Topic: Black and White (69 posts) Page 1 of 14

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,Analog,West

Permalink | Posted April 14, 2019

Hershey Revisited

Last week, Mercedes, colleague, friend and studio assistant from Penland, came up for a visit and we spent an afternoon and the next morning looking at work, lots of work. At the end we were both exhausted. You wouldn't think this would be a grueling experience, looking at sets of prints sitting in portfolios, but it is.  I admit, my work is intense. For the most part these are not just pretty pictures, but series where pictures are arranged as a narrative, making connections from picture to picture, alluding to something that has come earlier or is about to come up ahead. Think poems or chamber pieces or short stories.  I too get fatigued looking at my own work in effect over the shoulder of someone else, looking to see the work through their eyes, to read their reactions, to sense their involvement or lack of, their getting it or not, what their body language indicates.  (In looking over what I just wrote I realize you could take a very different stance about looking at all that work: the photographs of Neal Rantoul could be seen as relentlessly boring, overwrought, narrow-minded, humorless, repetitive and lacking in innovation. I hope Mercedes didn't feel that way!)

Hershey is on the site: here.

One of my favorite things to do with someone who visits the studio is a kind of game. Years ago Phillip Prodger did this. He was the curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum at the time. The idea is to have the visitor randomly pick something to look at from the flat files and shelves of portfolios. Mercedes chose Hershey, PA so I hauled the box of analog prints out and we took a look.

Hershey has been around. The work is represented in the black and white monograph "American Series", it gets its own small book called Hershey and it has been shown numerous times since I first made the prints in 1997. It also lives in several print versions, including a poster (as just one image from the series, the one shown above), and another as 18-inch square inkjet prints on watercolor paper and just this week after Mercedes left, as new 13-inch square prints. Why did I print the full set yet again? Because some of the original darkroom prints are missing. This isn't as tragic as you might think as in earlier days I might have sold a single print out of a series. I no longer do this of original work but will freely sell a digital version. So the new full set is from scanned film and made as inkjet prints. Easy. And before you tell me you prefer the older vintage darkroom made prints come take a look at the inkjet ones as they are very beautiful. Why? Because the quality of the scans is first rate. Quality in, quality out.

All this by way of suggesting, if you haven't been there yet, that you might like to read about the Hershey pictures. If you I do I can link you to the introductory post, that then links you to the three posts I wrote that take a closer look at a body of work of mine that I regard as being seminal. 

I hope you enjoy looking at the Hershey series: HERE

Topics: Northeast,Black and White

Permalink | Posted February 25, 2019

26 Dollars

After spending a night in NY, we headed back to Boston by way of New Haven to see the George Shaw painting show at the Yale Center for British Art and have lunch with Phillip Prodger. Phillip is the former curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and has recently returned to the States from London where he did a stint at the National Portrait Gallery.

Before I tell you the $26 story let me share some of Shaw's paintings with you.

Quite often these are large, on up to  5 or 6 ft, mostly enamel on metal. Here is the      opening statement

Don't know if you can read it so small but it speaks about his inherent preoccupation with the fine art of painting and the prevailing medium of the day, photography. 

These are extraordinary paintings, "take your breath away" beautiful and, for me, they both validate present day painting but validate much of my work that points at things like fences, that allows shadows, blank walls and everyday objects pulling back in space, made earlier in my career in black and white and now in color. 

photograph: Neal Rantoul from Fences and Walls


painting: George Shaw

painting: George Shaw

Affirming is the sense that Shaw and I look at the world  in similar ways. Uncanny, really, that someone unknown to me until now has been working in a manner that is somewhat aligned to mine. 

Looking for proof? Easy. Go to Edgartown Beach Club and the blog post:

here   (hint: the author of the series is me, working under the pseudonym Marc Meyers)


photograph: Neal Rantoul

painting: George Shaw

26 Dollars: Heading back to Boston on the Mass Pike we stopped for gas. I am standing there filling up and this man comes up to me. He's got an elaborate story about a dead fuel pump in his pickup truck, a towing charge, a weekend in New London for Coast Guard veterans on a cutter, a chipped tooth, his two daughters, needing bus fare to Portsmouth that is $66 and then shows me the $40 in his wallet. He's $26 short and can I help hm out? I ask him if he's asked others before me. He says, yes, one other. I ask how'd that go? He says not well. I don't hesitate and hand him first my card saying he needs to call or email to get the address to send me the $26 when he gets home. He says he will do that. I ask him his name. He says Dave O'Malley. He's middle aged, looks together and is with me every step of the way. I hand him $26. He looks me square in the eye and says thank you, you are a life saver and then shakes my hand. It is now five days later and I have heard nothing from Mr Dave O'Malley.  I am a sucker or it is money well spent?

My email: here


Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT  here through December.

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

Permalink | Posted December 17, 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