Topic: Martha's Vineyard (28 posts) Page 1 of 6

Some New Work

Martha's Vineyard. South Shore. Early spring 2019. Park car. Gear up. Walk out to beach. Turn left. Go down there a ways. Small stream, running from a spring back behind the dunes on the other side of Moshup Trail across the beach and down to the ocean. Classic.  The fresh water turning orange and gold below its surface. A world in the sand and rocks. Sunlight reflecting in the ripples of the water. Stop and look, for a miracle is taking place in small scale at my feet.

What to do? Shoot it, again and again, and again.

Witness. It's all that is needed. Yes, there is a camera involved and yes, it is me standing there in bare feet reaching out and pointing the lens down, so simple really.

Try it all different ways.

Timeless. Not trendy or current. Not necessary to build that logic, that rational. I don't have to make a case for these as I am just a witness, a conduit to the miracle. These could be made 40 years ago, although God knows photography is almost a different language now. It is that good.

Just pictures. Of course, that's like saying a Mondrian is just lines or Keith Jarrett's solo piano at the Koln Concerts is just notes. Hey, not boasting. I did very little here.

Look: farther back than making "art", farther back in the frame of references like student or professional or accomplished or expert, farther back than motivation or reasoning, farther back than any logic or system you may have, there is this: do you need to make things, to create? Do you have a requirement to make work?  Is that in you? Is making pictures the defining characteristic of your life?

All kinds of categories here. Hobby, pastime, pleasant activity, entertaining, pretty, decorative, passive, intense, driven, compelled, obsessive, aggressive, uncompromising, possessed, willed.

What do you want? Fame, praise, approbation, sales, acknowledgment, acclaim, admiration, a lasting legacy? And are these the kinds of things that motivate you to make art? I've written about this before but do you make your work by calculation or make it because it's in you, part of who you are?

I recognize aspiration, the desire to be something you are not or haven't arrived at yet. I get that. But what is there in you that you haven't found yet? And how are you going about discovering and using your creative self? And watch out: tread lightly here because there are many false prophets, looking to take your money and your heart.

I think you need to know who you are, comfortable in your own skin in order to be an artist. Not to say there isn't torture, angst, doubt, guilt, recrimination, insecurity rising its ugly head from time to time. 

Last, I believe we live in an age and place where art is not revered or respected, it is misunderstood and maligned. At least in this year 2019 in the US of A. More: not paid attention to, not important, not acknowledged. Terrible.

A topic for another time, perhaps.

Be well. 

Next:  the finishing, transporting, hanging of the American West show the 27th and then the 29th, a ten-day trip to shoot Wheat in Washington. Hope you will read along. Should be good. Looking forward to the "same but different" out there, this my 20th trip.

One more:

and one more:

the beautiful walkway to the beach.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted June 9, 2019


Bloody Hell! Where's the blog been? Well, I've been a little indisposed. There was some surgery and then recovery, there was even a half hearted attempt to write something and post it but in reading it just now I realized it was incoherent. I think this one will be better.

This is a post about a single photograph, one of mine made mid-winter in New England at Martha's Vineyard this past February.

I confess to being a little obsessed. Here it is:

Not so special, you're thinking. Some of you may even know where it is, right off the only road up island in Chilmark heading toward Aquinnah.

Actually, it isn't one photograph. It is about nine. It is many frames shot vertically and sequentially from left to right with about a 20% overlap, then stitched together. Lightroom will do this but will clip a very large file. I suggest Photoshop. What have you got? One honking large file and if you've been careful in exposure and focus consistency something that will go huge and well. The image you see now sits in my studio, framed at 84 inches across:

It is, in a word, gorgeous. Soft and diffuse flat light, with, rare for the Vineyard in the winter, no wind. The water calm and balancing the hazy light blue of the sky with the center growth pinpoint sharp and mimicked by the shape of the trees framing the reeds in front. Often large photographs disappoint up close. For instance, I found myself mostly critical of the large prints by present-day photographers hanging at the MFA in the recent Ansel Adams show. Not this one. Readable from down the hallway into my studio and spectacular from 8 inches out, my kind of big photograph.

Every time I enter the studio and turn on the overheads I am hit with a photograph that has tremendous impact because of its size but am just as impressed with it subtlety, nuanced color palette and resolution.

I also find this photograph reflective of my frame of mind, as I was dealing with a diagnosis of prostate cancer two weeks before surgery when I made it. All those questions and concerns now past me as my surgery is over and I am in recovery, slowly building my strength back day by day and with lab results showing no spread of cancer with just needing a checkup in three months.


Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted March 15, 2019

26 Dollars

After spending a night in NY, we headed back to Boston by way of New Haven to see the George Shaw painting show at the Yale Center for British Art and have lunch with Phillip Prodger. Phillip is the former curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and has recently returned to the States from London where he did a stint at the National Portrait Gallery.

Before I tell you the $26 story let me share some of Shaw's paintings with you.

Quite often these are large, on up to  5 or 6 ft, mostly enamel on metal. Here is the      opening statement

Don't know if you can read it so small but it speaks about his inherent preoccupation with the fine art of painting and the prevailing medium of the day, photography. 

These are extraordinary paintings, "take your breath away" beautiful and, for me, they both validate present day painting but validate much of my work that points at things like fences, that allows shadows, blank walls and everyday objects pulling back in space, made earlier in my career in black and white and now in color. 

photograph: Neal Rantoul from Fences and Walls

painting: George Shaw

painting: George Shaw

Affirming is the sense that Shaw and I look at the world  in similar ways. Uncanny, really, that someone unknown to me until now has been working in a manner that is somewhat aligned to mine. 

Looking for proof? Easy. Go to Edgartown Beach Club and the blog post:

here   (hint: the author of the series is me, working under the pseudonym Marc Meyers)

photograph: Neal Rantoul

painting: George Shaw

26 Dollars: Heading back to Boston on the Mass Pike we stopped for gas. I am standing there filling up and this man comes up to me. He's got an elaborate story about a dead fuel pump in his pickup truck, a towing charge, a weekend in New London for Coast Guard veterans on a cutter, a chipped tooth, his two daughters, needing bus fare to Portsmouth that is $66 and then shows me the $40 in his wallet. He's $26 short and can I help hm out? I ask him if he's asked others before me. He says, yes, one other. I ask how'd that go? He says not well. I don't hesitate and hand him first my card saying he needs to call or email to get the address to send me the $26 when he gets home. He says he will do that. I ask him his name. He says Dave O'Malley. He's middle aged, looks together and is with me every step of the way. I hand him $26. He looks me square in the eye and says thank you, you are a life saver and then shakes my hand. It is now five days later and I have heard nothing from Mr Dave O'Malley.  I am a sucker or it is money well spent?

My email: here

Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT  here through December.

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Northeast,Color,Black and White

Permalink | Posted December 17, 2018

Finding Your Bliss

Finding Your Bliss? Where's he going this time, you ask. Well, it all started with this:

Sally Mann's iconic photograph of a dead tree in a river.

A few weeks ago, as I was giving a gallery talk at the Peabody Essex Museum, I paused in front of this photograph at the Sally Mann show and realized I could probably go on for hours about it. In fact, I didn't get to talk about the whole show, partly because, I am sure, I was going on about this one so long. The photograph, I believe, speaks to Mann's essence as an artist. Surreal, ethereal, minimal, powerful and deeply felt, it is one of those works that takes your breath away, yet is so very simple.

Can we channel everything we've got, harness all our power as artists and focus it into one piece, one image? Can the stars, the planets align and the powers that be all come together in one sublime result? What a rare thing that would be. Sally Mann seems to have done just that. 

I believe part of the reason that I connected so strongly with this one photograph is that something similar is embedded in my own artistic past, from a discovery I made in 1976. This is because, as I age, I find I am looking back more, stepping off the treadmill that means new work is needed constantly and settling on past discoveries and even a few epiphanies. Let me give you my own example... and, fair warning, this may take a few posts to really get to it for I need to place one photograph I made in the 1970's in context. 

1976. Where was I? 3 years out of grad school, teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston and I would start teaching at Harvard 2 years later. I would exhibit at the Addison Gallery in Andover the next year. There was much I did not know, but I was plunging along at a frantic pace, making new pictures and discoveries. Heady times, for I was living the dream, it would seem: traveling, photographing, printing, showing. Plus, I had started using black and white infrared film and was fully immersed in the weirdness of never knowing quite what things would look like for it sees things we don't.

But to home in our story we have to go to the island of Martha's Vineyard and the summer of 1976. I have always photographed on the island, ever since starting out in photography in 1969. In fact I have new work made from this past summer on the site (Menemsha).

Our story is intertwined with the recent Judge Kavanaugh hearings,  white privilege and entitlement for the photograph of mine I am referencing wouldn't have been possible without privilege and the right pedigree. My parents were members of a club, a beach club on Martha's Vineyard that allowed access to some of the most pristine and gorgeous shoreline on the island known as the Hornblower land in Chilmark and Gay Head (now Aquinnah). Some of this beach was later where Jackie Onassis bought property but in in 1976 it was still held by an extended family of Hornblowers and their relatives. 

Membership to the club, I am sure, was awarded to the privileged few, having the right pedigree and standing to be allowed on the beach.  No clubhouse, nothing at all but a key to a locked gate, allowing you in your 4 wheel drive vehicle access to the winding sand path and up over a ridge right on to the beach itself. To say the sense of entitlement was large would be an understatement. I couldn't go on my own as it was my parents that were members. But that summer of 1976 I did go with them, to picnic, to swim, to walk what seemed like endless miles of south shore beach facing an open ocean with not a house in sight. 

Earlier that summer, the year of the US Bicentennial, I had driven cross country in a motorhome with a friend making pictures. In 9000 miles, we had adventures both small and large, met great people, and photographed so many new places. It was a "grand tour". I remember after that trip I had a sense of being more open and of feeling the world was at my doorstep, beckoning me to plunge in, to fully immerse in all that my life as an artist could be. 

By late August I was at the Vineyard with my my parents at the family home in Chilmark. One gorgeous blue sky day off we went to the "Associates" beach.

The club was called "Squibnocket Associates" and afforded access to what we used to call "Zack's Cliffs". This is the beach that has the biggest dunes on the island. In 1976 I was 30 years old and leaned towards the  Airplane, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, and the Stones, maybe some Dylan in the mix.  Being a photographer by then I would bring my Nikon F with the 24mm lens, a length I loved as it seemed to agree with the way I saw. I shot a lot of black and white infrared film in those days. Use a 3 stop red filter and the film will "see" into the infrared spectrum. Once we settled in at the beach, got the stuff out of the Jeep, maybe went for a swim and had a sandwich, the long hot afternoon would have me wandering off with my camera to explore and take pictures.  I would head back into the dunes behind us because if you went far enough you'd come across Squibnocket Pond. Ah yes, the pond!

Few houses, completely private, I might take off my suit and swim in the warm shallow brackish water.

And photograph.

Finding your Bliss (1) will stop here. Hope you'll come along as we get to the one picture that popped into my head as I was standing in front of Sally Mann's photograph in Salem a few weeks ago.

The dunes behind the Squibnocket Associates beach on Martha's Vineyard

Topics: Martha's Vineyard

Permalink | Posted October 3, 2018

Then and Now

In the summer of 1989, while on Martha's Vineyard, I made a photograph of what we always called "Keith's Farm", along Middle Road in Chilmark. That photograph would be used to make this poster:

for the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) for their 20th year anniversary. I made it using the 8 x 10 inch camera and cropped it (rare for me) to fit a panoramic format. Michael McPherson (of Corey McPherson and Nash Design) was the designer and we used a local printer and applied a slightly yellow varnish overcoat to give the image its somewhat warm look. I donated my photograph and Michael charged a basement rate for his design. This was a time in my career when I was working to help various non profits promote their causes visually by offering my services pro bono. 

While on the Vineyard I drive by this same field daily as it is less than a mile from the family home. I always think of the circumstances under which I made the poster image and thought I would share them with you. 

In the summer of 1989 my friend Rob Gooblar and his partner Gail Hill were renting Ozzie Fischer's cottage down at Beetlebung Corner. The evening I made the poster photograph we were having a cookout on the beach at Squibnocket with a group of friends. I had proposed to VOLF earlier in the year that perhaps they could improve the effectiveness of their message by using pictures of mine of the island. They countered with an offer to allow me on their managed properties to make pictures. By the time I made the poster image that evening I knew what they wanted and Keith's Farm was part of their charge, to help the family position some new houses with site lines that would not obstruct the view to the South Shore coastline.

What prevailed that summer was this: my father had fallen while walking down stairs in May in Providence,  hitting his head. He was in critical care and in a coma in a hospital on the mainland. My family and I were frequent visitors, going over for the day to see him and then returning to the island. My mother was a confused and disoriented mess. She had been married to my dad for 49 years and was completely out of sorts, making odd decisions and finally renting an apartment in Providence to be close by but then when visiting him only staying for a few minutes.  The whole summer was like being in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the second shoe to drop. My dad died that fall.

I drove by the field the other day at dawn, remembering that odd summer infused with impending tragedy, the ending of my Dad's life, a long life well lived. I think about a place where we have some history, where a drive down a familiar road can resonate, where there has been so much change and so much has stayed the same. I stopped. Pulled out the tripod, put the camera on it and framed the farm pond much as I did 29 years ago when I was 42. Before 9/11, before Obama, before Trump.


Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Digital

Permalink | Posted June 23, 2018