road trip?

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 16, 2017

South Shore 1977

Then 1977. Now 2017... forty years ago. Forty Years Ago! OMG! What happened? Shocking.

At any rate, in 1977 I was teaching two days a week at New England School of Photography in Boston and that's it. I was thirty years old and had finished gradate study at RISD in 1973. I didn't start teaching at Harvard until the fall of 1978. I knew this was no way to make a living, one class that met 2 days a week, but I did have a lot of time to work. I remember I worried about money a lot. In January through March that year I packed up my camera and headed to the south shore of Massachusetts from Cambridge, where I still live. I worked on the idea of blue skies made darker with the use of a 3 stop red filter- i.e. in black and white photography, a color filter over the lens makes its own color go light and its opposite colors go darker- at the numerous summer shacks and houses near towns like Plymouth and Situate and at beaches like Scusset Beach. My favorite routine was: shoot am, get lunch, shoot pm til close to dark, drive home, develop film, eat dinner, print, sleep. If it clouded up I'd head home.

I remember these came hard as I wanted a certain look. As minimal statements, they are series work before I made series work. They roughly connect but are not tightly sequenced, they're simply a body of work in my eyes. It wouldn't be until three years later that I would stumble across sequenced series works with the one called Nantucket.

Yes, they are very dark and moody, almost inky in the blacks. Also, they are  heavily toned, with a Kodak toner called Rapid Selenium Toner which was used in the hypo clear tray, after the print was fixed. I used this toner extensively in my  black and white years. I shudder to think how much as it not good environmentally.

I  made this with a Rollei Sl66 (which I still have), a single lens reflex 2 1/4 camera. I learned that I could place the horizon just where I wanted by raising or lowering the center column on the tripod (mine was geared and had a crank for setting the camera higher or lower). I thought this was cool, of course, as it gave me a sort of power over the outcome of the picture by controlling how thick the band of water would be as I put something in front of it.

The prints are about 10 inches square and mounted on 16 inch square museum board.

I remember I was entranced with the look of these when they were done. To be able to get this smooth transition from the darkest sky at the top to the lightest at the bottom still appeals. Yes, I was working on a skill set. The ability to render these with absolute evenness and smoothness then was very difficult. This all concerned the processing of the film in that the chemistry needed to flow across the emulsion in a random but consistent manner so that no one area got more developed than another and that no flow patterns were established. So easy today as digital just renders it as it is, but so hard then. Was this work shown? Yes, many times but only in those earlier years. At the New England School of Photography's gallery, at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA, in a local cooperative gallery, at a bar, and so on.

The full group of them are up on the site now and hold the distinction of residing at the very bottom of the gallery page as they are the first body of work chronologically on the site (the gallery page runs that way: the oldest on the bottom and the newest at the top). They are here.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Topics: Black and White,vintage,Northeast

Permalink | Posted January 8, 2017


Let's talk series. The way I make most of my pictures. Work that sits as a whole, published, or in a portfolio or in a show. Usually sequenced, often all shot in one pass, edited and printed for cohesion; a beginning, a middle and an end. Often a few standouts in there and then a few that are clearly not. The standouts seem to ground the group and the others will hover around it or surround it in sympathetic harmony, or that's what I hope for. An impression formed by the full series that approaches some completeness or comprehensive wholeness that a bunch of single photographs put together can never become.

Case in point, for me an oddly framed and seen, looser constructed series that came from the Cape last month. Beach shacks at an entrance to a public beach, cold and gray, early morning, windy and empty in late November. Shooting with a mirrorless camera which has a different feel for me, looking at the image on the screen depicted back there at arm's length. That wondering, somewhat inquisitive way of photographing that means the subject is being explored, discovered, analyzed, probed, rejected and made into photographs. Toying with whatever's in front of you. Such a wonderful way to work. Not photographing it so much as what it becomes as a photograph. Yes, that's different. Allowing the tool and the process to aid in making the image, working with the medium's assets and liabilities to craft pictures that live in the realm of poetry or perhaps a chamber piece or an  ensemble of players working in a contemporary way, aware of history but moving things forward a little, nudging the medium into ways of seeing not so very straight, not so rigorous and perhaps even a little, I don't know... relaxed. A Cubist principle getting in there to play a part in asking what is seen from this angle that changes the perspective. Not thinking of outcomes or results,  just being in the moment, allowing a career's worth of experience to flow out, comfortable in letting the medium make itself known or perhaps, getting out of the way a little.

"Pictures make pictures"

"Don't think too much"

 "Wonder what this will look like"

"Try this"



"What aperture?"

"Don't fuck this up"

"I wonder what's over there"

Some of these short phrases shared with students over the years. 

Inside. My thoughts. My looking and sharing with you. That's all, really. 

All that make any sense?

The pictures:

Boring, right? I know. As an attempt to build a justification for subjecting you to such banality let me try this. As a career professor heading a photography program at a large urban US university of some stature (Northeastern) there was often a stage I would reach with my students. If they'd come along a little and were beginning to grow in awareness of the medium they were studying there might be some interest in my work, as though maybe they could get from me the answer to making good pictures. Some would see this as a shortcut to better grades, perhaps. "Make em like his and he'll give you an A" was their thinking. But some would approach it from a better perspective, as though through understanding my path a little they might find their own. So they would ask, after searching my website or seeing a show or two, "how come you photographed that?" As though the reason for choosing a subject could provide the answer. I developed an answer over the years that I eventually wrote down and it went like this:

Imagine you started photographing in your early twenties and continued right up until yesterday and you'd made pictures extensively, traveling all over the world to make your art. You achieved some success with these works, having shows, your work being collected and published into books. While what you photographed was perhaps the first tier in a person's understanding of your work, with perhaps some more looking and study the second realization would come in understanding how you photographed what you photographed. If that proved meaningful or significant then perhaps the subject or content could be reduced or sublimated to allow the second tier to become more apparent or rise to the surface. This is close to the achievement of photographing nothing. In an experienced artists' hands perhaps the photographs of the banal and unimportant can be raised to a high level, maybe even to something sublime.

This would cause some sputtering, swearing and maybe even some yelling in frustration, which I admit, I enjoyed causing. I learned early that giving an answer was easy but to ask a question that would force their wheels to turn or them to think it through to find the answer to their own question was much better for them, and for me. Of course, this infuriated them. They were paying this huge amount of money to have their professor teaching them and all he would do is ask a question in response to their question. They hated that.

But back to these:

Making pictures of the everyday, the passed over, the discarded, the detritus in our lives is not new. I think of Lewis Baltz's, "New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California" for instance. One of my career preoccupations has been to photograph  places where design, architecture, aesthetic and beauty play no part, where things such as buildings are just put there, where there is no plan, no overarching idea as to the placement. Look at Lebanon, NH as a for instance.

This post has most likely been too long. After all you don't have all day to read this blog, right?

Topics: Digital,Color,Northeast,New Work

Permalink | Posted January 4, 2017