The Printer

The title "The Printer" not only defines the inkjet printer I use to make my prints but also my career, for I am nothing if not a printer.

Darkroom days: countless hours printing in various darkrooms, many that I built myself. Before digital, computer displays and the internet photographs were, quite simply, seen by prints made on paper, whether published or actual prints.

My practice still is print based, although I gather much of the following of my work through my website and blog. Unfortunately, the presentation and craft of  prints that are exhibited these days is often lacking but still remains of paramount importance to me.

For almost 6 years virtually every print I have made came from my Epson 9900 44 inch inkjet printer. Though most friends and colleagues have moved on by now from theirs, mine kept on trucking, admittedly with more head cleanings and some banding from time to time. This is most likely attributable to a "single user", meaning me, and great care taken in preserving and maintaining the printer. Before it died last week it showed over 5000 prints made.

But returning from the recent trip out west to start editing files and print the work from the wheat fields of the Palouse, I ran into trouble right away. I could not get the yellow ink to give me much yellow at all. Think "wheat" in color. Yellow is the most important of colors.  I'd dial in more yellow, saturating it on screen and the subsequent print would only show a little. Nozzle checks bore this out. A significant gap in the yellow range. Several cleanings and what is called a "power clean" which uses a lot of ink, and the head was still clogged. These are sure signs that the head needs replacement. By the time you pay for a technician to come and replace the head and do the work to bring the printer up to specification you really just should purchase a new printer.

My new Epson 9000 arrives this week.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2019

I Defy You

I defy you not to be seduced by the Palouse. It is as though the region was left off of the "progress train" or that it has avoided so much that we suffer from daily.  The Palouse exists in a bubble of little change with the rural surrounding the urban with oceans of wheat. It is an extraordinary place.

Locals will tell you there is little to do here. I get that but believe if you are inherently visual and get yourself to Spokane, rent a car, drive south on Rt 195 to Colfax or Pullman, book into a motel, rest up and go out just a little before dawn the next morning, head up Rt 27 to the town of Palouse or over to Almota west of Colfax you will be captivated, converted, persuaded and convinced you have arrived at some sort of heaven on earth.

Late June/early July was good this trip, later is good too although it gets hot, too early and there is stubble and dirt, still beautiful but not lush, late after harvest in the fall can be fine, all browns, golds, yellows and deep magenta.

Stay awhile and you will begin to adapt and accept the pace here. A little different, particularly when the two big schools, WSU and MSU, are out for the summer. Slower, less frenetic, people are friendly and amiable, quick to smile, pull your leg or have you on. People less threatened, defensive, on guard and less pushy, if perhaps a little leery of those from the "real world" of cities, office workers, commuters caught in traffic, just not sure what they have in common with "city folk". 

The place could turn a street shooter into a landscape photographer, I swear. 

As you cruise around look for the small green road signs. Those are county gravel roads that are used mostly by farmers to get to their homes or to their fields with their equipment. Often these fade out to a narrower track that is just dirt and often very dusty. Some are so disused they have grass growing in the tracks. Anything unpaved is best, you can stop wherever you like to make your pictures and these dirt roads go everywhere. In earlier years I used to worry I'd get lost, caught for hours trying to retrace my steps or find my way but I learned to just go with it, finding sooner or later I'd hit pavement and that would lead to a town and therefore back to my base.

You will make photographs that look much like mine and many others, for we are not alone out here making art anymore. I am most critical of what most make here for I find cliche, repetition, and pedestrian work the norm. There are a few that raise their work to a higher level, knowing what is really here and how best to utilize it, to craft the fields of the Palouse into strong individual, consummate statements. 

It is all deceptively simple, stop; point your camera at it, click the shutter and you've made a nice picture, I am sure. Because of that and the almost 30 years of photographing out here, I do not take it for granted, assume success or even comprehension, let alone excellence. For this is, on the one hand, easy and on the other very difficult. But I try and work hard, to be fluid and practiced here is good for it serves the work best. One can do fine here through first impression. But to make real work takes time and patience. All too easy on the one hand and exceptionally difficult on the other. Much like photography itself.

So, when you come, try to give yourself some time to acclimate to it, to find its core values and your own proclivities, its inside and essence.

Go to the Palouse. It will blow you away.

Note: I am back as I flew home from Spokane July 9. I am working on files now and will begin making prints soon. I will post the results on the site soon.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Northwest

Permalink | Posted July 11, 2019

I Can Remember

I can remember my teacher in graduate school Aaron Siskind telling me to keep it simple. Made sense to me. Not knowing what I was doing, it seemed like a good idea to make simple statements, to work towards complexity by starting from a foundation of knowledge that was known and manageable. This would also serve to build my confidence when I had little.

I remember thinking then that what Aaron was really telling me was to "keep it simple, stupid" but in retrospect, I don't think so. He wasn't diminishing me or my work. He was interested in my efforts at design and was a very experienced teacher. He could see me reaching and making mistakes. "Slow down and build a foundation first", he seemed to be saying.

On the one hand, photographing out here is deceptively simple. Get off the paved roads onto the dirt tracks that are the farmers' access roads to his crops, stop, point your camera and click the shutter. But to really capture this phenomenal place, to distill the Palouse down to photographs that are essential and elegant is not for the faint of heart. This takes care, experience, expertise, and a strong work ethic.

Lesson learned?  Let me know what you think: Neal's email

Topics: Digital

Permalink | Posted July 5, 2019

Wheat Again

If you've been reading the blog for a while you know that my photographs of the wheat fields in the area of eastern Washington called the Palouse have been central to my oeuvre for over twenty years.  I packed up and was on a plane to Spokane at dawn on Saturday.

After the opening of the American West show in Allston last Thursday I was done. Shows are work and this one was in many ways more work than most. One person shows put it all in one place: you. 

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon (7/2), I realize that being here, amid this incredible beauty, clean air, and blue skies, my mood and my disposition were severely affected by the photographs of fire damage at Paradise, CA included in the American West Show.

It is all too easy to see doom and gloom in our world these days. Being here in the Palouse, the extensive agricultural region in the southeast of Washingon, is like stepping off, getting free of the crisis that our daily lives are these days. In all the years I've been coming here little has changed. The land that time forgot.

So, what of the pictures? What am I here to do? Is it more of the same or something different?  The answer is a little of both. The last time was in late fall of 2016.They  are here. Rougher, coarser, the time of year predisposed the pictures completely. Here in early July they are not far from the first cycle of crops being ready to harvest. It is lush, very green and the wheat is at about mid thigh. 

I cannot escape that I  am making better files each time I come here. The first ten years or so  I was working in 8 x 10, 1993 to 2003, first only in black and white then in color. Now, of course, it is all digital but the evolution of those files is from smaller to larger, to lenses of longer reach and of higher quality. Easy to take for granted but the rendition obtained by pointing my camera at a field and clicking the shutter is now so high as to be comparable to the sheets of 8 x 10 film I used earlier.

Wheat 1997 8 x 10

The precedent for the work I do here is most likely Franco Fontana, working mostly in the 1960's. Let me clear, I care little for the barns, fences, horses,  combines harvesting this year's crops. Abstraction and design, light and form are my game, simple enough. Not so much what it is as what it becomes as a photograph.

Later this week I will make aerial photographs, much as I have in other years. The 2016 ones are here.

 This is what canola looks like.

Stay tuned. More Wheat coming.

Topics: Wheat

Permalink | Posted July 2, 2019

Show is Up

The Harvard show of my work is called "American West" and it is up and opens tonight!

Assistant Jillian Tam and I brought the work over to the gallery on Tuesday and with the help from friend John Rizzo, unwrapped it and positioned the work. The Ed Portal's Art and Culture Director Beth Plakidas hung the show.

It looks terrific. This afternoon/evening from 5-7 pm. 

See you there!

Permalink | Posted June 27, 2019