Topic: Commentary (145 posts) Page 1 of 29


Kayafas Gallery in Boston current show is called Water. I am sure it is worth seeing. The show was curated by gallery owner Arlette Kayafas's husband, Gus. Gus and I go way back as we were classmates in graduate school in the 70's.

I didn't submit to be in the show but thought I would show a few of my "water" photographs here in the blog. 

Boys on a Dock, Martha's Vineyard 1982

from Mass Marshes 2013

San Francisco Bay 2018

South Shore Martha's Vineyard 2014

Half Mast, Oak Bluffs, MA 2018

Black Water Dam, NH 1994

Bermuda 1980

Connecticut River, Vermont 2017

Highlands, North Carolina 1988

Adams, MA 1994

That was little bit of a stroll down memory lane. Having worked so long, there is simply so much work. We are working these days in the studio to increase the  organization of it all.  It is a large task. 

Blogs can be so many different things. I find it challenging and rewarding to work to make mine a good read and to reinvent the form at times. While acknowledging this is primarily a platform in which to share my work, I try to bring you topics and photographs that are interesting, timely, and that inform you about the medium of photography as well.  Let me know what you think:

Neal's email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 26, 2019

The Printer

The title "The Printer" not only defines the inkjet printer I use to make my prints but also my career, for I am nothing if not a printer.

Darkroom days: countless hours printing in various darkrooms, many that I built myself. Before digital, computer displays and the internet photographs were, quite simply, seen by prints made on paper, whether published or actual prints.

My practice still is print based, although I gather much of the following of my work through my website and blog. Unfortunately, the presentation and craft of  prints that are exhibited these days is often lacking but still remains of paramount importance to me.

For almost 6 years virtually every print I have made came from my Epson 9900 44 inch inkjet printer. Though most friends and colleagues have moved on by now from theirs, mine kept on trucking, admittedly with more head cleanings and some banding from time to time. This is most likely attributable to a "single user", meaning me, and great care taken in preserving and maintaining the printer. Before it died last week it showed over 5000 prints made.

But returning from the recent trip out west to start editing files and print the work from the wheat fields of the Palouse, I ran into trouble right away. I could not get the yellow ink to give me much yellow at all. Think "wheat" in color. Yellow is the most important of colors.  I'd dial in more yellow, saturating it on screen and the subsequent print would only show a little. Nozzle checks bore this out. A significant gap in the yellow range. Several cleanings and what is called a "power clean" which uses a lot of ink, and the head was still clogged. These are sure signs that the head needs replacement. By the time you pay for a technician to come and replace the head and do the work to bring the printer up to specification you really just should purchase a new printer.

My new Epson 9000 arrives this week.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 22, 2019


This just quick: the new show is printed, wrapped and packed. The last three of American West prints was framed yesterday with help from assistant Jillian Tam and then wrapped in foam... thank God for foam! What did we do without it all those years?

Install day is June 25 so there is plenty of time to tweak signage, print a show statement, make labels, etc.

24 in all. 8 big (@ 46 x 31 inches) and 16 small (30 x 23 inches).

My aging Epson printer, a 9900, has been on and off problematic throughout this printing cycle. I made one big print that showed banding and so am now reprinting it. This then needs to go the framer to be mounted before being brought back to the studio to shove it in a frame. I will generally test strip until I am sure I've got a clean image:

The banding was very subtle but I could not allow it to go up and be seen, even though most might not notice. 

Try to complete shows before their due date. This to give yourself a breather to look and think things over, to tweak and refine, to reprint if necessary. I have even edited some final framed prints out just before delivery, as past experience has taught me that I tend to show too much. Lean and mean is better. 

Part of what I stand for as an artist is very high quality, both aesthetically and technically. So a show from me, wherever the venue, needs to represent those values. At this later stage in my career, this is no time to let those concerns slide. 

Hope to see the 27th!

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted June 13, 2019


My career and my art have been defined by a few of the lenses I've used to make my photographs over the years. We know that the camera and format play a foundational role but it is the lenses we use that make our pictures look the way they do. 

Early in my career, it was the Carl Zeiss 80 mm Planar for the Rollei SL66 that got the job done. I also learned a lot from using that lens as it was my first optic of very high quality.

It was sharp and good out to the corners and wonderful close-up. Next it was Zeiss again, with the 38 mm Biogon lens mounted to the Hasselblad Superwide (SWC) camera. A rectilinear lens; if held level, straight lines stayed straight. 

Virtually all my series works from the 70's, 80's and 90's were made with the SWC. Next was 8 x 10. I  bought the 240mm Nikkor f5.6 first but I found it to be soft so switched to the 300 Nikkor f5.6. 

This was a superb lens with a huge circle of covering power. (For those non- photographer readers or those that haven't worked with a view camera, the "covering power" refers to how large a circle of light the lens throws back to the film or sensor. A larger circle allows for more movements of the lens off axis for tilts and swings and other movements.) For twenty years this lens was my main "go to" and it wasn't until fairly late in my use of the format that I added a 210 Super Symmar by, you guessed, it Carl Zeiss. 

After switching to digital in about 2005, I have stayed with Nikon throughout. In there, of course, have been some remarkably poor lenses, usually less expensive budget glass, but a few standouts too. For instance, each time the company has upgraded the 70-200mm f2.8  zoom I have too and the current issue lens is exceptional. All my aerial work is with this lens.

The lens that is legendary for me and, I believe, perhaps under-acknowledged, is the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8. 

Big, heavy and expensive, with a huge curved glass element in front that makes using filters difficult, the lens is very specialized as it only zooms 10 mm. I believe the wider the lens the greater the expertise needed. This lens is not for the faint of heart as things can go wrong very quickly.

Holding the 14-24mm level or knowing how much out of level you are is key. Sharp, and good at all apertures, this lens is extraordinary. It is rare for a lens this wide to be very good at its edges. This one is.

Seldom neutral or transparent, most photographs made with it bear its "signature", meaning they aren't a window to the world but a definite take on it.

Think about this: do you care about photographs that are interpretive: unusual, different and have their own special look, or would you rather look at photographs that depict reality and rely on content for their impact and meaning? This is an art versus documentary question and one perhaps for another post.

Ah lenses... you can understand photographers' passionate feelings about the lenses they use to make their pictures. I also use the Sony A7r MK III and have the 24-105mm f4 and love the range. This is a very good piece of glass. Often this can mean a "one lens" day for me. 

My newest? The 200-500mm f5.6 Nikkor. 

Probably designed more for birders and wildlife photographers, I will see soon how it does with landscape. This is such a specific lens, useable only under special circumstances.  I am looking forward to pushing it out to 400 and 500 mm in the Palouse shooting Wheat in Washington in late June.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary,technical

Permalink | Posted April 28, 2019

Incidental Photographs

Incidental Photographs

My term for photographs made as single pictures, not referencing other works, made as "stand alones".  Sometimes made while making "series work" but often just coming on their own. I have made a boatload of them over the years.

We'll look at a few, chosen at random.

Let's start off with this one, made in 2009 while photographing in Italy for three months, not far from Bologna near a little town called Marradi:

Driving up the valley, stopping to look across to the opposite hillside, a farmer burning off dead branches from his chestnut trees, smoke filtering up to remind me of the smell of burning leaves in the fall as a kid growing up in southern Connecticut, the green intense and the sense of being in paradise inescapable, the only sound the crackling of the wood burning in the fire behind the tree. Caught in a timeless beauty that felt like it went on forever. Knowing even though many wonderful things have happened to me in my life that this one moment, this place was one that was special beyond all the others, just before heading to have lunch with my trainer's parents in Marradi, three Americans meeting in a small Italian hill town.

Or this one:

From the top of Cannon Mountain in NH

Ride the tramway to the top in the summer and hike up to the observation tower. Climb the stairs to the top and head for the very farthest right corner on the observation deck and wait for a moment when there are no people shaking the deck with their footsteps. Trip the shuter, the camera being on a tripod and jammed tight against the railing to hold it steady. 
I have probably made this same picture fifteen times over fifteen seperate trips to photograph.

And this:

Near Highlands, North Carolina 1988

While an artist-in-residence at the Applachian Envronmental Arts Center. Made in  8 x 10, a brown paper bag caught in the branches off the side of the road. Spent three weeks driving through this kind of country, listening to a new album by Joni Mitchell, probably a couple of months before the foliage came in. Dark and ominous sky, dirty looking hills in black and white, the 8 x 10 negative conveying vast amounts of information and showing an extraoridnary transparency to the air that we look through.

Or this:

In the early 90's, rural NH

Also in 8 x  10, playing with sharpenss through space, swinging the front of the view camera to prescribe a thin slice of sharpenss from the left tree trunk along the rope to the left side of the dock, to the sailfish in the water to the oppoite shore. Why? To own the picture, to suggest what the path through it is. To determine emphasis to things, to direct the picture, to de-emphasize parts less important.

Or this:

During our most amazing of winters in 2015 in New England with actual mountains of snow piled up in mall parking lots.

Photographs that sit outside of mainstream work. Found as gifts and realized as part of an overall practice that relies on a lifetime of seeing with an acute and trained awareness of a thing's potential to become a picture, to be art.

I used to carry around a box of 14 x 17 prints. I would show it to anyone that would look. I still have the box, battered and beat up. 

In it were black and white prints from all over. No "series" or precisely edited photographs, just images that were interesting, indicative, current, or on my   mind at the moment. Europe, American West, South, New England, Martha's Vineyard, Canada, Cambridge (where I lived), mostly 120mm but some 8 x 10 too, maybe  40 or 50 prints. The idea was that the imagery was informed by some overall aesthetic, a demonstration of interests, perhaps, as much as by what it showed. Trying to blur the distinction placed by viewers on place or subject and my intention to draw away from that.  

Incidental Photographs

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 19, 2019