Topic: Analog (36 posts) Page 1 of 8

Falling in Love

120mm, Yountville, CA  1982

I don't know that I fell in love with photography all at once. My first love in art was with painting, specifically spray painting large canvases I stretched myself.

But as a student in class photography began to take hold as I learned the darkroom, chemistry and optics, and the medium began to seduce me with its charms. I learned that by leaving a print in the developer longer as the image came up I could get a richer black, that I could vary the contrast of a black and white image and control the overall color by what toner I used in what concentration and for how long. This was a gradual realization that photography was capable of being very beautiful, rich and rewarding when practiced with skill.

8 x 10 in Western MA about 1990

I gravitated towards larger format over those years, drawn by a slower pace, a camera on a tripod and exposure time spread out often over several seconds. I liked the challenge of making a good print, the craft and even the difficulty for I was learning in the late 60's and early 70's that mastering this medium was hard, that commonplace photography was easy but that really great photography took patience and depth of understanding. And practice, practice practice!

8 x 10 Blackwater Dam, NH about 1997

I found it a great challenge to harness the light, the focal length and aperture settings, the right view camera movements, the right film developing and then to use an expanding set of skills to work the paper and chemicals in the darkroom to get a fine print. It was not easy to become a master photographer.

All this became a singular obsession as photography took hold. For the first time in my life I was a good student, applying theory and criticism into practice and actuality. 

Now, it is all different, although I lean on years of experience to tell me what a good print looks like. I thoroughly respect what we have now, an amazing ability to make a final image exactly as we want it to be, to make adjustments on a very fine scale, with software, sliders and a good calibrated screen. But somehow our digital process is a little colder, a little more analytical and therefore a little less passionate.

Still love the medium? Absolutely. But I believe we are where the ends justify the means for I am making photographs now that are of such consummate quality that they relegate older film-based photographs of mine as vintage and good for their day but not as good as what is possible now. I would include 25 years of output from 8 x 10 film in that mix.   

Digital, Imperial Sand Dunes, CA 2013

Digital, Nantucket, MA 2014

Digital, Somerville, MA 2017

Digital, San Jose, CA  2018

Of course, I've only addressed my own work and history here, not extrapolating out to this "then versus now" comparison in the work of others or the huge changes to the medium itself. Perhaps this should be another post and I wonder if you'd like to weigh in here in the question of what we have gained but also lost in recent times. Nostalgia for an old system, quaint and archaic? Or "get with the program", don't look back, relegate history to the dumpster because its irrelevent and move on.

As always: Neal's email

Topics: Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 17, 2019

New Show

Boston Up

I took some photographs to the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) this week for a show that will be up through the winter. I am showing with longtime friend Peter Vanderwarker. The BSA is planning an opening reception for January 30th.

The show features work I made in 70mm black and white infrared film in the early eighties of downtown Boston. It is called Boston Up.

If you don't know of the BSA they offer a wide variety of programming, classes, lectures, and exhibitions, all centered around the built environment. They are on Congress Street in Boston.

The Boston Society of Architects/AIA is committed to professional development for our members, advocacy on behalf of great design, and sharing an appreciation for the built environment with the public at large.
Established in 1867, the BSA today consists of nearly 4,500 members and produces content for a diverse array of programs and publications, including ABX and ArchitectureBoston.
A chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it is a nonprofit, professional-service organization.
The BSA is located at BSA Space. BSA Space features more than 5,000 square feet of gallery space for creative explorations of the potential of design to inspire, create community and transform the world we inhabit. BSA Space is also home to the BSA Foundation (formerly the Boston Foundation for Architecture).

For more information and open hours please go to: Boston Society of Architecture

Topics: Northeast,Analog,Digital,infrared

Permalink | Posted January 12, 2019

Utah Day 6

I've referenced the last time I was in Moab in 2010 during this trip in a couple of my other posts. But I was in Moab before then too. Back when we all used film, in 1998, to make our pictures, I made a series I called "Moab, Utah". They were of the railroad tracks along a mining spur on the way south from Moab along the river close to Potash. I made the prints in my darkroom.

They are on the site: here. I also wrote about them: here.

I drove by there yesterday, now twenty years later. And thought about whether it made sense to reshoot. I chose not to. Mostly I don't do that, relying on the pictures I made to stand. Much here in the Southwest  is timeless, of course, or seems it. Or perhaps it is that rock is less susceptible to perceived change than our frenetic need to make things that are new. 

At any rate, I also was back at Thompson Springs off of I 70 the other day and found what had been where I made the first picture in that series (here).

A favorite of mine, made eight years ago. This time things had changed quite a bit:

I was told by a neighbor the roof caved in and the town deemed it a safety hazard so tore it down. 

I can't forget my first experience with things ephemeral. I was making the pictures for my MFA thesis while a student at RISD in the early 70's. My subject was cars in a junkyard. I'd made a picture of the tail fin of a 1957 Buick that I liked. A week later I went back to photograph it some more only to find out that not only the fin was gone but so was the whole car! Lesson learned.

Programming note: Please don't assume I am not susceptible to what has gone on this week: Tuesday's election, Trump's bizarre press conference, Session's firing and subsequent threat to the Mueller investigation, another shooting, this time in California, only two weeks after the last one in Pittsburgh and the wildfires in Paradise, CA. All that in the past two days! I am as influenced by all this as you are, unable to escape it even here in Moab. In many ways it seems it is the worst of times. This makes my pictures taken here in a Utopia of rock and river and blue skies seem like escape. On the other hand, maybe we need a little beauty in our lives right now. 

I hope you can find a little Utah in your day today.

Topics: Southwest,Digital,Analog,black and white and color

Permalink | Posted November 9, 2018

Magical

Ever feel you were in a place that was somehow magical? That, for whatever reason, things colluded to make where you were something so very special as to be once in a lifetime? I am sure you have.

Orvieto, Italy 2009

Ever happen to be there with a camera? Were you able to capture that special circumstance? Take advantage of this gift? I am sure you have.

Arsenale, Venice, Italy 2007

I know I have. There is the sense of tread lightly here and speak in whispers as this is so incredible you could shatter it in an instant. That feeling of OMG I just have to get this, all I have to do with this camera in my hands is to bear witness to this beauty, this sublime place, this other worldly quality. This is both a powerful concept, to be able to make something truly sublime out of what is in front of you, and humbling for it is such a transient thing, this picture you are making.

Oakesdale Cemetery, Washington 1997

Isn't it this at least part of what we seek? It is often what we are looking for as artists reliant upon the world around us to make our pictures. To find a circumstance, a unique combination of weather, place, light and use of a creative frame of mind that will combine together something perhaps mundane into something truly extraordinary. Very empowering, this. The feeling that it may be put there for you, arranged and choreographed as a display for you to photograph. Odd, yes?

Bermuda 1982

Two things: one, you can't have this "ah ha" moment, this ultimate reward, without being out there with a camera, a lot. You need to be in the world, seeing, looking, being a photo predator, on the "hunt" for pictures. Two, experience should be your guide, your practically instinctual director of future success. This is where your intellect is effectively useless, perhaps for logisitcs only, for it is your intuition, your heart, that will lead you down that path, over that rise, around that corner to find the sublime, the magical.

Vignole, Italy 2006

I am most fortunate to have had this kind of experience numerous times over my career. I can't assume it or take it for granted but I can be thankful when it comes and accept it for the gift it is.  

Topics: Europe,Black and White,Italy,Digital,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 18, 2018

Finding Your Bliss 3

In Finding Your Bliss (here) and Finding Your Bliss 2 (here) I wrote about a Sally Mann photograph and compared it to this image I made in 1976, not in content but in intent.

As I work to conclude this series let me please pause and thank Sally Mann for starting this extended conversation. Her photograph pushed me to go back in my own work and dredge up the two swans photograph and remember what it meant then and what it means now.

But what happened to my work after I had this big moment, this realization that with my photography I now had a deeper understanding of inherent possibilities, paths, and directions? Did I go back to the family picnic that afternoon and announce my discovery? Did my family and friends have any clue that I had gone deeper and seen farther into my life's work as an artist. Nope, nor did it come out later. This was my discovery, my "ah-ha" moment. I felt somehow that this experience was not relatable or at least that I couldn't share the power of the realization effectively, or, at worst, that they wouldn't care.

I would say that, while I didn't go on to become a "hands or body parts in the picture" photographer I was better informed to the inherent possibilities and depth that my pictures could address, that I was playing to a higher level in my work after that day. In short, by making this personal discovery, the bar had been raised on my own work throughout the rest of my career. 

As an addendum,

let me answer the question you might be asking. Was that infrared photograph of my hands in a picture made of two swans on the edge of a pond in Martha's Vineyard in 1976 something that led me to more "hand's in" pictures? Did I continue or utilize this process in other work as I went through my career? Mostly no, with occasional exceptions. Examples:

These are from my first trip to Iceland in 2013. I was an artist in residence at the Baer Art Centre in Hofsos. The pictures are of The Cape, a locally famous huge piece of rock near where we lived that summer. Same thing, feeling a strong connection, I found my hand(s) sliding into the picture. An affirmation perhaps that I was there and interacting with the air and place in a short slice of time. Not conscious so much as felt or intuited perhaps.

I was not the first person to move my hands or other body parts into the frame of my photographs in 1976. Self portraiture was common and I made some of those too. But was I making a sort of "selfie" back then? I don't believe so, for a selfie connotes a desire to show yourself in a place, in front of  the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal as a proof mechanism that you were there.  Not my interest at all. For mine was to interact with the place, as an immersion into the place.

Let me leave you with the following. As photographers we must deal with the mechanics of our medium (although even that is changing). Also, as someone who makes his own prints I must bring a whole other set of skills to bear. But if well schooled, all of this fades to the far background to allow a skillful and meaningful image to surface. This also allows us to share our feelings and perceptions with others, to point a direction, to observe something amazing or awful or never seen before or even to draw attention to something others walk right by on their way to work. This most incredible tool we have, photography, which has gotten so good in the last few years, is our best observational device ever to look at ourselves and the world we inhabit. And, occasionally but rarely in my work, to interact too.

Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge,MA 1978


This finishes the "Find Your Bliss" series of posts begun earlier this month. As always, thanks for reading my short essays.  Comments are welcome: here.

Topics: infrared,Black and White,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 5, 2018