Return to Paradise 2

So, I've been at it a few days, photographing the remains of a whole town: Paradise, California.Though I am now here a year after the Camp Fire, the damage is no less impressive for there is so much, the extent of the fire so massive, that I still find it difficult to comprehend.

I drove farther east the other day, up through Paradise to the small town of Magalia, closer to where the fire started. Here the fire was spotty, some areas untouched just as some are a total disaster.

Trees are a powerful indicator of what that day in November 2018 must have been like. 50 mph winds pushing the fire ahead, throwing embers into the air, flames being fanned at times moving horizontally, trees on fire and singed then blown out as the firestorm moves on.

As I drove farther east up the ridge into the Sierras, the country opened up and became less inhabited.

I used a long lens to reach across the valley so I could describe for you how this fire behaved, its random nature hitting a stand of trees, only to move on and leave large areas untouched.

Getting lunch yesterday at a Taco truck (there are no restaurants open yet in Paradise), I spoke with an older man who lives in Magalia. He and his wife had evacuated east the day of the fire, away from Paradise, as the route down the main street called Ridgeway was blocked and people were gridlocked in their cars not able to get clear. He told me he left that day and wasn't able to get back to his home for six weeks, much of that time having no idea if his home was still standing or not. His home was untouched.

I also spoke with Robert, who lives on his property in town in a trailer as his house no longer exists. The day I spoke with him he was hoping to get electricity as he's been without for the past year. He said he will rebuild as he has nowhere else to go. He was carrying a sidearm and explained that looters have been a problem. 

Most of the empty lots are sprayed with a kind of cover, much like what we see when a construction site is reseeded with grass.

This below from Ridgeway on the way down to Chico.

I've got one more day here in Chico and will spend it finishing up in Paradise, retracing my steps to make sure I've got all I need. Then tomorrow I head to Healdsburg to see what the Sonoma area looks like, the site of the Kincade fire in October.

Stay tuned. Your comments always welcome: here

Topics: Color,Digital,West

Permalink | Posted November 16, 2019

Return to Paradise

I thought that perhaps Paradise would be coming back to life ten months after I was here the first time, two months after the Camp Fire. It is one year since the firestorm destroyed the town. To be clear, there are signs of renewal, some buildings are going up, some residents have returned, but the sheer scale of the job at hand is so huge, the destruction so extensive that real progress will need to be measured in decades, not months.

This above is contrasted with scenes like these:

Many of the homes and buildings I photographed in January have been demolished. What remains are whole neighborhoods of empty lots. And places for sale:

This being California where it is hot in the summer, many homes had pools. In an odd irony, they often remain, owners perhaps hoping to rebuild:

I've only been here a day so my sense of the place now is through first impression but as I was photographing one of the swimming pools, almost empty, I could hear water running and found some bushes and a little bit of grass being watered by a fine spray only to realize that the sprinkler system was still working, turning on each morning to water the garden.

Paradise is really a huge wound, scarred and devastated in a matter of a few hours in November 2018.

Topics: Color,Digital,West

Permalink | Posted November 14, 2019

Going Back to Paradise

Safeway Market on Skyway, Paradise

Last January I went to Paradise, CA and photographed three months after the Camp Fire devastated the whole town.

PBS Frontline has an episode on the fire:  https://www.pbs.org/video/fire-in-paradise-ncamrn/

I am going back in early November. I want to see  how it looks now, how much they are rebuilding, how much evidence remains. I also want to get a sense of whether people are returning or if they have left.

Last winter I photographed the town on the ground and from the air: here.

85 people died from the Camp Fire in Paradise

I leave November 12 and will try to post to the  blog during the trip. You can follow along by subscribing to the blog.

Stay tuned

Topics: West,Digital,Aerials

Permalink | Posted November 3, 2019

Big Change

This is a blog post about the big change that has taken place in photography. After now a long career as a photographer and a photography educator I can now say that craft matters very little and that the age of making beautiful photographic prints is over.

Let's go back a few years, to students studying film-based photography at the university level. Craft was king then, as it was hard to learn to shoot film, to know how to adjust various settings on the camera, to make pictures that conveyed things beautifully. Hell, even after learning to load film in the tank and develop, it took weeks to learn how to make a good black and white print, often a whole semester. Good craft was the foundation of making pictures that looked good, conveyed intent, communicated a certain emphasis or point of view that was expressive and intelligent. All gone now, of course. The advancement of technology has eliminated all that. A good analogy is learning to drive a car. This is a skill, learned over time with the necessary training and discipline to become good at it. Same with photography, or used to be. Autonomous cars are coming and you'll no longer need skill behind the wheel to get someplace.  With photography to some extent we are already in an age of autonomous photography, for the devices are really doing just fine on their own, making well-exposed files of pictures that practically print themselves at very high quality. Look at the sheer quality of smartphone photos today. Great skills at the helm of the computer, the conduit to the inkjet printer, are no longer required. The process has become so highly automated that a great intellect combined with years of experience is no longer needed. The people who are truly great printers have been obsolesced by great advances in automatic everything. Of course, there are lapses in all this. People still do make terrible prints. Through some brain fart or no knowledge whatsoever really terrible photographs are made every day. But with a modicum of knowledge, great prints are easy and can be practically assumed. 

It's tough to be obsolesced.

This makes looking back to a Stieglitz, or a Weston or even an early color street photograph from the early 70s by Joel Meyerwitz look like they were making a bloody miracle. And they were. Spend some time with some original Adams or Weston prints and they will blow you away, as for them to be making prints of that high a quality in the time they were making them was unbelievable.

Now, shoot RAW, let the camera make the focus and exposure settings, load the file into Lightroom, adjust it with sliders to your liking, export it as a TIFF, send it off to be printed or print it yourself and what have you got?  A well exposed and excellent print.

Did I at times rely upon my technical skills in analog days to outweigh anything else? 

Yes.

 Many of us did that. Point an 8 x 10 camera at something inane and inconsequential, develop the film and make the print with consummate skill, frame it beautifully and show it with the presumption that it is hugely important. Great significance and weight based on the device that made the picture, often nothing else. Paul Krot, a teacher of mine at RISD and the inventor of Sprint Chemistry, once said to me that anything was fantastic if shot with an 8 x 10 camera and its true. The format seduced me for 25years.

Now, I am shooting with a 61 MP mirrorless camera that handheld can do very well when compared to the 8 x 10, maybe even better. Making a big print 40 or 50 inches across is easy these days, you just need a big printer.

All of those technical concerns, the skill of printing and handling the materials knowledgeably, being practiced and respectful of what could be done are now, for the most part, over. 

When working with analog materials my objective was always to make the perfect print; the widest tonal range, the best sharpness, the deepest blacks and the most luminous highlights that I could. Remember Ansel Adam's adage that the "negative was the composition but the print was the performance"? This took great skill, years of experience and yes, often some luck to succeed. It was very difficult to do. Now, these things are easy, almost assumed. Those very values and high standards are often lost on those younger, brought up in a digital era. This is partly progress but also makes me a little sad too. The idea, now, of spending a whole day in the darkroom going through many sheets of paper to make one consummate print seems laughable. 

To quote Kurt Vonnegut once again, 

"and so it goes."


(All images reproduced here are ©Neal Rantoul and are from 8 x 10 negatives and transparencies and may not be reproduced without specific permission by the photographer.)

Topics: Commentary,8 x 10,black and white and color

Permalink | Posted October 20, 2019

Martha's Vineyard Fall 2019

I am at the end of 1 1/2 weeks on Martha's Vineyard. House guests, great food, a three day Nor'easter, some work on the place and a few efforts at making pictures, as I have been on my own for the past four days. Back to the mainland tomorrow.

If you remember, last spring while here, I worked at Philbin Beach, where a stream was running down into the ocean, especially after it rained. 

Some New Work

That stream this time, six months later, was not running down to the sea, but I found another one today, closer towards the clay cliffs:

Very often, after a storm, there is calm and today was exceptionally wind free. In contrast, this is what the south shore of the island looked like just a few days ago:

It was wild. The wind was coming from on shore so it whipped the water right off the top of the breaking waves.

There is a walkway to the beach from the parking lot at Philbin that is irresistible:

This isn't a camera review, but I did want to mention that I have been photographing with the Sony A7r mk IV this time here on the island and I am finding it really wonderful to work with. This is a far more mature and refined tool than the two previous versions. Mostly I am using the  24-105mm f4 lens.

The produce pictures are from the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury, the last market of the season.

I know, I am not breaking any new ground here but I am keeping my hand in and getting familiar with this new tool.

Edgartown

Trump made an appearance one morning at Lucy Vincent's Beach. No opinion, just the letters "Trump".

My friend Gail Hill was down from Toronto. Gail's a wonderful artist:

who greets you each morning on the Vineyard saying, "another perfect day in paradise."

And, you know, she's right.

I will miss the Vineyard until I return in the spring.

Topics: New England,Digital,Color,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 14, 2019