Topic: Iceland (22 posts) Page 2 of 5

Finals: Finnur's Trip

I've spent the last several days final printing the work from Iceland called: Finnur's Trip.

If you come to the Open Studios next weekend (Open Studios) I would be happy to show you the portfolio.

I wrote previously about this two day off-road trip across part of Northern Iceland: Finnur's Trip 1 and Finnur's Trip 2.

Now the work is printed. Printing like this, making 23 prints in a few days, is part joy and part torture. Joy for the discovery of finding things in the pictures I hadn't noticed before, finding new images that were passed over in the first edit, working to  find the right color palette, the right tonalities, the right emphasis in the prints. Torture in finding A-edit photographs irreversibly flawed, of discovering that something I was excited about seeing did not fulfill my expectation, that I should have been more astute, aware, careful, intuitive, smart, visual, and so on. 

Then finally, when done printing, the realization that many many hours of work on a project is now finished, that I can put the preoccupation with this group of pictures to bed, take a breather perhaps, then move on to the next series in a list that seems  endless.

Finnur's Trip is a series of pictures, shot in a disconnected and disparate way, over a two day trip. They are not particularly tight and cohesive, yet retain a certain pace and rhythm as though made by someone who is very practiced, experienced and mature. Which is exactly what I am.

Imagine having the luxury to be so consumed with this one thing and having the time and means to do just that. I thank my lucky stars every day.

Topics: 2013,Iceland

Permalink | Posted November 2, 2013

Iceland: Finnur's Trip 2

Way back I promised a report on the second day of my off road trip with Finnur in Iceland. Day 1 is here: Finnur's Trip 1. This one goes out especially to Mahala, my colleague and friend, who was a fellow artist at Baer with us in July. She is missing Iceland quite a bit, as am I. And we all are missing each other. 

On the second day of off roading with Finnur in Iceland we headed up the mountains to a kind of dessert on top, a long plateau of barren gray, rock and dirt country.

It was so vast and arid I found myself wondering if this was the real Iceland and that perhaps all the green and wet and beauty we'd seen on the way here was simply in the lower valleys and not the real island at all.

But, of course, there was still so much to see. On the start of heading down off the plateau we came to a small hot spring where we put on our suits and went in:

Surrounded by this barren landscape, this oasis in the mountains.

There were a few huts there for shelter in the winter: 

We saw many wonderful things:

In Iceland in the mountains in the summer there is water everywhere.

Early in the morning before we had breakfast, I walked down to the harbor:

and then, as we arrived back at the Baer Art Center, this was happening:

the sun breaking out on the fjord  where we stayed. Was this photograph enhanced? Yes, it is a combination of six frames, shot as under exposures on up to over exposures, blended together using a program called HDR Efex Pro, made by Nik Software. When used in modest ways, this method can give detail in shadows and highlights which would be lost if you just shot one frame.

Once again, thanks  to Finnur for a remarkable trip.

Topics: Finnur,Iceland

Permalink | Posted September 27, 2013

Not All Right All the Time

This is going to be one of those Neal venting blogs. No, not against the current state of photography on line where so much of it is so bad, or not against "authorities" who put out wrong information that is misleading and damaging, or not about landscape work that is oversaturated and over sharpened. No, none of those things. 

This one's going to be at my own self, as I have done almost nothing but print for two weeks since returning from Iceland. I have written recently about "mining the work". That phase when going through way too much work to edit it and get it  down to a manageable group of photographs that say something, that present work that is cohesive and direct. Mining Your Work

But this one is about once you get into making the actual prints, the decisions you make, the paths you go down and the final results once finished. Lots of chances to do this wrong! I feel like I've made many many bad decisions in printing the past two weeks. My error? I went down a path of size verses sharpening decisions that, looking back on it, mean that given the opportunity I went wrong instead of right. Now, after days wasted, I am back on track and printing well again, but really, you'd think I would know better.  I have wasted ink, paper and time and it ticks me off.

How can you avoid myriad pitfalls in making prints? If you know, drop me an email as this seems like a necessary evil sometimes. We certainly do need to look at different ways to present our work. And it seems a requirement to look at ways we can be better technically. This can be using a new or different tool, a plug in, a new way to get our pictures to look the way we want.

Very often we get into a "system" where we are practicing what worked before instead of tailoring the prints we make to the imagery we've shot. This can seriously mess up what we do as artists and makes our prints generic by holding them to some standard printing norm. That's probably not making art but making production prints. Not so good. I believe you should not be timid about making your own prints your own prints. In analog days we used to call this way of printing making an "expressive print". Still holds true today.

Now that I am back on track printing-wise I have been working with some interesting and new color palettes for me: some variations on green on some pictures from Iceland and blue and yellow  made just this past weekend. These aren't specific bodies of work that address only these colors but their color plays a large part. Am I colorist? I suppose I am.

from Iceland and:

from the Shaker Village at Canterbury, NH. Some of you know of my fondness for the Lensbaby and I have shot at the Canterbury Shaker Village many times but never with this most unique and unusual lens. The Lensbaby tilts and pivots, giving you the ability to specify where things will be rendered sharp and where they will not.

Topics: Shaker,Iceland

Permalink | Posted August 26, 2013

Iceland: Scott Johnson

( I  wrote much of this profile on Scott when I was still  at Baer in Iceland. I am finishing it now and have been home a little over a week.)

Scott Johnson is the fourth and last Baer resident I will profile while here in Iceland. There are only two months a year when artists are in residence here, June and July.

And there are only five studios so only five residents, meaning ten a year. It is a good number as it means we are a small enough group to become close, share our work and collaborate if we wish. It also means we are easier to transport and feed as we’ve been taken on weekly day trips to surrounding areas by Steinunn, our host, and our meals are provided by a chef, two a day. Tough gig, eh? If you’re thinking of applying, you should, and if you’re not you should spread the word about this most wonderful of residencies to others that would apply. But know this: next year is an “off” year, where Steinunn and her family take a break from inviting the residents into their home for meals and taking care of their needs, and from providing the most glorious of environments for artists to work.

Scott Johnson lives in Colorado with his wife and young son and teaches at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He was just tenured last year and in that system he is eligible for and it is pactically assumed that a new associate professor will take his/her first sabbatical leave after tenure and Scott did just that. He deserved it as tenuring is an exhausting, exhaustive and rigorous process of scrutiny by your colleagues and peers. At a school of as high a caliber as CC, he’s been put through an academic ringer of the first order. Sabbaticals are times to recharge and to get back to the reasons we started to make art in the first place. Pairing his leave from teaching with this residency was brilliant. Scott and I have talked about finding his expressive core here, after some real soul searching and long nights (where it never gets dark!), he has. Scott wears a few hats as an artist: installation seems to be at the forefront, with a strong leaning towards sculpture,video and photography pulling close seconds. He really prefers to just be called an artist.

We all have made slide presentations to each other while here and Scott’s was the last, just a few nights ago. In it, Scott is revealed to be a man working across disciplines to find an expressive foundation in creating two and three dimensional pieces that are an eloquent demonstration of how he thinks. I have learned that his installation art relies upon a trust in the process of letting a piece unfold and evolve as he is making it. How cool is that? And how loaded too. Yes, there have been disasters, but out of the smoking ruins has been born new projects and new ways of seeing things.

At any rate, let me show you some of his work. Keep in mind we are seeing installation art rendered by photography, which, as we well know, can only mimic the real, not depict it:

Inversion 2


The Museum, Kitchner/Waterloo, Ontario

The No Plateau


The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

These large pieces, commisioned by the two museums, are glass and mylar with a thin layer on the bottom that is dried out dessert dirt.

Scott brings an intellectual's rigor and discipline of research to an intuitive process and depends on a multiple of perceptions to arrive at a finished piece. He also counts on things changing and being sensitive to different stimuli as he works, plans, builds and finishes his installation pieces, be they in a museum, in a public space and so on. 

You might assume that all this thinking would result in a person who is hyper sensitive to his/her surroundings, someone who is keyed up and"charged" all the time. Scott's not like that at all, but clearly he works at tuning into places and phenomena that have the potential for becoming something later or can be used to feed into something down the road. To that end he photographs a great deal but not so much to use the photographs he makes as an end product but as a way to grab at three dimensional representation two dimensionally and through 4D in time lapse sequences that show changes in light and temperature.

The Alluvium Room (Detail)


The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Fata Morgana


The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

I don't want to belittle Scott's past accomplishments as they are large and significant. But I have a unique opportunity to show you something new that he has just finished. So please go to his website where his past pieces are fully documented: Scott's Website

       • • •

As I am now writing this after the residencies ended I can show you what Scott made when we were in Iceland. For the first couple of weeks we were there, I would wake up in the middle of the night and look out at the daylight at, say 3 am, to find Scott was outside, photographing something, drawing something, hammering on something. I would get up at 5 to begin my day when Scott was usually just going to bed. It seemed he'd laid claim to a certain place right outside the studios: a concrete slab at the end of an old foundation that looked due north.

and here it is as a crop from another frame shot from the window of my studio:

Looking back, this was not an easy time for him. He wasn't able to settle down to just one thing. This was the period where the idea hadn't jelled yet. There needed to be experiments, false starts, failed ideas. What did he finally arrive at? What did he make? What came of a grinder with a diamond blade and some intense days of measuring, grinding, wearing one grinder out, getting another?

This one above showing his cuts facing north west and with water in them that reflects the light. And here facing due north:

He made a sort of sun clock and compass, an elegant reminder of how time and position could be told in the past. The shadows fill and empty each slot as the sun moves through its path. Every other installation artist that had been a resident at Baer had made pieces that were positive projections into the landscape. Scott made something that lived in a negative space, was a form created as an absence of, in this case, concrete. Beautiful.

He says that what he hopes is that lichen and moss will form in the grooves he's cut. I look forward to seeing future documentation of this, life growing from something cut into stone in the summer 2013.

What a simply elegant piece, a demonstration of functional beauty and form following function in an installation that should serve well over time and will presumably be enhanced by natural forces.

Scott was brought up in ski country in Colorado, west of Denver. He trained as an Olympic skier as a young man. I don't know that I've ever met anyone like that: someone who comes from an upbringing as a competitive athlete to be an artist. But what his background brings to his practice is a life-long relationship with the outdoors and how we relate to landscape and nature. He cares about the history of visual representation of natural forms. Finally, and this is a quote," I am mainly concerned with the way affective experiences in artworks can lead to a mixture of wonder and  critical thinking." Love that, this way he has of analytically looking at our immediate and often everyday surroundings.

Scott at the site:

This is the last of the artist profiles from the time in Iceland at the Baer Art Center. As I am now reengaged in my life at home, and Iceland fades away a little I need to write that being given a residency and the honor of working studio by studio with other artists is about as confirming an experience this artist can have. 

Thank you to Olof, Mahala, Sarah and Scott for taking the time to be interviewed by me. It was, in turn, a pleasure to be a resident with you.

Next up? An announcement of a two night studio viewing event with Panopticon Gallery in September.Stay tuned.

Topics: Profile,Iceland

Permalink | Posted August 13, 2013

Iceland: Rock 2

(Disclaimer: I know, I haven't held up my end of the bargain. I've promised a few posts but not delivered. I owe you an artist profile on the Baer resident Scott Johnson and, if you read Finnur's Trip 1, at the end of that one I promised a second post about my two day trip off road  with Finnur in Iceland. I haven't forgotten and  will get there.)

I returned home from Iceland about 48 hours ago and have started to work on pictures made while there. This part isn't hard, to slide along frame shot after frame shot, in Aperture (or Lightroom) just seeing what I've done. It is one of my favorite parts, to see on a big display my efforts for the first time. This also can be when I realize that a disaster has happened. Like when I did an expensive aerial shoot one late afternoon in October, where I was forced into lower shutter speeds because of decreasing light, only to find that I had nothing sharp from the whole shoot. I click off  "three star" frames either worked on or deemed worthy, try to put my head back to what I was thinking as I made the pictures, take a look at the camera settings, what lens I had on the camera, the shutter speed to tell me tripod or not. Metadata are the supplier of the mechanics of photographing now and hugely important.

About a week ago we went on a boat trip to see our part of the Iceland coast from the water, look for whales and dolphins, both of which we saw, and maybe make a few pictures. It was gray and cold, but not raining and not windy. We left Hofsos in the morning, and cruised up the coast, past Baer and along the natural rock causeway to the Cape, the large island (which is not really an island as it is  joined to the mainland by two rocky causeways) seen from my studio window:

or, even better , from the air:

As we got closer, the captain of our little fishing boat slowed us down to a crawl and set us about 150 feet off shore:

Little did I know. Take a few pictures? 496 frames later I hoped I had gotten what was there.

I just sat there in the boat, going click click click, not even moving the camera much, as though all this was somehow choreographed for photography, for capturing(?)


We can go  with one of two scenarios: High octane hyperbole or nothing, just the pictures. Your call. If you don't want all the words skip this section and just scroll down to the pictures:

Hyperbole: What was in front of us was an ancient large scale geological event and volcanic eruption, a huge upheaval of magma thrust from the crust eons ago and  then eroded by waves and wind over centuries upon centuries, something so primal and so elemental as to be formative to this earth and its making. Some kind of glimpse backwards, peering over the edge at something seldom revealed and too important not to notice. Those of us in the group in the boat chugging by this rock wall, all of us taking pictures, so many pictures, this mass, imposible to "get", to comprehend, to grapple with something so natural and so planned and somehow so ordered as though made as a tour de force, to be seen, or revealed, or shown off maybe, I don't know, but just to be in the presence of all of this is too much, never before dreamed of or imagined that this could exist. What does this place justice?  Perhaps, to not make pictures of it, to not contain as much of it as possible "in the can" , to not want to bring it home to own it and maybe preserve it. Again, I don't know. What I do know is that to be in the presence of this cathedral of rock, this monument to violent upheaval and extreme forces was a real honor and left me speechless and humbled, reduced in self importance or indeed so small when compared to something so big and powerful.

Or here, with no superlatives, just the pictures:

If you're looking at these on a good display, click on an image and it will get larger so you can see it better.

and finally, this is a look back at where all the above came from:

Iceland, man. Intense.

A caveat: As I look at this post on my display the pictures contained are a little less than 6 inches across. This is a really poor representation of what is going on here and supports my contention that prints are king. The best way to see original art is to be in front of it, not some electronic facsimile.  To have the prints before you, at 21 x 14 inches, viewed in good light, in a pleasant environment with perhaps others who are interested in looking along with you. 

One way to do that is to go to a gallery to look at work. Another is to visit the artist in his/her studio, by invitation. Both are easy: the former by calling 555 Gallery in Boston and saying you'd like to see Neal Rantoul's Iceland Rock pictures an the latter by contacting me directly: Neal's Email

Topics: Iceland,Rock

Permalink | Posted August 6, 2013