What if you tried to represent a whole career's worth of photographs with one image? Impossible but a worthy challenge.

Almost two years ago we held a "poster party" at my studio. The idea was to have posters I had made and posters from past shows for sale. In preparation I found myself making new posters of photographs from different phases of my career.

Most of these are on the site: POSTERS.

And, oh yes. They are for sale at $50/poster (plus postage). This is a remarkable bargain as a signed print from me costs far more. Just drop an email to:  Maru

We'll make a print of the chosen poster, roll it up and send it to you in a tube.

Permalink | Posted September 17, 2021

This is a Rant

This is a rant. Can't hold back any longer. There are things going on in our photo/art world that cannot be ignored any longer.  Trends, directions, proclivities: all concerning how photography gets out, seen, or dealt with. 

Since the pandemic hit there is a decrease of actual eyes on prints and an increase of eyes on screens.  How many actual exhibitions have you been to in the last 18 months? My point exactly. 

How photography is picked, granted, awarded, placed in an exhibition, favored is the dirty little secret of the industry. Online. Yes, no one looks at prints to determine anything anymore. Guggenheim Fellowship application, museum show competition or local camera club submission: Online. The Cafe system predominates. Submit jpegs of sufficiently small size in your application and off they go. Sometimes, for some "contests", it can be $35 or $40 for one image submitted. Often with no prizes, just supposedly lots of exposure. 

I have my doubts. 

Okay, a flawed system but let's move on. Who are all the judges? What are their qualifications to look at your work and determine if it's in or out? Mostly unknown, particularly in the big contests there might be a dozen or so jurists. Mind you, they never see the actual work. They see it online.  Often they have no contact with each other.  They just mark down on a scorecard a number that is yes or no and move on. Sometimes there is a brief biography in the submission but it is often ignored. That's it.

One recent competition, notable for announcing a contest for black and white photographs as "Portfolios", let you submit one (a one print portfolio?) or presumably, as many as you like, for the fee of $35 per jpeg. What if you had a 16 print portfolio? That's a $560 entrance fee for an online contest with no prizes, no real exhibition, just "acclaim and exposure". Really?

It's not good out there, folks. It's going to hell in a handbasket, I am afraid. Yes, of course, there is repetitive, cliched, immature, boring, uninformed, poorly conceived work out there as well. A lot of it. But look at what has done well in past years. Are those similar to the way you work? There is some sincere work, and I appreciate that, but sincerity doesn't necessarily mean great art. Much imagery never gets anywhere close to a 13 x 19-inch print, let alone a framed print hung on a museum or gallery wall. 

These "shows" mostly aren't about "art" but display flash, sex (lots of glorified nudes, a topic for another time), strong colors, graphics, and shock value. But substance? Online is many good things, of course, including providing easy access to a tremendous amount of imagery, but photographs that convey depth and subtlety are not one of them. 

As an aside, the whole megapixel war becomes far less of an issue if you're only making work to display at 72 dpi on screen. Save your money and don't buy the 61MP Sony or 100MP Fuji because you don't need it. Chances are, what you have is fine. 

The solution? Several colleagues and I agree. Screw it. Keep working. Make the best work you can: keep it relevant, visceral, beautifully crafted, possessed of ideas, eloquent, edgy, bizarre, funny, ironic, memorable, smart. My plan exactly.  Just make the work, what will happen after will happen. Quality will win out. And, oh yes, make prints. And seek ways to show them. 

But watch out for the online contests. They are out to get you. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 27, 2021

2 AM

It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. I've learned that tossing and turning in bed while recovering from open-heart surgery isn't always productive.

So, I am turning to the blog which has been silent for a month or so. I have always tried to write about photography and my work from a perspective that could relate to your work or concerns and that remains of key importance to me. Let's see if you relate to this one. 

My recovery is going well. Last week I hit a bump in that my heart was found to be beating erratically so I was admitted into the hospital again for one night to have a "Cardio Version" where my heart was hit with electricity to kick it back into a normal heartbeat. It worked and I am now back on track. I have started to drive and so, am increasingly independent from my daughter, Maru, who has been looking after me. I don't really have words to express how grateful I am for her care through this ordeal.

I drove into town to my studio yesterday and looked at it through the eyes of someone that has not practiced photography for six weeks or so. It was an odd sensation, probably close to someone's reaction visiting for the first time. Flat file cases of work, portfolios of printed photographs, racks of framed pieces, a career's worth of negatives from analog days, computers and RAIDS, hard drives, and a 44-inch printer, framing supplies, a scanner, copy stand, and rolling carts of inkjet paper on rolls and in sheets. More distance and perspective than I have probably ever had from my own work. But also impressive that there is so much of it. Since it all began I have always worked through whatever else life threw at me, there has been the work, the making of photographs. Not that this is all a good thing for so much work presents a problem for the future: storing it, maintaining it, assuring its remaining viability and access. I find myself not so much inside the projects as in earlier times but outside looking in at work made in various phases or parts of my career, core mainstream work, and other bodies and series made as offshoots, or sidelines to the central themes of my artistic career.

Valuable, that. Perhaps to be outside the work more than at any other time. 

I don't know that I mean this makes for a real solution, just lending a different way to look at a career that I have never done or had before. I wonder if you've had that, the ability to look at what you do or have done with this sort of distance. 

Of course, this leads to the questioning of what I would have done differently. Perhaps fool that I am but I don't think anything. I've known for a long time, for instance,  that there is work that isn't at the same level as other work of mine. So be it. I can accept that but still find value in that less than "A" work that might be supportive of something or that might speak to me wrestling with an issue or a concern through visualizing a concept or an idea. 

But from this longer lens view, I believe that the work can stand. I am not likely at this late stage in my life to burn or shitcan it to the dumpster outside my studio. 

Will end this now with hoping to get back to sleep soon. Will the blog continue, thrive as in earlier years when I had so much to share? I don't honestly know. But I am grateful always for you coming along. It is a pleasure to be able to share my thoughts with you. 

(photographs from 2013 Artist in Residency, Hofsos, Iceland ©Neal Rantoul)

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 2, 2021


I was thinking if there were any analogies to lenses used in still photography. Let's try this: the fineness and quality of the brush used to make an amazing presence, impact and precision of mark on Reeve's Palo Ipso Doubleweight Rag paper, the 80 lb one. Or the quality of the pens and brushes used for calligraphy or the ability to control the mark you make in a finely detailed painting.

In photography the lens is everything. It is your picture's personality, plain and simple. The lens is the most organic in that you react with it, turn it, focus it, determine the depth of field with it, frame with i and set the aperture to boot. The lens is everything.

38mm Biogen on the Hasselblad Superwide circa 1957, the 35mm f2 Summicron for Leicas, the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, the Goerz  Dagors, the 300mm f5.6 Nikon for 8 x 10: legendary lenses, some I have been honored to use over the years. Of course, in analog years, enlarging lenses played a role. This was the second part of making photographs, a crucial step as if they weren't good, you were losing all the quality created by the lens that took the picture. I used Schneiders for many years although I had a 240mm f5.6 El Nikkor enlarging lens for 8 x 10 that I liked very much.

In the early days of lens coatings, there were battles about the coating killing sharpness. Coatings are used to control lens flare. I never saw this. 

Falloff, corner sharpness, contrast, pincushion distortion, bokeh, maximum aperture, center sharpness, diffraction, best aperture, lens variability, focal length: all playing a part. Are there excellent lenses that don't cost an arm and a leg? Yes, a few. Are there bad expensive lenses? Yes.  

Best, of course, is to test the lens you're thinking of buying first. Shoot some frames with it. See what pictures made with it look like. These days, one option is to rent a lens you are considering purchasing. I did that recently for an expensive Sony G Master lens I was considering.

Used lenses? Yes, possible but be careful. It could have been dropped, shaken out of alignment, or have sand in it making it less than smooth to focus. Best is to buy from someplace like KEH or MPB so you can return it if it's not up to your standards.

As lenses get faster they get heavier and more expensive. One way to save can be by buying a slower lens of the same focal length.  Do you really need that extra stop of speed? Maybe not.

Last, I always test a new lens. Even high-end and expensive professional lenses can have inconsistency from lens to lens. A sturdy tripod, no wind, a textured subject that will show you how the lens is doing, shooting at different apertures will usually give you a sense of whether the lens is really good or not. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 19, 2021

The Show Here

If you've been reading the blog right along you know I had a one-man show at the Martha's Vineyard Museum over the winter, from January-April that was my aerial photographs of the island made over the past ten years or so. The show was called "ABOVE".

I always say that shows go out and shows come back. Well, in late April I drove to Woods Hole, took the ferry to the island, drove to the Museum then loaded up the work, had lunch with a friend, caught a ferry and drove the work to the studio the next morning.

This morning my daughter Maru and I hung about half the show in the hallway outside my studio. Why? To give you a chance to see the work. Many expressed regret at not seeing the real thing and now you can.

So, if you're local to Boston here's how to get to the show. The studio is in the large building at 119 Braintree Street in Alston, right next to the Mass Pike. There is plenty of parking at either end of the building. My studio is up the elevator to the 3rd floor with signs directing you to Neal Rantoul Studio at suite 320. The show is right outside my studio door.

You know how we're always saying that there is nothing like the real thing: the actual print hanging on a wall? Well, this is a good example of just that. So, get yourself off the sofa, get to 119 Braintree Street in Alston and go see the show. I don't believe you'll regret it.

BTW: the building is generally locked up on weekends, but is open all day and evenings during the week. 

Permalink | Posted June 10, 2021