I've Been Asked

I've been asked by several readers if I would run through the equipment I've used over the years. Don't worry, the list is not long and I will try to pair the gear with examples as we go through it.

The first major purchase early in my career besides a couple of Nikons was the Rollei SL66 in 1971.

A great clunker of a 120mm format camera that made simply wonderful pictures

One of the camera's outstanding features was that you could tilt the lens. I had only one lens for it, the 80mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar, just a plain killer of a lens. That was it. I still have the Rollei.

Next up

in 1978 or 1979 was my first Hasselblad SWC (Super Wide Camera), bought used. I've owned two of these, at different parts of my career. A revelation of a camera. It was remarkably compact with no mirror as it wasn't an slr. The camera was easy to hold in one hand. Potent, though, when used with skill. It took me a while to get good with it. It had a 38mm Zeiss Distagon lens that became legendary for its quality while being very sharp. I made many many series with the SWC (examples: Nantucket, Solothurn, Yountville, Hershey).

Solothurn CH 1982

I sold the first SWC in about 1984 in order to be able to afford an 8 x 10 camera.

I bought the Toyo Field 8 x 10, an impressive piece of engineering and design. I bought it on the theory that metal would be better than wood (the Deardorf) and the movements were far more precise. It was heavy but made so many crucial pictures of mine over the next 25 years as to be indispensable. 

Western MA, 8 x 10, about 1990.

By 1996 I could afford a new Hasselblad and had not been making series work for many years. I bought another SWC and made pictures that count with it right away:

Portland, ME 1997

In 2004 I made a photo trip in the summer to Cody Wyoming. This was the last time I worked in 8 x 10 and went with the Toyo and three lenses and a Nikon D70. This was an entry level digital Nikon in early digital days. It was inexpensive  and it looked like a real camera but I thought it was mostly junk. At maybe 6 mp(?) all you really could do with it was to make small prints.

Then began a series of Nikons as the technology improved. First the Nikon D300

 in 2007 or 2008, a small chip camera, as I started to invest in lenses and make pictures that counted (see Cabela's),

then a big switch to full frame with the Nikon D3, a 12 MP camera. That camera was a significant jump in quality as the files were excellent and capable of some subtly in tonalities and color rendition.

By this time, 2008 or 2009 I had switched to working full time digitally and was only printing past negatives as inkjet prints from scans. I also invested in more full frame compatible Nikon lenses, namely the 14-24mm f 2.8, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikons. Of course, this is what hooks people into system cameras as they've invested so much in lenses it is hard to switch manufacturers.

Next was the outlandishly expensive D3X ($8000!) at 24 mp. This was another really remarkable camera. High quality files that could be printed larger, and rock solid dependability with great battery life.  The D3x looked virtually identical to the D3 but was almost twice as expensive.

By this time I was making more aerials and the quality increased in importance  as there was a demand for bigger prints.

Next up, for just one year, was the Nikon D800E, a breakthrough design at 36 MP but launched too early as it had real issues, including inducing its own camera shake with the results being a large number of blurry images. I hated it, although I  was able, with care, to get really good files.

From Monsters made with the Nikon D810 in 2014.

Within a little over a year, Nikon announced the D810 and I bought it right away. It solved all the problems of the earlier camera and became one of my favorite cameras ever. Again, repeatability and dependability are huge to a working pro and this camera was rock solid and produced wonderful files.

Currently I am working with two cameras, the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R Mk lll. The majority of files are made with the Nikon and so far all trips to photograph and aerials are made with it as well. The D850 checks all the requirements but it is relentlessly big and heavy. I think of the Sony as my "knock around" camera but I admit that my respect for it is growing. I like its low weight and bulk very much as the Nikon is just too much sometimes.

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

Sony A7r mk lll

If you've read this blog for a while you know it is usually not about the tools we use to make our pictures. But our cameras and lenses do affect our output, not only the look of our pictures but the capacity to make prints of high quality and  larger size. I hope this post has been informative and helpful. Questions or comments? email me here

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 22, 2019


Boston Society of Architects, 290 Congress Street, Boston. Exhibition of the photographs of Peter Vanderwarker and Neal Rantoul up through June 2019. Call for more information:617-391-1000.

Permalink | Posted February 18, 2019

The Mayhews

You ever listen to Car Talk on NPR? Tom and Ray Magliozzi the Tappet Brothers being very funny and outrageous, giving out car advice to callers? Tom died in 2014 but reruns continue. Used to be my garage, called Good News, back in the 80's. There's a puzzler every week on the show and Ray sometimes prefaces the week's puzzler by saying that it is "non-automotive". Well, although this is a photography blog, this week's post will be non-photographic.

Maybe this will buy me  back some of the readership I lost when I wrote a tech piece about a new lens a couple of weeks ago. 

I've been going to the island of Martha's Vineyard my whole life. My parents brought me here for the first time when I was less than one year old, in 1946. The island is now big time tourism, with growing numbers of summer renters,  seasonal residents and "wash-a-shores". But back then, the town where our Chilmark house is, had very few summer residents. Our family friends were locals like the Sewards, Fischers, Pooles, Flanders and Mayhews. Fishermen, farmers, real estate salesmen, post office workers. One of my dad's best friends was Ben Mayhew. Ben and Eileen Mayhew had five children: Jonathan, Peggy, Gregory, Skipper and Eileen, the oldest. As my parents didn't build their own house on the island until 1964, in those earlier years they rented most summers, always in Chilmark. So my growing up summers were defined by my times on the Vineyard and some of my playmates were Greg, Skipper and Peggy. Their mother Eileen was known as Big Eileen and was actually very tiny and their oldest daughter Eileen, who was known as Little Eileen, was actually very big. Big Eileen died in 2016 at 101. The service for her was held on the island and there were stories  about Eileen and Ben and the  kids growing up in a family where their dad went from being a sword and lobster fisherman to an elected representative for the island to the State House in Boston. Mayhews are buried at the  family plot in the Chilmark Cemetery at Able's Hill within spitting distance of where my parents are, and where I will be.

I dated Peggy Mayhew a few times in Denver where we were both going to school, she at Colorado Women's College and me at the University of Denver. Greg served in the Army during Vietnam and returned to find his father very sick. By this time Ben had been the state rep in Boston for a few years. When Ben died Greg served the remainder of his father's term. This was short lived as Greg was voted out in the next election so then took over where his dad had left off as a fisherman. For many years Greg served as caption on their fishing boat out of Menemsha, Skipper as one of the crew and Jonathan as a spotter pilot in the hunt for swordfish. 

As time wore on and the local fishing industry died out the Mayhews adapted by     fishing for other types of fish and Skipper became a clammer. Eventually Greg sold his boat for scrap. He died last year. In a metaphor for change the Mayhew house we called "the big house" on the hill overlooking Clam Cove in Chilmark was sold and now is being renovated, which these days almost always means a complete teardown. 

I played in that house as a kid, rode a rope swing in the barn with Skipper and Greg and watched on the Mayhew's living room TV as Neil Armstrong first stepped on the surface of the moon in 1969.

The Mayhew's Big House, now almost unrecognizable, serving as a symbol that nothing stays the same. I was on the island for a couple of days this past week and was struck by how much construction there was, how many cars were on the roads, how many restaurants were open in mid February. Big changes on these coastal islands. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 16, 2019

New Portfolio

There are portfolios and then there are portfolios.

A normal portfolio for me and many others is prints that are just the prints, no mounts, no over matts, perhaps an interleaving sheet between the prints, maybe a title page, but maybe neither. All this for efficiency, less weight, bulk, and easier to travel with and store. This is a common print presentation at portfolio reviews. I often show work to museum curators this way. Not a bad system for presentation but not luxurious.

By the way, since we are conversing in the language of photographic prints, I have always made my own prints and will continue to do so.

The old way was that everything had a backing of museum board, a hinged over mat and the prints were either photo cornered to hold them in place, or with even a more ancient system, they were dry mounted. 

For the new portfolio of pictures from Utah made in November I decided to make a traditional portfolio, using backing museum board, white 4-ply over mats in a museum box. This is a boxed set made to high archival standards.

Open this 22.5 x 30.5 inch box and you are confronted with a white sheet of paper and a pair of cotton gloves. Yes, this is a heavy portfolio.

The idea is to set the tone: "Put the gloves on, please, or let one of the staff show you the prints. Thank you". Of course, I don't have staff, but you get the idea. I have worked to make something special here, and handling them entails a responsibility to take care to preserve their pristine quality. Pretentious? I hope not.

Here's the title, alluding to perhaps a second Utah portfolio coming (we'll see, I am working on that now).

Slide the white sheet over and the first image of 18 or so is revealed.

The Museum Box comes from Archival Methods, mats are by Stanhope framers in Somerville. Why not make the mats myself? My mat cutting machine, a C&H 60 inch leaves an unavoidable cross overcut in each corner. The Stanhope mats are perfect.

In fact, the whole portfolio is as close to consummate as I can go. The best prints I can make, the best imagery I can shoot, working to harness sensibilities and skills obtained now over 50 years. Not a particularly new way of seeing, this is landscape imagery that is not alarming or shocking but photographs that hopefully are beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, colorful, and working off the potential for what is in front of the lens of my camera to become photographs that are transcendent and perhaps sublime.

If you are interested in seeing more from this series, please contact Maru at Insight Arts Management.



And, as always, thank you for reading the blog.

Topics: portfolio,portfolios take 2

Permalink | Posted February 12, 2019

Field Revisited

That's a tree growing right through the bench. Medfield, MA

Last week I wrote of a group of color pictures made in the town of Marion, NC in 2014: here.

I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at a black and white project as a comparison. For I still do make pictures this way. From when I started with photography in about 1970 all my work was in black and white. It wasn't until I started to work digitally  in the early 2000's that color came into my practice. I can't forsake black and white for color always. Love color, love black and white. Room for both.

In the unfolding story of the Field it takes nine frames to get here, the first full view of the field itself, a long introduction in a series that totals 19. The series is here, in sequence. I also wrote a blog about the Field series shortly after I made the prints in 2016: here.

I made the Field pictures a couple of summers ago, not quite on impulse but I     finished them in a few days. The photographs are from the State Hospital in Medfield, MA which is no longer active and is owned by the town. I have photographed that site on and off for many years. But once I walked out to the field itself it was clear I'd had no idea. It was like a cathedral: a sacred space, open, with the sky a magnificent fresco overhead.

These two images, above and below, where my device is simple, first a look up the hill then, 180 degrees turned, the second down the hill. These two pictures form the core of the series.

After the first day photographing, I looked at the files that night on screen, knowing I'd make work that would count, that would hold over time. It really is like that sometimes. Hitting me over the head with it. But the series was in no way complete. So, I went back out again the next day. For instance, I had found the kid's bicycle with no rider the first day but didn't shoot it until the second. Why? I hadn't understood the implication of the bicycle and the back story implicit in it sitting there day after day.

But why # 19? The last in the series. Why come back to this bench? And why is it now in color? 

I offer that the bench is, in effect, home plate. While it speaks in both pictures to time and disuse it is a place you come back to after being out in a larger sphere, having explored other worlds, running the bases, awareness increased, understanding deepened. That was what the field was in this case, open but enclosed by a gallery of foliage  that was dense and containing, the field itself expansive yet very intimate. Its borders, its edges, its perimeter exotic and wholly different from one side to the other. Yes, this is landscape photography, but serving as a way into a more internal comprehension, the external reflecting us to ourselves, an effort towards a better understanding of our place in the world.

The whole series in black and white, analog-looking but actually digital, rendered in soft grays but below Zone V, more in IV's and high III's*, then the bench twice, starting with the first frame wide angle at 14mm and ending in #19, the last in the series, in color, at 130mm, the exception to the rule. Why? The same but different, something I have used many times before. Full circle, the beginning and ending are the same but different, seen with a changed perception in effect after running the bases. For I, the maker of these photographs, had been changed after making pictures in that field for several days. I found a more simple, pure place, an oasis, this field farmed for years to grow crops to provide food for patients at the mental hospital up the hill from the  1870's -1970's. The stories this field could tell. The place positively resonating with a past we can only imagine. 

By the way, if  you are reading this blog on a Mac (I don't know if his holds true on PC's) if you hit Command + on your keyboard a few times you can enlarge the photographs seen here.)

* These numbers refer to the Zone System, announced in 1940 after much research by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer. This is a way to control exposure and developing in black and white, a two part regime of specifying exposure and the processing of the film to determine the best possible outcome, a full tonal range in the final image. Although in digital capture we don't use the Zone System in quite the same way, the principle of  controlling exposure by "placing" the    tonal values in certain "zones" still applies.

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2019