Topic: Black and White (74 posts) Page 1 of 15

Valley Trees

I returned last week from my second trip to Northern California to photograph the effects of the Camp Fire in Paradise.

As I start to make prints from the shoot I realize I was seeking to connect with the place in a slightly different manner than before. Partly documentation and partly an artist's response, the work reads more personal and selective.

An example is these, called Paradise Valley Trees:

This career artist doesn't always know why he's doing things. That sounds bizarre I know, but it is true. I discover things from the pictures I make. Yes, I made some conscious decisions here: convert the camera to 1:1, make the files in post into black and whites. So, I was working towards higher specificity in these pictures.

But there needs to be chance, discovery, unpredictability, accident, surprise, intuition in our work. It isn't all intellect and control.

These trees, serving as symbols for so much more, standing guard, doomed to be cut down and heading for the chipper, scarred and charred, killed by wind and fire on November 8, 2018.

Prints are 12 x 12 inches. I suggest seeing them in person: Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Digital,West,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 25, 2019

Wheat Four 2019

This will finish the series I've been writing on the photographs I made in June of the wheat fields of the Palouse in Eastern Washington.

I am pleased to report that the portfolio is almost complete and that it just needs a few more reprints and a final edit to be ready to present.

If you would like to see the prints you can come to my studio to see them. Email me at: nrantoul@comcast.net

This is a small thing, but big if you are a printer and make portfolios. My prints in this series are on Red River San Gabriel Baryta paper in 17 x 25 inches. Archival Methods makes portfolio boxes, among other things. They now make a 17 x 25-inch drop-front box, seen here and also a 17 x 25-inch folio case. This is good news for those of us that like to use this slightly larger paper over the more standard 17 x 22-inch size. As a benefit, the DSLR full-frame fits this size paper better as well.

The last few days in Washington followed the already familiar pattern of getting up, driving, photographing, driving, photographing, on and on.

The latter part of Day 9 I started working in Pullman and this carried over to the next morning, which was my last:

These connect to a project I did in 2009 called Mallchitecture (here).

2011 Yuma Palms Mall, AZ

Rhode Island, 2009

I finished the trip with a few hours photographing the greenhouses at the University of Washington campus in Pullman:

That concludes this four-part series. I have been photographing in the area for 25 years, with trips every year or two. Am I finished? Hard to say. I feel like maybe I am, but in a year or two the Palouse will pull at me, just as it has many times  before. It is a peculiar place, charming and very beautiful. The area has purity and honesty to it in a world so lacking in integrity and so perverse as to be defeating at times. 

If you go, you could take a workshop, as there are several. Personally, I would hate that, being carted along to "choice spots" by a guide. I like the freedom to choose my places, my own time of day and time of year. 

Topics: West,Color,Black and White,Digital

Permalink | Posted September 9, 2019

Boats

I just added a very early series of mine from the 1970's to the site. Called "Boats" the photographs are black and white photographs made in 1978 and 1979 from two marinas: Martha's Vineyard, MA and Berkeley, CA

They are here on the site.

I made the pictures two years before the Nantucket pictures (1981) and as such, they don't have the emphasis on sequencing and narration that later works did.

Made six years after getting my MFA degree from the RI School of Design the prints show a predominant concern with design and have a full tonal range from 2 1/4 inch negatives. I almost always used Kodak's Rapid Selenium toner. This is evident in the Boats prints' neutral to cool blacks. By this time I  had devised a unique system for agitating the film during developing. This resulted in exceptionally smooth tonalities in areas like open sky. The prints are in perfect condition after all these years and are about 12 x 12 inches.

With so many photographs made over so many years, I tend to categorize my own work in a couple of different ways, mostly as A work and B work. The Boats pictures are solidly in the B column, meaning I believe they are important, but not seminal. To my eye, the concern is clear to see. This was a time of continuing development, as I was refining my own approach and deepening my understanding of the quality of light used to make my pictures. The pictures are about quality, with no interest in boats as a subject whatsoever, simply as surfaces to reflect or absorb light from the sun on early morning bright days. 

Made long before those of us in the photo art community thought of editioning prints, the photographs in my studio are the only ones in existence. If you'd like to see them please email me directly: nrantoul@comcast.net

Topics: Northeast,West,Black and White

Permalink | Posted May 31, 2019

Heaven on Earth?

Three weeks on the island of Martha's Vineyard in May. 

Is Martha's Vineyard heaven on earth?

Not in early May.

Let me explain.

My family's home is in Chilmark, close to the western end of the island. Rural, some farms, the fishing village of Menemsha, the cliffs at Gay Head at Aquinnah close by and a couple of world class beaches.

What's not to like?

In early May, the weather. When I arrived, it was cold, wet and windy. Nothing was green, the trees were bare. Only by the middle of the month do things start to pick up and then there were only a few days that were almost warm. I find the island tough when the weather is bad. Surrounded by such beauty without being able to be in it beats you down.

I photographed right through it all, no big surprise, and got into some sets and subsets of things both new and visited before. One was is a stream running across the south beach and into the ocean, runoff from the marsh at Moshup Trail.

Patterns in the sand from the water and reflections on the surface. Remarkable. 

Are these something? I don't really know yet as I will need to work the files and make a few prints to be able to tell.

Being compulsive means I trekked up there six different days, a considerable hike a mile or so down the beach at Philbin to get to it. I tried photographing this with a tripod and without, used a PC lens to get the planes more parallel, went on diferent days with a long lens and a wide lens and with  Sony and Nikon cameras, with flat light and contrasty days. I learned to go after it had rained as two or three days of no rain and the stream trickled off to almost nothing.

I went up in a plane this past week for an hour flight with good light and the leaves just coming out on the trees.  We went up about 3 pm, late for me, but one of the pilots I work with flies over from Nantucket.  In the morning it was far too windy so we waited and the wind calmed somewhat.

Note: these are not finished files, but pretty much as they come out of the camera as RAWS.

We flew from the Aquinnah end of the island over to Noman's Land, a small restricted-access island a couple of miles off the south shore. The island was used for bombing practice by the military for many years and there is unexploded ordnance scattered around, hence the prominent"No Trespassing " signs.

I first made aerials here ten years ago and, in fact, it was the first of the Massachusetts islands I made pictures of.

Why go again? The technology has changed. The files I am making now are leaps above the files I made back then. Higher resolution, greater dynamic range and a color engine far more subtle and nuanced. In optics, the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor lens I use now for aerials is two generations improved from ten years ago and it shows. These are excellent files.

What else? I tried to mimic the series of the fishing village Menemsha I had made last year but couldn't pull it off. Perhaps someone else could work to make good pictures here offseason. But for me it seemed disrespectful and cruel. Menemsha is not a pretty sight in early May in the rain and the wind and the cold.

There are a couple of trees I photograph each time I go to the island. They are in Chilmark and are old friends.

As we are now in production for the next show at the Harvard Ed Portal opening in late June, the new Martha's Vineyard pictures will have to be put aside for now.

But let me make this statement and challenge: the body of photographs of mine from Martha's Vineyard over a long career begun in the late 60's is significant and important and should be looked at by curators and/or editors for increased exposure. Not only does the work encompass a survey of some of the massive changes to the island over the past 50 years it also tracks the evolving aesthetic, comprehension and refinement of this career artist. What better place to work over a whole career than an island? 20 or so miles of land surrounded by water means finite content, a place that is a microcosm divorced from much of the rest of the world but also part of it.

Any takers?

Topics: Northeast,Digital,Color,Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted May 27, 2019

Salton Sea 2 Part 1

I've produced a few bodies of work from the Salton Sea in Southern California. I'd suggest researching it if you don't know what it is. It is unlike anyplace I have ever been.

At any rate, my series from it, called Salton Sea 2 was made in 2013 while I was living in Yuma, AZ  for much of the winter. 

The full series is on the site: here

Let's start here:

#1

A defining photograph and a straight conversion from the color RAW file to black and white. This series is made with the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. We will see its signature look later in the series. This is a "walk around" group of pictures, in that the sequence of the photographs is dictated by the path I took through this abandoned and desolate landscape. Note the sheer brilliance of the light. Bright sun and a cloudless sky were important as this helped to convey an otherworldliness to the photographs. What a severe photograph this is and so expansive, pulling back to a distant horizon in the dried out lake bed of the Salton Sea.

In post-production three months later I had a few decisions to make. What size prints would I make, what paper to print on, how contrasty the prints should be, but what really took time was the work to make these photographs reside as both black and white and color simultaneously. Gimmick? Too tricky? Perhaps, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

#2:

I have moved to the left and made a similar picture in structure to the first, although I have gotten a little closer. This time the lens flared in the upper left corner.  I am okay with that. I like the dark rectangles created by the busted out windows and doors. BTW: We will not see any life, any movement, anything living at all in the series. The Salton Sea is death.

#3

The same building now from in front, 180 degrees turned, sun at my back now but still working in the same language of these rectangles of blacks contained in shadowed areas. This is the first picture in the series that really shows us the extent of decay in the landscape. Next, we go to something different.

#4

So, what's this, now? Rantoul gone off his meds? Well, maybe but this picture will establish a rule and we will adhere to that structure throughout the series until the last two pictures. Water, where it exists, will come through in color. Why? To drive home just how twisted this place is, to emphasize the polluted and fetid nature of what water we do come across, and to shock. Note: I did not alter the color of what water there was or push its saturation levels in the Salton Sea series.

We should stop here as this will be a multi-part examination of the Salton Sea pictures. But let me finish Part 1 by writing a little more of my rational. 

Looking at the history of the medium as an artistic expression we see that in earlier years there was only black and white, then by the late 1920s, Kodak introduced color. Art was still made in black and white for many years thereafter, color was more for illustration and advertising. Along comes Stephen Shore (and Eliot Porter a little earlier) in the mid 70's and rocks the art world by making art in color with an 8 x 10 view camera in a manner similar to what Walker Evans had done in an earlier generation.  Now, we had two tracks, art in black and white and art in color, defined as distinct vehicles of expression. Never to mix, nor would black and white and color be shown together or even be in the same portfolio box together. There were color photographers and black and white photographers, color exhibitions and black and white exhibitions. You get the idea. Now, all that has changed.  We see both interchangeably. So, this series and another one called Grain Silo from the previous year use color selectively within the sequence of photographs. The tactic is to draw attention to the history by showing how so much has changed and to reference how we perceive photographs in the two manners, black and white and color. I believe that photography is, among other things, largely a comparative medium, one thing drawing attention to another and this is a device to do just that.

Next up? Salton Sea 2 Part 2

Topics: West,desert pictures,Black and White,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted May 14, 2019