Topic: Analog (40 posts) Page 1 of 8

There Was a Tree


There was a tree on a one-day shooting trip to southern Vermont in the early spring in 1977. All by itself, chopped down, many of its branches and pieces on the ground scattered around it. 

Since many of you are photographers you might like to know these were made with the single lens Rollei SL66, hand held, shot on Kodak's Plus-X film, processed in D76 1:1 and printed on Agfa's Portriga Rapid paper in 11 x 14 inches, hence the slightly warm color of the prints. You are seeing copies of the prints, not scans from the negatives.

Context? Sure. I was teaching at New England School of Photography (NESOP) which, ironically, is about to close for good next month. I was single as my wife and I had divorced the year before. I was living in Cambridge, MA. I had finished graduate school a few years earlier and my career hadn't really begun in any meaningful way. That would start the next year as I began teaching at Harvard in 1978.

This was a time where my photographing and printing was incessant. I would have a one man show at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA the next year, along with smaller shows at NESOP and at local galleries in the Boston area as well as shows at Martha's Vineyard. In fact, coming up the next summer I would have a two person show with my mom in Vineyard Haven. My mother was a painter.

Why show these now? Well, because I came across them in a box of loose prints from the 70's last week. But more importantly, they always held a place close to my heart. They are "series work" before I knew what that was or that series work would form a foundational basis for my photography throughout my career. And they are evidence of a disaster, much like my pictures of Paradise CA are today. As a metaphor for larger tragedies, these photographs of a felled tree all by itself in a large field in Vermont has stood as a symbol for my relationship to the end of life and death for the past 43 years. 

I am showing you the full set, just six prints. 

I remember the photographs of the bodies strewn around the battlefield by Mathew Brady or one of his crew during the Civil War. The next summer I would travel to Europe to photograph at Dachau outside of Munich and soon I would make my first intentional series work in Nantucket in the summer of 1980.

I don't even have a title for this work. It could be "Tree in a Field". Perhaps you have some ideas for what to call this series of mine before I was making series. 

If you come Sunday I can show you the prints.

Thank you for reading my blog. 

________________________________________________________________Coming up this weekend!

You should come...

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast

Permalink | Posted February 17, 2020

Sockanosset

Socka what? Sockanosset Boys Training School in Cranston RI. Now long gone and turned into some stores, a restaurant, and offices.

Evidently the school was built in the mid-1800s to house and train boys that were posing some difficulties for the state. Right up the street from a prison.

I would guess I made these about 2005. I have a friend who was living nearby and she mentioned that I might want to take a look at where the school was as the vines and brush were being cleared as prep for developing the site.


I remember I shot them once and blew it. Work this way and you can't have a frame that is out of focus. I just reprinted it at 45 x 34 inches as earlier ones sold long ago.

A note about size: while striking smaller, this image really needs to be large to see the subtleties in the variation of these three buildings. The grid is made from several rolls of 120mm film that I scanned then composited together to look like one roll of twelve exposures.

Topics: New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted December 27, 2019

Reunited

The second blog I wrote, now seven years ago, concerned some 8 x 10 photographs I had made in 1982 from Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA I lived in Cambridge from 1975 until last year.

Ostensibly about a wall covered in vines, the work has been shown many times over my career. There is only one set. They are 8 x 10 contact prints on Kokak Azo paper, toned with gold chloride. Azo paper is long gone. They are, simply enough, irreplaceable.

In 1982, married and with a new baby (and a new job), my wife and I traveled to her home town of Lugano, CH where she grew up. We stayed with her parents and I gave them a print from the Mt Auburn series as a house present, inscribed "To Isabel and Fernando w/ love, Neal Rantoul, 1982". I never saw the image again. It was not included in any subsequent shows the work was in. Now, 37 years later, it has come back to me, reunited with the ten others to make an eleventh after all these years.

Micaela and I divorced in 1986, her father Fernando died of a brain tumor about ten years after that and Isabel died a few years ago. The work I gave them during those years came back to me recently (see Swiss Portfolio), thanks to my ex-wife and my daughter, Maru.

The post on the blog is: here.

Funny how things happen sometimes, isn't it? The full circle nature of this image being in Europe all these years, sitting in some drawer or on some shelf in a case, insignificant and probably neglected, no ripple of consequence or recognition at all, to be shipped back across the pond to Boston and to me, to be joined with its partners and collaborators, the set incomplete all these years, now made whole. 

Let me place the making of this work in context. This was a breakthrough time for me in terms of my own work. I was immersed in the making of all kinds of photographs but the effect and power of forming bodies of work that would narrate was new and fresh. In many ways, these were the first bodies of work that established that I had my own voice, that shrugged off the effects and influences of graduate study and where I was making my own statements. In this period I made the Nantucket series, the Yountville series, Boats, Mountain Work, Southshore and Fences and Walls (all on the site along the bottom row in the Gallery page). However, though I had begun working in 8 x 10, I was not making series work in this format. For the most part, the concept of making series work in 8 x10 ran counter to my practice. There are really only two using the large camera. The Mt Auburn pictures and another set called "Cambridge" from quite a bit later, in 1994.

Just this week in the studio, we have framed the long-missing image the same as the others as though there was never anything lacking from the set. The series is now complete. This creates a tremendous sense of well being in me. 

Topics: Northeast,Analog

Permalink | Posted June 6, 2019

Old Trail Town

Old Trail Town. Cody, Wyoming, summer of 2005. I spent a few weeks in Cody that summer, renting a little place above a garage on a side street in town. I'd spent time at a ranch outside of Cody as a teenager and I went back to see what it was like, almost 50 years later. This was the last big shooting trip I made with the 8 x 10 view camera. The good 8 x 10's came fewer and farther between on that trip. I was experimenting with early digital capture. But I did make a series in 2 1/4 (120mm film format) handheld that has lasted well and has been shown frequently. 

I made the pictures of Old Trail Town with an Agfa black and white film, processed the rolls, then made inkjet prints of the scanned negatives. By that time I no longer had a darkroom and didn't print using an enlarger and chemicals. 

Old Trail Town is a rather spare tourist attraction that tears down and reconstructs shacks, corrals, saloons, jails,  barns, hotels from all over the American West and puts them in one location in Cody, making a town that never really existed at all. I found it bizarre and wonderful. It is here on the site.

I shot it just when it opened on a weekday. I'd been the day before when it was filled with people, not at all what I wanted.

These were incredible, these structures. It felt, in an odd way, that it wasn't really there for tourists but all there for me with my camera. I know, presumptuous, right? I was very excited, feeling the pressure of time and changing light to get these pictures on film. Work fast, but clean and right. "Don't fuck up" is often the refrain in times of making pictures like these.  Here I was working with film so couldn't review files that night. In fact, I wouldn't see the developed film for weeks, and make prints weeks later.

Ever felt that it, whatever "it" is, clicks with you and your sensibility on such a fundamental level that you just need to be there and shoot it, that this is not complicated or difficult at all? Old Trail Town had an inevitability to it that day.

It is a big series, 29 or so and takes us from the entrance of the town to the final picture at the town's edge, now emphasizing the landscape more than the buildings.

The Old Trail Town photographs always remind me of  "Music for Eighteen Musicians" by Steve Reich, an exceptional piece. The concept of repetition and derivation on a theme play large in his piece, which is really a symphony. Look at the photographs as thumbnails here on the back cover of my book American Series and you'll see what I mean.

This is how they ended up in the book, at a very late stage in the design: 

After I'd made them that summer, the following fall we were working on the book. Big bucks, a wonderful designer, getting well-placed people to write on my behalf,  making the scans (I made the scans for the book, a whole other story), approving proofs, printing in China; all the myriad details that go into making a monograph. Late in the design, I brought 3 x 3-inch square prints of Old Trail Town to Providence to show the designer Paul Langmuir and pitched the idea of including the series in the book. We revised the book and added pages to allow Old Trail Town to be in the book. 

Old Trail Town serves for me as photographs emblematic of an approach a little like a rock stuck in the tire of a car. Round and round the wheel goes as you drive, every time the rock hits the pavement it makes a noise, over and over, changing in tempo as you accelerate or slow down. My point being driven home through repetition. If you've read this blog for a while you know my philosophy behind the idea of "the same but different". The Old Trail Town photographs are just that.

The last frame I shot that day, winding film out of the camera while walking back to the rental car I saw a family at the gate and another behind them. My revery at Old Train Town was over just in time. The photographs were in the can and I was done.

I've written this before but I have often been lucky that way throughout my career. 

Note: We seem to be emphasizing work from my past lately. If this grates on you, please accept my apologies. Recovering from major surgery always takes longer than one expects and to be fully healed longer still. I am on the mend and working almost daily, but have not dug into anything substantial yet. There are travels ahead and new work will come. You will be the first to see it, have no doubt.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Black and White,West,Analog

Permalink | Posted April 14, 2019

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