Topic: Digital (159 posts) Page 1 of 32

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

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2020

Fruitlands


Austere

Spare

Reduced

Minimal

Straight

Neutral

Fruitlands is a Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts that I've been photographing on and off this winter (Website). A project I seem to have backed into somehow. Odd really.

Let me explain. Most ideas for projects and places to photograph hit me over the head. This one crept up on me. 

Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter, granddaughter and I made an excursion out to the museum on a weekend afternoon. As we were walking from building to building I couldn't escape the openness of the place, its beauty, sitting just down from the top of a ridge, the whole place looking out on a vast expanse of New England. Later, during a crisis in my family of epic proportions, I found myself driving by Fruitlands on my way to another project every few days. I thought if I could make pictures there it would be good. The Museum is closed in the winter so I sought permission to photograph. It was granted and so I began. Many thanks, Fruitlands.

Note the square and black and white. I hate making a big thing out of a small one, but being able to work square and to see the edge of the frame accurately is a very big thing to me and both the Nikon and Sony I use allow this. This is a dream come true for this photographer. I can make pictures that fit into the mold poured years ago in series such as Nantucket, Yountville, Hershey, Portland starting in the early 80s. You'll see these if you scroll down to the bottom of the  Gallery page on the site. 

At any rate, this has been mostly a no-snow winter so the ground is bare, the trees are barren, the landscape is reduced and brutal. Odd for me, not knowing if this was working and the methodology supportive of the outcome. Initially, I wasn't sure if this was a project or not. 

Well, it has become one now. Making new pictures has become an organic process for me, making photographs in projects or series. Partly intuited, partly thought through. The plan for this is to be a comparative piece. As a foundation, establish the severity of the grounds offseason in winter, then counter with flat out spring; lush, verdant and colorful, the remarkable transformation of the seasons.

Of course, there is still much to do. I will shoot a few more times under different light and different times of day as well. These are harsh pictures I know, but after all these years I  have to trust my process. The thinking behind my photography can easily fall into a "what I am" versus a "what I could be" logic and not something I have an inclination to either change or spend time on at this stage in my career. Quite simply, this is what I do.

What purposes do these pictures serve? What are they about? The photographer Harry Callahan said this wonderful thing, “It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see.”

My sentiment exactly.

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

Permalink | Posted March 4, 2020

Photography's Hard

Photography's easy, right? Your phone makes great pictures. You don't really need a real camera anymore.

But photography's really hard if you want to use it knowledgeably, substantively, if you want to make art, if you want to extend it beyond the everyday concerns we all have to record our lives and share them with others. It is particularly difficult now that photographs are universal, infused into our lives in every aspect, filling every nook and cranny of our existence with their presence. Photography is now ubiquitous. 

When I studied photography in the early 70's, photography as a means of creative expression was fairly new and certainly not universally understood. That meant that innovation was relatively easy. There was much to explore. Double expose, turn pictures upside down,  superimpose, juxtapose, blur and scratch an emulsion, etc. Making statements that hadn't been made before wasn't so hard.

But if you want to make art with your camera now. If you want to avoid the insignificant, trite, banal, done-to-death and cliche, it is harder.  If you want to innovate, make things never seen before, to rock the world with imagery that is breathtaking, aggressive, beautiful, and extraordinary.

Well, you're screwed, my friends, for photography as an art has somehow become something else, well over the era of being a new and exciting form of expression. Take landscape: impeccable and exquisite pictures of faraway lands glorified with the perfect time of day, the perfect light and the perfect resolution? Irrelevant and done to death. Why would a beautiful image shot in the mountains of, say, New Zealand have any possible relevance in today's world except in a "National Geographic" kind of way? When a "Google Images" search produces literally hundreds of the same kinds of pictures as yours, or worse, better than yours.

Let me remind you that these examples, obtained through a Google Images search, are usually anonymous, free for the taking. The only possible reason I can see for this kind of photography is to "put one in your quiver", to take the photograph yourself, to make a photograph that is right up there with the competition, to call it your own, to bask in the accomplishment that you went there, captured that with your camera, had the print made or made the print yourself, framed it or had it framed and hung it over your mantle in your living room for your family and friends to see with predictable oohs and aahs.

But art? I don't think so. Something else entirely. 

I know this might provoke some controversy around the definition of "art" for art is used in all kinds of contexts, most of them making art more pedestrian. I also know I have opened the door to push back for there are many who believe

(Source: Google Images)

there is a place in art for this kind of photography. And no doubt, there are some very beautiful images being made in this way. But art? More like elegant description, enhanced documentation or interpretation.

So photography is hard because this is is simply not enough, to record our surroundings with fidelity. Yes, there's a place for this but real art, art that says something, that propels us forward, that does not confine itself to convention, that becomes significant historically, that is far more difficult and daunting and entails a higher level of responsibility.

The big mistake, of course, is this: assuming, because you like it and are proud of it, your friends and family like it and have urged you to enter the contest, to meet with the gallery director, the book editor, the museum curator, that these professionals will be impressed and moved to purchase your work, show it, publish it. But, from their point of view, please, tell me, what are they to do with your pictures? 

In earlier times, perhaps as a holdover from the era of Edward Curtis and William Jackson that showed us the frontier of the American West in the late 1800s for the first time, you could get away with impressing this way. But not now, not when these below are right there for the taking:

Endless blue-sky landscapes, glorifications of existing places, postcard-perfect, idealized and beautifully rendered. Is that what you aspire to? Or do you want to go deeper, share your unique take on the world, use what is in front of your camera to comment, display and render with heart and intellect, to use photography's amazing abilities to convey with relevance, timeliness, and perspective? 

What do you think? What do you want to say? What do you believe? 

What's key here is this: it is all too easy to make pictures that are generic, cookie-cutter photographs that simply meet the norm, the contemporary conventional. Our job as artists is to go farther, to push our medium into forms of expression that extend ours and our audiences' understanding of this medium we choose and to signify our unique place in the world.

Cabela's, Nebraska, 2005

back cover American Series, Cody Wyoming, photographs by Neal Rantoul 2005

cut Xmas trees, Spruce Pine, NC

Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD

Paradise, CA 11/2019

More reading: This article references my work circa 2011 and hits on some of the same themes:

MV Arts and Ideas

Topics: Commentary,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 14, 2019

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

Home From Paradise

I arrived home a few days ago. I spent a week photographing in Paradise, CA,  one year after the Camp Fire leveled the town on November 8, 2018.

The town is struggling to come back. Most of the demolition is finished, debris carted away, dead trees hauled off to the chipper. Some residents live in trailers on their property, waiting for utilities to be turned on, some are rebuilding and some will never return.

What's next for the images I made? Unlike most photographers these days, I will edit the files and make prints of the photographs, for this is how I work and have worked throughout my career. This will take a few weeks and will end in a portfolio of prints.

For my readers that are photographers,  this trip was something of an experiment. I took only the Sony A7R MK IV with me. Every photo trip for the past 20 years or so has been with some model of Nikon. Why the change? Large file size with a smaller, lighter, and more responsive camera. With a 61 mp file, this is an unusual tool but it is proving to be really something when everything is dialed in correctly. I had a few glitches, misunderstandings and wrong settings, but I now know more about how to work with the camera and believe this can be a clear step up in image quality. Sony from now on? I haven't decided yet but I am leaning that way. 

Next up? One more blog on photographs I made of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County,  the last two days I was in California. This was a fire that burned 77,000 acres in late October 2019.

Stay tuned. 

Or subscribe.

Topics: West,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted November 23, 2019