Topic: Aerials (18 posts) Page 1 of 4

Poucha Pond

Poucha Pond runs to the right of the infamous Dike Bridge on the small island of Chappaquiddick off of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The bridge was  where Senator Ted Kennedy's Oldsmobile 88 flipped over on its roof into the water at night in July 1969. Kennedy was driving and survived the accident, Mary Jo Kopechne did not.

I put my kayak in the water at the bridge and paddled out on a very warm and gray late September afternoon with a camera around my neck and a towel to dry my hands before bringing the camera to my eye.  Paddle, position the boat, dry hands, take picture, paddle some more and repeat again and again.

To emphasize the horizon, practically all there was, I made these long and thin.  Not true panoramics, they are cropped from the full frame. The prints are 28 inches wide and about 11 inches high.

This is a lifelong obsession; some sky, a band of land with water in the foreground.  The theme has prevailed on and off, from early days as a spray painter of large canvases, to work done in Italy shooting along the coast in the Adriatic with the 8 x 10, to more recent times in northern Iceland. Frequently breaking the rule that says not to place the horizon in the center, the work seems essential, residing at some core value in my aesthetic.

I don't know. Does the terrible history of the place load the pictures somehow? Is it important to carry this with you as you view my photographs of this bucolic place, devoid of people but resonating with an accidental death so long ago? Just as  it is important to know what we don't know, I believe it is important to know what we can't see.

Risky that, kayaking with a good camera hung over your neck. Picked an almost calm day with little wind. A calculated risk, I suppose. Seemed worth it as I really wanted to get at this from the water, not the opposing shore.

Maybe a little tough to realize these compressed and small on your iPhone screen. If you are on a computer try double clicking on an image. They'll get bigger.

There are 10 total. I will put them up on the gallery page on the site soon.  Want to see the real things? Worth your while. Email me:

Topics: Aerials,Tom's Neck

Permalink | Posted October 13, 2017


This past Monday I returned home from a few weeks at Martha's Vineyard (new work to follow soon). On the day before I left I met up with friend and colleague David Welch for a demonstration flight of his drone.

We met out in Katama, a beach along the South Shore; no trees, flat land and close to the beach. In the back of David's wagon was a large hard case that held the drone, extra batteries, chargers and the controller. In about a minute David pulled the drone out of the case and placed it on the ground, hooked up his phone to the controller, turned everything on and the drone revved up and took off.

Off the drone went with David at the controls. We quickly lost sight of it but he could see where it was by what its camera was showing through the app on his phone . At this point he had it hovering over the beach. It was very windy that day so the machine was having a hard time staying in one place. He brought it back with the two joysticks on the controller and then handed the controller to me, telling me which each one did. 

I got to fly a drone! I quickly learned this was easy. Don't touch anything and the drone hovers. Push the  joystick left or right and and it leans over a little and goes that way. Push the other joystick up and the drone goes straight up and so on, all the while the camera is stabilized and moves on its gimbal to say steady. To an aerial photographer all this is a little overwhelming.  To be able to put the camera platform just where you want it is wonderful. Hovering's amazing! My photographing from a plane going at 100 mph is very hit or miss. Downsides to the  drone? Lots. 12 mp camera on the drone verses 36 with a Nikon in a plane. A fixed focal length lens verses a 70-200 mm zoom. Flying time of about 20 minutes. Very limited range. Want to shoot a couple of miles over there? You have to pack it up go over there and then launch the drone again. Then there's FAA rules and licensing. Lots of restrictions too including height limits. Add in the cost of the drone and learning how it all works.

A plane? Usually about $250 an hour and you are dealing with the elements as you can see from this back seat photo by my friend Lynn. The window to my left hinges up and stays open during the flight.

photograph courtesy: © Lynn Christophers

But I thoroughly enjoyed flying the drone, feet firmly on the ground. Of course, there's risk flying in a small plane. David uses his for commercial assignments including real estate and also weddings. He has a video series on Facebook that is the drone hovering stationary above the beach on the Vineyard with the waves coming in and then going out that is sublime.

His Drone? A DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. 

David Welch Photography:here.

Thanks David!

Topics: Aerials

Permalink | Posted September 23, 2016

Presenting at VCS

VCS? What is that? The Vineyard Conservation Society on Martha's Vineyard.

I have been asked to speak and show slides of my aerial photographs of the island on June 29th. VCS is a long standing conservation non profit on the island and responsible for countless lands saved and preserved. This is a real honor for me. 

BTW: While you may not be able to make it to the talk, my work of aerials from the Vineyard is now represented by the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Aerials

Permalink | Posted June 7, 2016

The Photographer

The photographer sits at his desk on the island in the house he owns with his two sisters. It is a mid sixties Eliot Noyes designed house with a broad view of the south coast of the island as it is sited high up on a hill overlooking a mile of land before the shore with a view all the way out to the horizon. He has spoken before how this location is partially responsible for an aesthetic long on horizontality over now a career of making landscape photographs. 


Faced with hip surgery soon, he finds himself unable to do things he used to take for granted. He is still able to make pictures that connect and have force, though perhaps the car is parked nearby or the picture is made close to the road, for walking isn't easy. But his fluidity with his medium is due to decades of work looking and making pictures of what he sees.

He has made new pictures at the the other end of the island in a remote place where soil erosion is winning the battle against a stand of trees.The ocean is at its most powerful here and a cut in the point of sand has wreaked havoc where the waves meet the land. 


In several flights to photograph the island over the past three years, he has been struck by how much this particular landscape has been transformed. As the bluff erodes the trees have no choice but to fall, one by one. This time he drove to the end of the dirt road, parked and walked along the strip of trees, looking out at the ocean as it ripped around the outermost bend in the island. 

As is typical for him, he found himself interested in wildly different content looking out and in, a 180 degree metaphor for the external and internal lives we all lead.

This work, some new and some now three years old, is forming in his head as a project that will look at a piece of island land both from the air and also on the ground. This will be his third such project, and seems surprising to him that this isn't done by others here. This sense one has of what the place really looks like from the air as in a kind of survey contrasted with what is perceived of the individual choices he makes as he works throughout the land on foot. One almost objectified and the other highly personal, almost intimate. The place versus his place. Like that.

These two from a series in 2014 that looked at Tom's Neck from the ground (well, actually, from the water as he made these while in a kayak) and from the air.

These are from the island of Chappaquidick near the Dyke Bridge.

The other project made here, the first, is: Spring and Fall

As he sits at his desk as the light fades from the day writing and thinking about these photographs and all his work made here on the island, he finds the challenge of making new work of this landscape to be difficult but also extremely rewarding. One of his teachers long ago, Aaron Siskind, who also photographed here, said to him that the place was only an island, meaning that you would inevitably run out of material here. The photographer has at times worked hard here and at other times not at all but he finds now there are still things to do on this island. 

He is very fortunate to live at least part of the year in a place of such beauty and diversity. 

He chooses to end with these, in black and white now, of the trees that fell and haven't yet been swept away by winter storms. And the last picture, forecasting a very different season approaching.

The photographer is represented by 555 Gallery in Boston. Please contact Susan Nalband, the gallery owner, with any questions about this work or any other by the photographer who happens to be named Neal Rantoul.

Of course you can always email me and I welcome your comments: Neal's email

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Aerials,Color,Black and White,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 24, 2015

Inside Aerials

Sometimes writing comes easily. I've got something to say and this blog is my vehicle to say it in. I think this comes from my profession as a teacher as I can remember dreaming up some new course, or curriculum, or a lecture for a specific class where I believed I had something of value for my students and wanted to share it. That was usually pretty straightforward. But writing about my own work or others isn't always easy.

Other times, when preparing a blog to post, it comes hard. Right now, I have got something I am wrestling with conceptually and I am outside my comfort zone as an author to get it out. This is where I admire so much those that write for a living.

At any rate, I am going to take a stab at writing on the inside of the aerials I make, in an effort to address the motivation behind working this way and what the resulting photographs mean to me. This may be answering the question that wasn't asked but hang in there as there may be something coming that you might find useful. Hopefully, by sharing this with you, I can a) inspire you to try it or b) help you understand the pictures a little better or c) help you understand how one professional artist thinks and works.

I am gong to sprinkle various aerials in here to help make my point.

Near Pullman, Washington, 2014

When asked about my aerial pictures I often answer that I believe I am in a some-what unique position in that I go up in a plane to photograph simply to make art. I am reliant on what we fly over, of course, but I believe I am doing something a little different with the pictures I make. Most photographers that work aerially are on assignment, shooting real estate, surveying, etc. Not me. I just want to make pictures from above.

From the Mass Marshes series, spring  2015

I feel like I am late to the party. Let me explain. While I was awed and impressed as a young man with Paul Klee and Franz Kline, Kandinsky, Stella, Pollack, de Kooning, Barnett Newman and others I was also confused and disoriented by their large works; so impulsive, at times so angry and loud. I lined up with Mark Rothko early due to a one man show of his work at the Guggenheim  in New York in 1978 six or seven years after he died that seriously rocked my world. Rothko imposed a kind of orderliness to his work, the vehicle of the rectangle a constant while working for many years within its structure. I could relate to that, or find logic in his pursuit. I also loved what he was doing with color for I was in the language of black and white from my early days in the 60's on up until the early 2000's, while at the same time looking over my shoulder at the Joseph Albers studies, so important to our understanding of color.

But make pictures within the sensibility that is abstract expressionism with my own work in photography? Not bloody likely. I was too indoctrinated and entrenched in the kinds of photographs that worked off the palette of the real world. By that I mean I was anchored to being out in it and depicting in a manner consistent with the mediums' modernist precepts: clarity, fidelity, depth of field, tonality and yes, even print quality. All the modernist boxes were checked. I was fulfilled and enamored by what the medium could do in front of real stuff, subjects if you will.  Still am. In fact, I had no issues of photography not being enough, or too literal, or not expressive enough. Beginning to work aerially has changed some of that, of course, as there is some really wild form, content and color when photographing from the air. I think that's why my most recent aerial work doesn't depend as much on a real typography as it does with what nature and mankind has done to the land. I don't know if I can write this clearly but my interest is less in physical depth and more in markings, both actual and imposed upon the landscape.

Mass Marshes, 2015

Iceland, 2013

While the aerials embody much that is conventional photography (sharpness, color, etc.) they are separated from it too by scalessness, the denying of foreground to background readability and the sheer abstraction of things.

This is going to sound a little obvious perhaps but I believe I have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the works of those seminal abstract expressionist painters through making aerial photographs. Bang! That's it, isn't it? So, how did they get there without the aid of hovering over the landscape like I have? I have no idea, but this clearly points to their brilliance and my lack of, I suppose.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

So what does this way of working, photographing from the air, fulfill for me? I do believe I am using aerial photography to serve a different purpose than most. Quite simply, it is to make abstract art.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

The contrast of knowing this is something 1000 feet below the plane spread out and displayed relatively accurately verses the final piece looking like it is marks on paper or canvas, not literally rendered and contained only within the artists' mind is almost to much to bear. 

That's why.

Near Moab, Utah 2010

                                                             • • •

Want to see prints of my aerial photographs? The best way to do that is to contact 555 Gallery and ask them. It would be helpful to tell them what bodies of work you'd like to see as not all the my aerial work is at the gallery. As a start, you might take a look at the gallery page of my site, as much of the aerial photographs are represented there. 

Topics: Aerials,Aerials in Louisiana,Utah,Iceland

Permalink | Posted September 24, 2015