Topic: Commentary (181 posts) Page 1 of 37

From the Archives

We're going to try republishing some older posts for a bit as the blog now goes back 10 years. I'd be willing to bet that most of you haven't read earlier efforts so I thought it might be worthwhile to bring some back for re-exposure. Let me know if you like or dislike the idea in the comments section below.

For the start of this project, I refer you to Luna Park, a series made in the fall of 2012 near Voldatavo, Italy of an amusement park. The post itself is very short but contains a link to the full series of pictures. They have never been shown.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 18, 2022


In March 2020 I wrote a piece in response to what downtown Boston looked like as we were shut down. I called it "Ghost Town".

Well, here we go again.

Omicron has put us right back into submission, freaked out to be out, worried about being too close, and seeing those around us getting the virus, more so than last year, less severe though it may be.

Staying home more, working from home more. The only difference I can see is that no government is telling us to shut down. We are doing it on our own.

In our third year......

Again, just as then, I wish you good health.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 15, 2022

Best of 2021 Part 2

In Part 1 (here) we looked at the best of my work in the early part of the year. Here we'll continue from May on.

Medfield State Hospital

This one, from a junkyard near Albany NY in May. Feeling bad, this was six weeks before I had open-heart surgery, weak and easily winded. I wrote about photographing in junkyards and my forty years of experience: here.

Peaked Hill, Chilmark, MA, the highest spot on Martha's Vineyard, in June.

In Lawrence, MA in August in a diner.

Holyoke, MA

Fitchburg, MA

By October and November, I was photographing at Lake Dennison Recreation Area in Winchendon, MA. The Miller River cuts through the park.

In December I continued at Lake Dennison until the gates were closed for the season near Christmas. 

That about sums it up, 2021. I tend to think in terms of "before surgery" and "after surgery" in that some priorities are a little different now.  While still highly motivated to make work I think less of how my work will be accepted and more of what peace and pleasure it brings me. If that, in turn, brings something good to your days then it is all for the better. Certainly, I am less for the noise and more for the quiet these days.  

Topics: Color,Commentary,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted January 3, 2022

This is a Rant

This is a rant. Can't hold back any longer. There are things going on in our photo/art world that cannot be ignored any longer.  Trends, directions, proclivities: all concerning how photography gets out, seen, or dealt with. 

Since the pandemic hit there is a decrease of actual eyes on prints and an increase of eyes on screens.  How many actual exhibitions have you been to in the last 18 months? My point exactly. 

How photography is picked, granted, awarded, placed in an exhibition, favored is the dirty little secret of the industry. Online. Yes, no one looks at prints to determine anything anymore. Guggenheim Fellowship application, museum show competition or local camera club submission: Online. The Cafe system predominates. Submit jpegs of sufficiently small size in your application and off they go. Sometimes, for some "contests", it can be $35 or $40 for one image submitted. Often with no prizes, just supposedly lots of exposure. 

I have my doubts. 

Okay, a flawed system but let's move on. Who are all the judges? What are their qualifications to look at your work and determine if it's in or out? Mostly unknown, particularly in the big contests there might be a dozen or so jurists. Mind you, they never see the actual work. They see it online.  Often they have no contact with each other.  They just mark down on a scorecard a number that is yes or no and move on. Sometimes there is a brief biography in the submission but it is often ignored. That's it.

One recent competition, notable for announcing a contest for black and white photographs as "Portfolios", let you submit one (a one print portfolio?) or presumably, as many as you like, for the fee of $35 per jpeg. What if you had a 16 print portfolio? That's a $560 entrance fee for an online contest with no prizes, no real exhibition, just "acclaim and exposure". Really?

It's not good out there, folks. It's going to hell in a handbasket, I am afraid. Yes, of course, there is repetitive, cliched, immature, boring, uninformed, poorly conceived work out there as well. A lot of it. But look at what has done well in past years. Are those similar to the way you work? There is some sincere work, and I appreciate that, but sincerity doesn't necessarily mean great art. Much imagery never gets anywhere close to a 13 x 19-inch print, let alone a framed print hung on a museum or gallery wall. 

These "shows" mostly aren't about "art" but display flash, sex (lots of glorified nudes, a topic for another time), strong colors, graphics, and shock value. But substance? Online is many good things, of course, including providing easy access to a tremendous amount of imagery, but photographs that convey depth and subtlety are not one of them. 

As an aside, the whole megapixel war becomes far less of an issue if you're only making work to display at 72 dpi on screen. Save your money and don't buy the 61MP Sony or 100MP Fuji because you don't need it. Chances are, what you have is fine. 

The solution? Several colleagues and I agree. Screw it. Keep working. Make the best work you can: keep it relevant, visceral, beautifully crafted, possessed of ideas, eloquent, edgy, bizarre, funny, ironic, memorable, smart. My plan exactly.  Just make the work, what will happen after will happen. Quality will win out. And, oh yes, make prints. And seek ways to show them. 

But watch out for the online contests. They are out to get you. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 27, 2021

2 AM

It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. I've learned that tossing and turning in bed while recovering from open-heart surgery isn't always productive.

So, I am turning to the blog which has been silent for a month or so. I have always tried to write about photography and my work from a perspective that could relate to your work or concerns and that remains of key importance to me. Let's see if you relate to this one. 

My recovery is going well. Last week I hit a bump in that my heart was found to be beating erratically so I was admitted into the hospital again for one night to have a "Cardio Version" where my heart was hit with electricity to kick it back into a normal heartbeat. It worked and I am now back on track. I have started to drive and so, am increasingly independent from my daughter, Maru, who has been looking after me. I don't really have words to express how grateful I am for her care through this ordeal.

I drove into town to my studio yesterday and looked at it through the eyes of someone that has not practiced photography for six weeks or so. It was an odd sensation, probably close to someone's reaction visiting for the first time. Flat file cases of work, portfolios of printed photographs, racks of framed pieces, a career's worth of negatives from analog days, computers and RAIDS, hard drives, and a 44-inch printer, framing supplies, a scanner, copy stand, and rolling carts of inkjet paper on rolls and in sheets. More distance and perspective than I have probably ever had from my own work. But also impressive that there is so much of it. Since it all began I have always worked through whatever else life threw at me, there has been the work, the making of photographs. Not that this is all a good thing for so much work presents a problem for the future: storing it, maintaining it, assuring its remaining viability and access. I find myself not so much inside the projects as in earlier times but outside looking in at work made in various phases or parts of my career, core mainstream work, and other bodies and series made as offshoots, or sidelines to the central themes of my artistic career.

Valuable, that. Perhaps to be outside the work more than at any other time. 

I don't know that I mean this makes for a real solution, just lending a different way to look at a career that I have never done or had before. I wonder if you've had that, the ability to look at what you do or have done with this sort of distance. 

Of course, this leads to the questioning of what I would have done differently. Perhaps fool that I am but I don't think anything. I've known for a long time, for instance,  that there is work that isn't at the same level as other work of mine. So be it. I can accept that but still find value in that less than "A" work that might be supportive of something or that might speak to me wrestling with an issue or a concern through visualizing a concept or an idea. 

But from this longer lens view, I believe that the work can stand. I am not likely at this late stage in my life to burn or shitcan it to the dumpster outside my studio. 

Will end this now with hoping to get back to sleep soon. Will the blog continue, thrive as in earlier years when I had so much to share? I don't honestly know. But I am grateful always for you coming along. It is a pleasure to be able to share my thoughts with you. 

(photographs from 2013 Artist in Residency, Hofsos, Iceland ©Neal Rantoul)

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted August 2, 2021