Topic: black and white and color (11 posts) Page 1 of 3

Two Shows

Hello all. I've got work in two shows currently.  One, at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover MA, in a "recent acquisitions" exhibit. Mine is a large piece I donated in 2020. It is an aerial photograph from Salt Lake, Utah.

The second is a series of black and white photographs called the " Pulaski Motel" at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, MA. These are part of another "recent acquisitions" show currently on view at the Museum.

This is a sequenced set of pictures I made on a drive to teach at Penland in North Carolina on a sweltering early summer day in 2012. Pulaski is in Virginia.

Topics: black and white and color

Permalink | Posted October 14, 2023

Shirley 3

This post follows Shirley 2, about a series of photographs I made this past winter 2023.

Sometimes people criticize my series work for some of the pictures in the series not sustaining the overall tone or intensity of others in the group. I get that, but believe they are not seeing the whole picture, pun intended. Just as in musical composition, there needs to be rhythm and pacing. This picture is one of those, a breather and a setup for what is to follow. As it turns out our frontal empty house had more behind it. We can see that now on the left of the frame. With empty space in the middle, we can see where we are headed on the right, there is the hint of a fuel tank of sorts and a fenced-in propane tank too. Not a stand-alone picture but necessary to link what precedes with what is to come.

Bang! What an insult of a photograph! Very little subtlety, two trucks in your face. Nothing refined, so far from any apparent artistry. Clearly we are no longer up the street at the house Daddy made for Mama. We are in front of a family business with two oil trucks. There is nothing here that looks at all prosperous and this is born out by what comes next.

I've done this before, working to take us out of our comfort zone and into a more mundane and practical world. 

Cambridge, 1994

Hershey, PA 1996

We'll finish this post here, with only two more pictures to finish the series.  Of note again, after working on the files for a bit, starting to make some prints, wrestling with how they should look, I went back to Shirley thinking I could maybe fill the series out, that perhaps I'd find something to deepen it and extend it. Not to be found, as it turned out. Actually, it was plain wrong. I  struggled with that, wanting more but having to realize that what I'd had that first day was it and there was nothing more. My favorite quote from Kurt Vonnegut,"And so it goes."

On to Shirley 4.

Topics: black and white and color,Series

Permalink | Posted June 5, 2023

Shirley 2

This follows Shirley, a series of photographs I made in 2023.

In this post we will pick up where we left off, starting a new phase of these pictures made over a short period of time.

We now are just to the right of the house, presumably what is their yard. We are looking in the same direction, but we are dealing with some depth, although contained by the hill at the back. The center of attention here is the trellis with off-season vines clinging to the structure. The snow on the lower left frames the photograph and seems to lead us into its middle space with various items scattered haphazardly around.

Here, we've turned a few degrees right to make our first photograph that isn't constrained by being a flat plane image. Presumably we're seeing into the immediate future of where we're heading, the light yellow house and at least one   truck with a partly obscured sign on it saying "Fuel".

But the big reveal here is that very long fence, forming a "T" shape at its bottom with another facing the street. The picture is defined at its edges by my effort to fit all of the fence in the frame. Of course, I'm standing there with the camera up to my eye thanking my lucky stars for the quality of zooms these days, in this case a 24 to 70mm.

I believe in my earlier days I wouldn't have strayed far from the rule of having to work in parallel planes with the subject. While still doing that here, I am looser now. So many rules and requirements are now gone, freeing us to do as we wish, to work to the needs of the subject and the photographs we make. 

Last one, breaking with another tradition:

This almost square photograph is an affront, planal as in the earlier frames of the series but absolutely inescapable as there is literally nowhere else to go. In contrast to our first house, this one is clearly empty, one hint being the realtor's lockbox on the door knob. As full of life and occupancy as the first house was, this is empty and a little forlorn.

So, here we are, at the end of the second post of the pictures I made in Shirley in the end of winter 2023. Of interest might be that this is a series intended to be viewed as prints. I made the prints quite large at 25 x 17 inches to allow all of the details to be seen. Next up? Shirley 3.

Topics: black and white and color,Digital

Permalink | Posted June 4, 2023

Ready to Edit

What's a photographer to do? Confined to staying at home, itching to be out in the world making pictures. He edits, of course.

Here I am ready to go to work, a fresh pot of coffee to my right files up and running in Lightroom. I'd been photographing lately, before we got shut down, along the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers as they become the Concord River. Because it is close and easily accessed I have probably photographed it a dozen times or so. I even made a poster of it:

This way of working, going to a place, again and again, is a holdover of my 8 x 10 days. This is a slow, contemplative, disciplined system, seeking the best light and the ideal conditions in which to make a picture. 

I don't know how you work but I do not print in the small apartment where I live. That is reserved for the studio a few miles away. But because I have this laptop and good monitor (and it is calibrated) I can work the files here, transfer them to a hard drive and take them to the studio to print them there. 

The editing part has turned out to work well for I am no longer going to the studio as it seems risky. Go through your back files and I am sure you'll find tons of things to work on.

For instance, before all hell broke loose with Covid-19, my assistant Jillian was tasked with scanning 8 x 10 negatives. What a job! 25 years of large format negatives that are dusty with some that are scratched and with uneven agitation,

to scan, to clean with the cloning tool in PS and make ready for printing. Although Jillian does many other things for me and is most valued for all that she does, this is her primary role. 

I suspect some of you may be in the same predicament. The reality is if much of this work is not scanned and made ready to print... and then printed, it will not see the light of day, ever. I know that effort in doesn't result in great art as a result but nevertheless, 25 years' worth of work thrown in a dumpster after I am gone is a sobering thought.

So, we are slowly making some of this work, a highly selected group, yes, into portfolios of prints. These we will add to the many sets of photographs I darkroom printed at the time to form a survey of the 8 x 10 years, about 1980 to 2005. 

                                                       • • •

Don't hesitate to communicate, to reach out with questions and your thoughts. Also, the back catalog of my posts for the past many years are all searchable and available on this page. In this time when we are so blocked off from each other, it is important to keep our lines open. I can be reached: here.

Once again, I wish you all well in this odd, alarming and disastrous time. Stay as safe as you can, we will get through this. I am sure.

Topics: 8 x 10,black and white and color,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2020

Big Change

This is a blog post about the big change that has taken place in photography. After now a long career as a photographer and a photography educator I can now say that craft matters very little and that the age of making beautiful photographic prints is over.

Let's go back a few years, to students studying film-based photography at the university level. Craft was king then, as it was hard to learn to shoot film, to know how to adjust various settings on the camera, to make pictures that conveyed things beautifully. Hell, even after learning to load film in the tank and develop, it took weeks to learn how to make a good black and white print, often a whole semester. Good craft was the foundation of making pictures that looked good, conveyed intent, communicated a certain emphasis or point of view that was expressive and intelligent. All gone now, of course. The advancement of technology has eliminated all that. A good analogy is learning to drive a car. This is a skill, learned over time with the necessary training and discipline to become good at it. Same with photography, or used to be. Autonomous cars are coming and you'll no longer need skill behind the wheel to get someplace.  With photography to some extent we are already in an age of autonomous photography, for the devices are really doing just fine on their own, making well-exposed files of pictures that practically print themselves at very high quality. Look at the sheer quality of smartphone photos today. Great skills at the helm of the computer, the conduit to the inkjet printer, are no longer required. The process has become so highly automated that a great intellect combined with years of experience is no longer needed. The people who are truly great printers have been obsolesced by great advances in automatic everything. Of course, there are lapses in all this. People still do make terrible prints. Through some brain fart or no knowledge whatsoever really terrible photographs are made every day. But with a modicum of knowledge, great prints are easy and can be practically assumed. 

It's tough to be obsolesced.

This makes looking back to a Stieglitz, or a Weston or even an early color street photograph from the early 70s by Joel Meyerwitz look like they were making a bloody miracle. And they were. Spend some time with some original Adams or Weston prints and they will blow you away, as for them to be making prints of that high a quality in the time they were making them was unbelievable.

Now, shoot RAW, let the camera make the focus and exposure settings, load the file into Lightroom, adjust it with sliders to your liking, export it as a TIFF, send it off to be printed or print it yourself and what have you got?  A well exposed and excellent print.

Did I at times rely upon my technical skills in analog days to outweigh anything else? 


 Many of us did that. Point an 8 x 10 camera at something inane and inconsequential, develop the film and make the print with consummate skill, frame it beautifully and show it with the presumption that it is hugely important. Great significance and weight based on the device that made the picture, often nothing else. Paul Krot, a teacher of mine at RISD and the inventor of Sprint Chemistry, once said to me that anything was fantastic if shot with an 8 x 10 camera and its true. The format seduced me for 25years.

Now, I am shooting with a 61 MP mirrorless camera that handheld can do very well when compared to the 8 x 10, maybe even better. Making a big print 40 or 50 inches across is easy these days, you just need a big printer.

All of those technical concerns, the skill of printing and handling the materials knowledgeably, being practiced and respectful of what could be done are now, for the most part, over. 

When working with analog materials my objective was always to make the perfect print; the widest tonal range, the best sharpness, the deepest blacks and the most luminous highlights that I could. Remember Ansel Adam's adage that the "negative was the composition but the print was the performance"? This took great skill, years of experience and yes, often some luck to succeed. It was very difficult to do. Now, these things are easy, almost assumed. Those very values and high standards are often lost on those younger, brought up in a digital era. This is partly progress but also makes me a little sad too. The idea, now, of spending a whole day in the darkroom going through many sheets of paper to make one consummate print seems laughable. 

To quote Kurt Vonnegut once again, 

"and so it goes."

(All images reproduced here are ©Neal Rantoul and are from 8 x 10 negatives and transparencies and may not be reproduced without specific permission by the photographer.)

Topics: black and white and color,Commentary,8 x 10

Permalink | Posted October 20, 2019