Topic: Analog (27 posts) Page 1 of 6

Facades

I have had a preoccupation with facades, which, for me, includes fences and walls, for a very long time. In fact, in 1979 I made a series of pictures called Fences and Walls that was my first cohesive group of pictures after finishing graduate school in 1973. Fences and Walls was the body of work that formed the foundation for this way of seeing.

From Fences and Walls 1979

This same approach carried through to some of the mall work I did in 2009-2012.That series was called Mallchitecture and looked at buildings designed for a purpose and function practically devoid of an aesthetic.

Facades played a key role here. My earliest awareness of this interest was a show my work was in at MIT called, oddly enough, "Facades", about 1977. This was when Minor White was still alive. I met the white haired photographer and guru a couple of times and was in awe of his reputation and the depth of his approach. The fact that he had deigned my photograph worthy seemed as if from the hand of God at the time. In those days White curated a concept show every year or so with titles like Light (to the 7th power), Octave of Prayer, Be-ing Without Clothes. 

Photographs of facades, surfaces, fences and walls have been part of  my photographic agenda for a very long time. Was I aware in these early career years I was looking at the world through this specific lens?  That I was consumed by an agenda not on everyone else's list? No, I was not.  I wonder how many people new to the arts are so self aware they know their stock in trade or can access the uniqueness of their point of view in those earlier years? Few, I believe. I also believe this then becomes one of the primary roles teaching needs to play. To acquaint the student with just what it is they are doing, how their work fits into the overall scheme, what precedents there are and the relevance of the premise.

There is another prevailing aesthetic I can track over my career and that is what I call: "Planetality". I know, I've even made a word for it. This is the need, desire or prevailing characteristic of making pictures that exist in planes, most prominently in parallel planes. Stand in front of a building or flat surface, preparing to make a picture of it. Will you make the picture at an oblique angle or point up or down? What drives this in you? Do you not care care that lines converge or that one edge of the building will bow out or in? Or do you wish your pictures to reside in the relative neutrality of not having imposed a specific directionality to them? Again, stand in front of the building, keep your camera level and center yourself so the left and right sides are equidistant and parallel to you holding the camera and you have a picture that is far more neutral, thus allowing the building to dominate, not the signature of the picture of it. Imagine in current times this being a concern! But how you do this affects the outcome.  If the building is too tall or there is too much foreground in your picture? Well, that's what a view camera is for or, in these days in the digital world,  "lens corrections" in Photoshop or, last, a PC lens. The principle is to keep the camera parallel to the surface and shift the lens to raise, lower or slide left or right.

At any rate plane to plane is important to me, not always, but often.

Most of the photographs in this post are from the series called Mallchitecture.


Topics: Digital,Color,Northeast,Vintage,Analog

Permalink | Posted May 19, 2017

SABBATICAL

More accurately: sabbatical leave. As a professor for thirty years I was fortunate to have four one semester sabbaticals and a year-long one.

Very often people outside of academia don't know how it works to be a professor. Sabbatical leaves are commonly awarded to professors in universities to conduct research free from teaching responsibilities. Eligibility is determined by rank, therefore adjuncts are usually not able to apply. Applications for leaves are handled by a committee which reviews applications and awards sabbaticals on merit. They are one of the perks of the job. Frequency varies but commonly, it is every seven years.

Outside of academia sabbaticals also occur occasionally in business and, of course, some people give themselves a "sabbatical" to take a leave to do something they can't do while working. The traditional sabbatical, however, is different in that it includes getting paid while you do it. Like I said, one of the perks.

It is difficult for me to express what these leaves meant for me for the years I ran the Photography Program at Northeastern University. Having the sabbatical in the fall or spring semester meant that I was only at school one semester for that year as it butted up against the summer when I usually didn't teach. Making pictures, practicing my discipline, was always a struggle while I was working. Squeezing in the time to go photographing or the endless hours needed in the darkroom was hard when the job and my family needed my attention. Sabbaticals freed me from one whole large component of my life and were proposed and awarded to support my making art.

Got something you'd like to do? Someplace you're dying to go? Feeling hemmed in by work? Part of being the creative person you are is to be creative in all aspects of your life, not just in the art you make.  Think about how you can make things happen, get a project funded and/or supported, there are many ways. My first sabbatical was called a "pre-tenure" sabbatical in that it was designed so support assistant professors in their efforts to publish or do their research before applying for tenure, a critical time. I applied, got a one semester leave but was not awarded a grant I applied for. So I had no funding to support my rather elaborate plan to travel around England and Northern Scotland with an 8 x 10 view camera making pictures. So, I ended up driving through the American West in my parents motorhome for two months. Although I did fine and made good pictures I learned from that one that a sabbatical leave with no funding isn't so great. Work out the support for your sabbatical before you take off.

As I got tenured and became more senior and knew the system at my university better I was able to be away  more on various projects. It helped that my daughter was away at school by then as well. No longer married, I was free go more often. Funded research trips to study other photo programs, or study new technologies, give lectures, talks, presentations, have exhibitions of my  own work and go to conferences became things I did more. In each of these situations I would photograph wherever I was. I had a discretionary budget, travel stipend and a network of internal grants I could apply for, and did succeed frequently. This meant I needed to have someone back at school holding down the fort that I could trust. Luckily, I had someone for many years in Andrea Raynor in that she exuded capability and excellence in all that she did. In fact, she's still at Northeastern and is the Department Chair.

Did I work the system? I did. Did it benefit me and my work? Yes, it did. Was I dishonest, lining my own pockets with my school's funds, or travel elaborately off the school, buy gifts on their dime or provide these perks to colleagues? No, I did not. 

I also learned this lesson. One of my colleagues, a senior graphic designer, told people she would be in Hawaii the whole time she was on her sabbatical. In reality she stayed home and worked on new projects. She knew she'd get called in to avert some crisis in her discipline if people knew she was close by. Smart. I learned that you must go away in order to cut the thread. 

My first big trip away to photograph was in 1979. I wasn't a professor yet, and told NESOP (New England School of Photography) I wouldn't be teaching in the spring. As I was  teaching at Harvard too, after the fall semester finished  in January I was free to take off for the Southwest. This was a self imposed sabbatical of indeterminant length to go make work. I needed to get south from Boston as it was winter and I had friends I could stay with in places like Santa Fe and Houston as this was a trip on a shoestring. 

Can you picture this? A 33 year old 6'2" Neal crammed into a loaded and aging bright yellow mid engined 2 liter Porsche 914, with rusting heater boxes and paint peeling off the hood, gone for three months, driving endless hours first to New Orleans, then to Houston meeting with Anne Tucker, then Santa Fe staying with my friend Ed Ranney, then Tempe and Tucson to visit with Harold Jones and Todd Walker,  Prescott to see Fred Sommer, photographing daily, back home again with a few days in DC. Me, a box of prints, camera gear, tripod and some clothes. And bags and bags of exposed film when I got home.

Want to see some of the work I made from that trip? On the site: here.

Sabbatical. Take one if you can.

Topics: Black and White,Commentary,Road Trip,Analog,Vintage

Permalink | Posted May 2, 2017

Fences and Walls 1979

I have been talking about and showing my series pictures lately in a variety of presentations so they are very much on my mind. While I usually start with the Nantucket pictures made in 1981 (here) there is a series I made earlier that in some ways can serve as a predictor of things to come. It is called "Fences and Walls" and is the topic of this post.

To recap: I finished gradate school at RISD in 1973 and by 1978 I was teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston. By the fall of 1979 I was teaching at Harvard University as well. I made pictures constantly, almost without discrimination, of anything that seemed remotely interesting. I made major photo trips to Europe, to Bermuda (twice), to the American Southwest, and worked locally.

Looking back at that chaotic time, I remember thinking I was out of control, passionate about now being a career teacher and artist but not able to bring clear focus to any coherent presentation or method. One day while in Newport, RI on a photo trip in the early spring I made a discovery. 

I found I was frequently pointing my camera at walls and fences, separators and barriers we use to edge our property or to keep people out and our pets and children in.

This was the beginning, I believe, of my ability to understand what I was making intuitively. 

By combining the new pictures I was making and sifting through pictures I'd made in the past year or so I found a common thread of a preoccupation I'd had that I hadn't been aware of. This was an odd sensation, to find something in my work prevailing that I hadn't seen before and taught me something about the importance of the subliminal and the need to search our own work for answers. It also helped me slow down and look harder at the pictures I had made rather than only shooting and printing at this frantic pace of making but not looking.

The series also split into two other interests, full and empty, as a subset.

If you've followed along with my writing on other series, such as Nantucket, Hershey, Oaksdale, Yountville, Portland, Solothurn (all searchable by name on this blog), you know that we are looking at the series that predates all those others. 

Whether Fences and Walls can really be used as the foundation series of pictures to the subsequent ones will be for better minds than mine to determine.

But I do believe that in my oeuvre of series works, Fences and Walls needs to be counted as a player in the mix. 

One note here: I don't regard Fences and Walls as a contributor to my idea of "narrative" in my work. That wasn't a concept that had coalesced yet. It would take the Nantucket pictures to make that happen, still two years away. 

The full series is now on the site, way down at the bottom of the Gallery page, as it is arranged chronologically from the earliest to the latest.

As always, I welcome your comments:  Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeastern,Series

Permalink | Posted April 17, 2017

Hershey Again

I know, here I am pushing the new book Hershey, PA again. But bear with me, as I have a reason behind this. BTW: It is printed, it is available and it is very very good. You should get one.

It is for sale at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, MA and also at 555 Gallery in Boston and through me by emailing me at: Neal's Email

This is a very important series in my career and the second of twelve books we are printing that showcase my series works in black and white that I made from 1981-2005. These are elegant small books, 7 inches square and are signed and numbered. They are $25 each plus shipping.

So, now that I have covered the necessaries, let me explain what I believe to be a new business model that is brilliant. Yes, I thought of it myself and no I am not a business person. I am an artist. But how can I put out these books, which I think are important, and not lose my shirt in the process? Print books, sell them and use those funds to print the next one, book after book. Yes, you need some up front funds,  but once the seed money is there, if you are successful in selling the books, you can perpetuate the run of all twelve by turning the funds made into printing the next book.

Let me give you some specifics. As a trial we printed 25 of the first book called Oakesdale, WA.

Big run, right? It sold out quickly, not surprising as we printed only 25 of them. It cost $715 to print using Blurb (an on-demand printer) and we made $625 in sales. Okay, a loss. But with Blurb  if you print more, over 50, you get a 25% discount. So, learning from my loss in the first one, we have now printed 50 of the Hershey book. 

Let me step aside here and address the issue of print quality. I have been making books now for a very long time and have made both traditional offset printing press books and many on demand books with many printers, (Apple, My Publisher, Blurb, Mag Cloud,etc). On-demand books have now reached a quality level that is very high.You have to keep the publisher's nose to the grindstone, however, in that sometimes a press run will come through too dark or the colors not right. You need to send them very good files and follow through to make sure they get it right. No one wants to reprint a whole run of books but occasionally they will need to do this. It is up to you to make this happen.

Is this a model for huge profit? Not so much. Is it an effective way to print several books, one after the other, as a way to get work out to a larger audience? Yes. Is it brilliant? Well, I might be a little biased but I will leave that decision up to you.

Downsides and drawbacks? Yes, Blurb's printing cycle takes two weeks and sometimes longer so there is no quick turnaround. Right now we are printing one or two first to see the book as a proof before committing to a bigger run. This is essential, at least in my case. Each time we do this we catch mistakes in the first run that we can then correct before printing many copies. Add another two weeks or so. Blurb's shipping costs are very high, I believe as a way to make more. And finally, they package poorly, sending the books in cardboard that barely makes it to its destination.

Finally, we now have a design "template" that we can plug the photographs into. This streamlines the design process and makes the design coherent through the run of the twelve books we plan. 

In conclusion, here I am blogging away, revealing all my secrets and my business acumen. Yeah, right. At any rate, my hope is that this might spur you on to use the idea for your own photographs you want made into books. Lastly, we are starting to work with a local printer to see if we can get the same high quality we had with Blurb but for less cost. Trying to buy local. Stay tuned.

Topics: Books,Vintage,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2017

Photographic Fulfillment

In the large movement of the thing we call "photography"where it has become so large as to be pervasive I believe most are looking for photographic fulfillment. Let me qualify: this pertains to those of you that call yourselves photographers.

Sure, perhaps not so much when you're young or just snap shooting but, yes in the world of artistic photo expression, fulfillment. Simple, really. In your list of aspirations, being realistic, are you going to get discovered all of a sudden (whether you're in your fifties or sixties or thirties and forties, doesn't matter) by getting that key slot in the Whitney Biennial this year, the solo show at MOMA, the MacArthur? Probably not. But to derive satisfaction from your work, to be fulfilled by the art you make, well, there's just about nothing better.

So, what is that? This ambition we have? This drive? 

Is it solely because we love what photography can do? I don't think so, although that's in there.

Is it because we have a gift and are sharing it with the world? (Read my post on  Nobody Cares about Your Photography: here.).

Is it because our audience demands it? Again, not so much.

Ah yes, love this one: is it for financial reward? Hah! Very funny.

Is it because we're God's gift? Probably not.

No, I believe it is mostly for fulfillment, or what little spark of completion, resolution, redemption, satisfaction we get when we touch close to this holy grail. Once you've got some years of experience under your belt, once you've lived a while and what serves as wisdom that comes from hindsight is in there, when you're practicing this rather odd thing of going out into the world to make pictures with some tool around your neck, it is fulfillment that sustains.  Complete a new body of work, something that holds to my standards, finish and look back with the realization that I learned something and grew and shared some perceptions that I believe are worthy of your consideration, to add some beauty poetry and music to someone's day, to share in our common human experience. Yes, that's very fulfilling, both to me and to you if the work is good.

But this isn't so easy todo, is it? This work we do, trying to reach something unobtainable or at least extremely illusive, often glimpsed but seldom achieved. That's probably why we keep coming back for more, as abusive as it may seem. For me my specific hot point is something I think of as being "sublime".  There have been many over my career and, I hope, many more. Let me show you a few: 

Nantucket 1981

It is very hard for me to disassociate the single picture from the series it comes from, so I usually don't. However, I certainly can find the one key picture from a series, as in the Nantucket one above, as it launched in essence my whole career.

Hershey, PA 1996

Healsdburg, CA, 1999

There isn't always complete alignment in what I think of as being sublime with viewers of my work. That's okay as each brings their own baggage to looking at work. But perhaps the level is what is most important, that I have raised the bar on a viewer's expectations.

Bermuda, 1980

Professional viewers, curators, collectors, gallerists and critics look at photographs a little differently this way: how the work might fit in the stable of photographers they show, fit into their collection, fit in a historical context, fit in a show they are working on down the line or even if my sex, age or race fit, whether by showing my work or purchasing it will look good in their colleague's eyes, move them up in their own careers, and so on. It is never as simple as great work getting acclaim and being committed to.

 "Mona" from the Monsters series, Fitchburg, MA 2014

Where does this leave us in our pursuit for fulfillment? Well, keep the bar high, of course. Making art is not really about compromising or settling, at least in this context. I also believe we are lifetime students, hungry to learn, progress and move forward. Finally, I don't know that I've ever been completely satisfied by something I've done, content or fulfilled by a a completed series; frequently close, but perfection is illusive after all.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD 2014

It's simple really. Keep working. Ever heard of a retired artist? Artists don't usually retire, they just die.

Near Pullman, WA 2013

One thing is for sure, finding photographic fulfillment while sitting around and not photographing is mostly impossible. When have you ever regretted going out to shoot? Me, never. Something usually happens, some idea forms, some way of looking at things differently presents itself, some perspective on my surroundings shifts a little, opening a door to try something, to click the shutter. Actually, that is very fulfilling.

To close, one of my teachers way back in the 70's was Aaron Siskind. What a great guy and photographer. He called the fulfillment I've been writing about here "the juice", as in how something ordinary like an olive tree or a stone wall becomes elevated to a high level through our eyes with a camera. So true, imbuing something mundane with something special so that it transcends its own existence. One of the things we do, yes?

The Palouse from above, Washington 2016

Topics: Commentary,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 6, 2016