Topic: Color (86 posts) Page 1 of 18

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


I have had a preoccupation with facades, which, for me, includes fences and walls, for a very long time. In fact, in 1979 I made a series of pictures called Fences and Walls that was my first cohesive group of pictures after finishing graduate school in 1973. Fences and Walls was the body of work that formed the foundation for this way of seeing.

From Fences and Walls 1979

This same approach carried through to some of the mall work I did in 2009-2012.That series was called Mallchitecture and looked at buildings designed for a purpose and function practically devoid of an aesthetic.

Facades played a key role here. My earliest awareness of this interest was a show my work was in at MIT called, oddly enough, "Facades", about 1977. This was when Minor White was still alive. I met the white haired photographer and guru a couple of times and was in awe of his reputation and the depth of his approach. The fact that he had deigned my photograph worthy seemed as if from the hand of God at the time. In those days White curated a concept show every year or so with titles like Light (to the 7th power), Octave of Prayer, Be-ing Without Clothes. 

Photographs of facades, surfaces, fences and walls have been part of  my photographic agenda for a very long time. Was I aware in these early career years I was looking at the world through this specific lens?  That I was consumed by an agenda not on everyone else's list? No, I was not.  I wonder how many people new to the arts are so self aware they know their stock in trade or can access the uniqueness of their point of view in those earlier years? Few, I believe. I also believe this then becomes one of the primary roles teaching needs to play. To acquaint the student with just what it is they are doing, how their work fits into the overall scheme, what precedents there are and the relevance of the premise.

There is another prevailing aesthetic I can track over my career and that is what I call: "Planetality". I know, I've even made a word for it. This is the need, desire or prevailing characteristic of making pictures that exist in planes, most prominently in parallel planes. Stand in front of a building or flat surface, preparing to make a picture of it. Will you make the picture at an oblique angle or point up or down? What drives this in you? Do you not care care that lines converge or that one edge of the building will bow out or in? Or do you wish your pictures to reside in the relative neutrality of not having imposed a specific directionality to them? Again, stand in front of the building, keep your camera level and center yourself so the left and right sides are equidistant and parallel to you holding the camera and you have a picture that is far more neutral, thus allowing the building to dominate, not the signature of the picture of it. Imagine in current times this being a concern! But how you do this affects the outcome.  If the building is too tall or there is too much foreground in your picture? Well, that's what a view camera is for or, in these days in the digital world,  "lens corrections" in Photoshop or, last, a PC lens. The principle is to keep the camera parallel to the surface and shift the lens to raise, lower or slide left or right.

At any rate plane to plane is important to me, not always, but often.

Most of the photographs in this post are from the series called Mallchitecture.

Topics: Color,vintage,Analog,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 19, 2017

Delaware Water Gap

Looking for someplace to photograph? Consider yourself a landscape photographer? Live within reach of southern New Jersey or upstate PA? Take a look at the Delaware Water Gap, about 20 miles of exquisite river valley along one side of the Delaware River in New Jersey. Wikipedia is a good place to start your research: here.

I just came from driving along it, starting  from the South in the Poconos in PA heading home to Boston in the first week of May. After several days of rain, I can't imagine it being more beautiful.

The primary road is along the western side of the river, which allows frequent access to the water itself, with several campgrounds and put-ins for canoes and kayaks.

Hitting it off season is best for me as this is a very popular place in the summer and can get crowded. Rimmed on either side with high hills, cliffs and waterfalls, the whole area is a National Park so no strip malls, motels or gas stations. I have driven through it in the winter, spring and fall and they were all very beautiful.  

I find myself thinking of the Water Gap in terms like Eden, paradise, oasis, heaven,   utopia, and Shangri-La while being aware that these are reactions that may be a result of my post WW 2 birth, upbringing and education. Which, of course, calls into question just what our definition of paradise may be. For me, as a New Englander, it is the Water Gap. Who's to say what yours is? However, it is fair to say that the Water Gap represents a respite from present day USA and contrasts powerfully with the commerciality of the Poconos to the south and present day New Jersey with NYC close by to the north. My definition of paradise includes things like: respite,  quiet, serenity, privacy, beauty, isolation and even intimacy. Clearly a manifestation of things like getting a break from the: rat race, treadmill, production, deadlines, multi tasking, social networking, to say nothing of threats to our national parks and  walls on our borders. The other day while driving through it, and stopping frequently to photograph, I was in a sort of reverie or suspended reality, separated from the world that surrounded the park, early morning on a Saturday in early May. 

If you are a serious photographer and/or intentional it is worth being nearby with access to the park for several days. You'll need to bring your A game as it necessary to turn up your sensitivity to the light, the time of day, the air and the uniqueness of the time of year. Not for the feint of heart, real substantive landscape photography, for the majority is crap, over the top sensationalism these days, kind of like our current president. And so, I find the Water Gap a real challenge, to make pictures there that are expressive and evocative,  embodying a faithfulness to the content before me but also able to convey depth of perception and an acute sensitivity to our surroundings. On the other hand, maybe someone can point their smartphone out the window at the Water Gap at 50 mph, click the shutter and convey all that too. But not me. I need to stop, get the gear out, look around and slow the f___  down.

Postscript: After I'd shot the last frame of the day along the Delaware River, with my mind moving on to visiting my sick friend Keith Johnson in a rehab hospital in New Britain, CT that afternoon and then heading to BT's in Sturbridge for the region's best BBQ, then back to home, I looked down to find this:

staring up at me from the edge of a mud puddle.  I'd have to be brain dead to not regard this as a sign, a message from the photo gods shining down on me, approving of my efforts this early Saturday morning, rewarding me for making some good pictures along the Delaware Water Gap. I don't know if  I thought it to myself or said it out loud but out came a sincere "thank you!" I picked up the coin, put it in my pocket and thought, "Damn, this is good." Then second, "maybe this needs a blog".

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 10, 2017

Short Road Trip

After what seemed like an endless winter that included a sinus infection that lasted forever and three Three Amigos supper parties at the studio that were absolutely wonderful but also a lot of work, several new locally sourced series of photographs, including the big one called Shrink Wrapped, and various other things that kept me local I am back on the road again on a short six day road trip to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Why those? I could get to them in a day or so, didn't know them and they were a little south and inland, meaning it would be warmer and greener this first week of April.

I am having a blast, although looking out my hotel window in downtown Pittsburgh just now it is raining. 

My first leg was to drive all day Monday so as to arrive Tuesday morning at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright's 20th century masterpiece of modern architecture, for a two hour tour. This was wonderful, informative, thorough and allowed photographing. Rain's got to be a player this time of year and, in fact, my Falling Water day it was raining the whole time, which only made it better.

The picture on the left is of Mr. Kaufman senior, the original owner of the house.

I'd seen the house in the late 70's before the new welcoming center was built and the sagging end hanging out over the stream was reconstructed in 2003 with high tension cables imbedded below the living room floor. I learned on this trip that the house is now seen by 181,000 visitors a year!

What a way to kick off spring. Highly recommended but get your reservations in as this is a very popular spot. If you need to get to the area the night before as the long tours are at 8:30 a.m. know that there isn't much of anyplace to stay at nearby. I spent the night before going in Donegal, about 30 minutes away in an undistinguished but adequate Days Inn.

Next, after two nights in Pittsburgh with some sun I am driving to Baltimore today in the rain.

Topics: Road Trip,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted April 6, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 4

In Shrink Wrapped 1,2,3 we've looked at the early phases of a new project and then what happened as it matured.  I've worked through various issues in the effort to make  pictures that are involving and expressive from boats wrapped in plastic during the winter in coastal New England.

Shrink Wrapped 1: here

Shrink Wrapped 2: here

Shrink Wrapped 3: here

In this, the last post on the subject, I am sharing the most recent pictures made on a warm and very foggy day in Maine in late February.

Once again, I learned things and was surprised everytime I turned around.

The fog was a friend that day, before it started raining. Levitating these heavy objects free off the ground, floating them up into space, freeing them of their weight, constraint and even their purpose.This time on this shoot in the fog things went pretty far out there. Odd shapes, new forms, juxtapositions, feeling like a movie set with the fog machine turned up to high. Remember the maze scenes shot at night towards the end of the Kubrick film the Shining? Like that.

Once again, the project now had gone someplace else, this time into real abstraction, no longer bound to the ground or anything real.

What a completely haunting and mesmerizing experience, walking around these boatyards in the muffled quiet of a still and foggy day along the coast in Maine in late February. I felt alone, very small, isolated in these shrouded spaces.

The whole time on this project I've sought to elevate these things, these expensive, heavy and often massive boats, held in stasis, preserved, protected, wrapped mummies in plastic sheeting stretched tight. 

I now believe the photographing part is done. To give you how this works for me:  I've been editing the files and making small prints (19 x 13 inches) to see what these pictures look like. There are over 60 prints this size. I try to make the prints first quality at this stage as I think there is no point in anything else.  I then live with these, shuffling them around, categorizing and sequencing, making chapters or headings or sections. But in this case I don't regard Shrink Wrapped as a series that has a necessary flow or narrative, meaning that I think of these as single pictures put together into a group.  From those, taking the ones I believe are worthy and/or demand attention, I print  larger on 30 x 24 inch  paper. This at times is ludicrous as here I have to reprint sometimes and then, a humbling admission, print again to get them right. So far I amclose to 20 of these "finals" and have begun to show them. This is a phase of projects in the making for me. This week I showed the big prints to Susan Nalband, who is the owner of 555 Gallery where I show my work, and to my long time friend and colleague Andrea Greitzer, who has designed most of my books. Just a few days ago I showed them to Hanna Richman, my studio assistant. I value these opinions a great deal, indeed, opinions from everybody. And so it goes. I listen hard to people who look at my prints, shuffling them back and forth. I watch carefully too, their body language telling me about boredom, excitement, engagement, frustration. This is seeing  work through other's eyes, and is tremendously important. In between, when I have time, I go back into printing again after seeing some prints flawed through their reactions. This most likely means that I compromised on a print when I shouldn't have. Particularly true with this project I feel privileged to have the time and resources to dedicate to this work, to refine it and to mold it into just what I want it to be. How I ever managed to make concentrated bodies of work when I was younger, being a dad, working in a demanding job, I don't know. But I feel very fortunate now to be able to give a project like this total concentration.

One more thing before I close and that is my tremendous admiration for the quality of tools we now have. This, quite simply, is a project I believe would have been impossible in the days of film, chemistry and darkrooms. The smoothness of transitions, the capture of exceptionally subtle tonalities and distinctions in color are outstanding. These large inkjet prints are magnificent; subtle, luminous, expressive and evocative. 

So here we are at the end of four posts about this new Shrink Wrapped project. I thank you very much for coming along. Good work? You tell me. Done with it? Won't know for sure for a while yet, but probably.  Plans for the pictures?  Again, not sure. Usually the amount of effort I spend on getting the work out and seen is proportionate to the degree of enthusiasm I have for the work. In these I have once again stepped off a cliff, as in series like the Mutter Museum pictures, the Cabela's ones, Monsters and so on. Taking risk isn't new, in fact, I believe we all need to do this, take a chance, push ourselves out into unexplored places, whatever our field. I will continue to refine these pictures, showing them to people and gathering information about them. But, at some point and not too far away, I will need to leave them, say to myself, they are now done, box them and move on. This is the hardest part as to give up something you've worked so hard on and immersed yourself in so much is difficult. I need to lean on experience in this phase, to allow myself the permission to let go. When something is finished it is an emotionally hard time for me as I thrive on being in my projects and to be without one feels weird and disorienting. On the other hand, working on something like Shrink Wrapped is all consuming, where what I see is like tunnel vision, only looking for this one thing, therefore missing so much else. So soon, coinciding with the remarkable thing in New England called spring, along with nicer weather, I have plans to try some new projects, to point my camera in some different directions, to become a student again, to do something new.

I hope you'll come along.

Stay tuned.

Note: When I originally wrote this blog, I hadn't placed Shrink Wrapped on the site yet, but it is there now. I am showing some of my portfolios at 555 Gallery in Boston the afternoon of April 15 and pledge here to bring these along if you'd like to see them.

Topics: Northeast,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted March 28, 2017