New Normal


Egg Rock, Concord, MA


Got gloves? Check

Got Masks? Check

Got Purell? Check

Heading out to photograph, definitely some new things to bring along in the world of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

As I wrote last week, I have been going to the confluence of the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers in Concord, MA to photograph.

This feels like going to a retreat of some kind. Outdoors right now is very good; to be outside, to breath fresh air, to feel the sun on your face. With no people nearby. We can escape the dreadful reality for a little while, get a break. Are the photographs I make going to shake the world with their quality? No. Are they getting repetitive as I go back and back? Yes. Does it matter? No.

Seeking peace, stillness, tranquility, serenity? Find your Concord River. Could be your backyard as the season changes, the trail along the shore, the hike up the hills outside of town. It doesn't matter. Do it for your mental health.

BTW: Concord is loaded with historical importance. Think Paul Revere and this country's Revolutionary War, his famous ride, the assembly of the troops at Concord and Lexington, "the British are Coming, the British are coming".

I am writing this on April 3  in Massachusetts, a state that has not peaked yet and that has not enacted a stay-at-home order. Considering how very dire the forecasts are, I expect one any day, if not in the state then in the whole country.

Stay safe, please.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 3, 2020

Ready to Edit

What's a photographer to do? Confined to staying at home, itching to be out in the world making pictures. He edits, of course.

Here I am ready to go to work, a fresh pot of coffee to my right files up and running in Lightroom. I'd been photographing lately, before we got shut down, along the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers as they become the Concord River. Because it is close and easily accessed I have probably photographed it a dozen times or so. I even made a poster of it:

This way of working, going to a place, again and again, is a holdover of my 8 x 10 days. This is a slow, contemplative, disciplined system, seeking the best light and the ideal conditions in which to make a picture. 

I don't know how you work but I do not print in the small apartment where I live. That is reserved for the studio a few miles away. But because I have this laptop and good monitor (and it is calibrated) I can work the files here, transfer them to a hard drive and take them to the studio to print them there. 

The editing part has turned out to work well for I am no longer going to the studio as it seems risky. Go through your back files and I am sure you'll find tons of things to work on.

For instance, before all hell broke loose with Covid-19, my assistant Jillian was tasked with scanning 8 x 10 negatives. What a job! 25 years of large format negatives that are dusty with some that are scratched and with uneven agitation,

to scan, to clean with the cloning tool in PS and make ready for printing. Although Jillian does many other things for me and is most valued for all that she does, this is her primary role. 

I suspect some of you may be in the same predicament. The reality is if much of this work is not scanned and made ready to print... and then printed, it will not see the light of day, ever. I know that effort in doesn't result in great art as a result but nevertheless, 25 years' worth of work thrown in a dumpster after I am gone is a sobering thought.

So, we are slowly making some of this work, a highly selected group, yes, into portfolios of prints. These we will add to the many sets of photographs I darkroom printed at the time to form a survey of the 8 x 10 years, about 1980 to 2005. 

                                                       • • •

Don't hesitate to communicate, to reach out with questions and your thoughts. Also, the back catalog of my posts for the past many years are all searchable and available on this page. In this time when we are so blocked off from each other, it is important to keep our lines open. I can be reached: here.

Once again, I wish you all well in this odd, alarming and disastrous time. Stay as safe as you can, we will get through this. I am sure.

Topics: black and white and color,8 x 10,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2020

Ghost Town

Odd really. Downtown Boston over this past weekend. For someone who likes to photograph cities without people, perfect.

But what a reason for being vacant! Coronavirus changing our world.

I can't help but think of the photographs I made in downtown San Jose CA in 2018 in comparison. Also mostly empty but not due to some apocalypse, just an early Sunday morning in March.

San Jose

San Jose

San Jose

Boston yesterday was cold, windy and empty.

I think of these being made right now in this crisis as loaded,  charged with the weight of our societal predicament, our world being changed in profound ways.

As a kid,  growing up during the Cold War, I was fascinated and horrified by films like "On The Beach" and "Red Desert", depicting empty city streets, a world devoid of human beings after the nuclear holocaust. 

An empty city is an easy "get" for a photographer to comment on our current situation. Making pictures of an absence or a lack of something is an old ploy, a teacher's effort to try to push students to deal with making "something out of nothing". 

If you've followed the blog for a while you know I have been photographing the effects of disasters for several years. These include the obvious ones such as Paradise, CA and the mudslides in Montecito, but also more subtle series such as Half Mast Oak Bluffs, made in reaction to the shooting in Las Vegas a few years ago. These new photographs of downtown Boston fit into that mold.

It is the sheer scale worldwide that is so staggering about our current disaster and so very unprecedented. For most of us, the fires in California or Australia, the Katrina or Puerto Rico hurricanes, the tsunami in Japan and so on were "over there", terrible but not in our town, not on our street. This is different. This is everywhere.

Stay healthy, heed the CDC's guidelines (not so much our president!), go for walks and bike rides in areas where there are few others. We'll get through this. My heart goes out to all of you in this very difficult time.

Topics: Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 23, 2020

Stuck

Stuck at home, along with everyone else. Thank goodness I have photography. I am writing this the day after Governor Newsom required everyone in California to shelter in place. I wonder if my state, Massachusetts, will follow suit.

At any rate, ever since we had our poster party at the studio in February I have been obsessed with making posters of my photographs.

Let me see if I can explain why. For many many years, I have made my work mostly in series. When printed, these end up in a portfolio box, often with a title page, sequenced and numbered, sitting on a shelf with other boxed sets from the same year or two. Undoubtedly some photographs in a particular series are standouts, some are linking images from something to something, some are introductory, some act as bridges and some are leading toward a conclusion. That is the way I work. These are photographs made in narrative form.

All well and good.

But, what happens to a standout image from a series? What happens to the one or two that could stand alone? Would I separate, show or sell a single image from a series? Well yes, but with reluctance. When a museum acquires work from me I most often try to make the sale with the museum purchasing a whole series.

Up comes the idea of posters: mine are beautifully printed, nicely laid out (either by me or a real designer), printed on demand and affordable. Usually 24 x 30 or 32 inches. They sell for 50 bucks. 

Partially marketing, partially publicity, partially increasing name recognition, partially getting my imagery into peoples' hands cheap, simple enough. And, it helps solve the problem of how to make a single image stand on its own.

We know how ubiquitous posters are. Go to your insurance agent, your bank, your medical facility, your lawyer's office. It's posters. Sometimes terrible and sometimes quite good.

How good are these? Really good.

I've got a problem though. I can't stop making them. I just made a new one yesterday. I love laying them out, using color picker in Photoshop, clicking and dragging, making a test print, tweaking the file or changing the background color and then final printing the new poster, using an image or a group of images no one's ever seen before. 

I must have over 20 by now. 

Want one or two (or three or four)? Easy. Email me: here, telling us which poster(s) you want. We will print them, roll them up and send them to you in a tube. You can mail us a check or give us a credit card # for payment. We will charge you $50/poster and a few bucks for shipping.

 I put all the posters up on the site (www.nealrantoul.com) so you can see what is available. This project is adding a little democratic process and entrepreneurial spirit to the purchase of art. 

Because of our unique state with the coronavirus, your order may be delayed. We will let you know when you place your order via email. 

Topics: Color,Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted March 20, 2020

Our New World

Welcome to a very different world than just a week or two ago. The coronavirus is dictating serious changes to our daily lives. It is also making us very stressed out. I offer as evidence aisles at the grocery store with carts that are full of toilet paper being pushed by customers that look a little out of sorts, maybe a few wires in there shorting out due to too much watching the virus coverage adding into the mix a totally bizarro Trump news conference or two just to craze things up a little more.

At any rate, as most of us can photograph alone, this is an excellent time to be out with a camera. We, after all, are in the business of commenting on our world in some form and it would seem to be important to display it in its current condition. I know I am feeling this way and am trying to get out every day to look at my surroundings through this new and quite odd perspective. 

It is ironic that just when we need each other for moral support we must "social distance".

(images  of NYC courtesy of Google Images)

I have told my private students that I will not be meeting them face to face for what I hope is a short period. While a few were working towards presentations at upcoming portfolio reviews, those are now canceled as well, so the pressure is off for a bit. 

I will, however, be continuing to work with students 1:1 via emails, Skype and online. I will do this on an hourly basis at a reduced rate due to the lack of actually meeting. Contact me here if you are interested in working with me.  

Stay healthy, strong and active (if you can). I for one am not taking a break from my life. But I am trying to live my life amongst fewer people right now. I do this for myself but also for the larger issue of helping to protect others should I be a carrier. I will take precautions, heed the CDC guidelines as much as I can and keep photographing. I wish you all the best.

Down the Street from Liz's, Concord River, Concord MA 3/2020

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted March 16, 2020