Topic: New England (14 posts) Page 1 of 3

1978

1978. A very long time ago. 42 years as I write this in 2020. Wow! Funny about time, yes?

Last week I wrote a blog about going through old analog work and throwing away most of it: Cold Wet.

In one of those boxes, I came across some work I haven't seen in over 20 years. 14 x 17 inch black and white unmounted prints from Martha's Vineyard that were in a two-person show I had with my mother in an earlier iteration of the Granary Gallery  on the island. (The full show is now on the site: MV Show 1978)

She and I showed together a few other times, but always in group shows. I remember one show in the 80s that included my two sisters and two brothers-in-law.

But this one in the summer of 1978 was just she and I. My mom was a career painter, moving in and out of making work when she could while bringing up three kids and working. One of the things I learned from her was that change was good. From watercolors to oils to acrylics to woodcuts to cut paper she liked to shake it up. The show we had at the Granary was cut up paper, specifically Color Aid, which were silkscreened color pages you could buy as a kind of book with perhaps a hundred or so beautiful colors. She made landscapes out of them layering the colors to take you through to a horizon and a sky. I wish I had one or two to show you. They were beautiful.

My work in that show? I thought you'd never ask. Black and white (that was all I did until about 2002), square pictures, of things I'd found of interest on the island the year or so before.  Not much cohesion except they were all made on the island.

I don't remember the opening very well but am sure it was primarily friends and family. I was single then and hadn't a kid yet, teaching at New England School of Photography in Boston and would begin that coming fall teaching at Harvard.

The photographs are quiet and contemplative, smart in that they are of things that render well as photographs, juxtaposing visual elements with at times a sense of humor or irony but also real love for what I saw.  My response to seeing them now, so many years later? They hold up all right. These were made a few years after graduate school by a young artist still working to find his voice and shirking off influences. I believe your work is your work. To put down earlier work because now you're " so much better"  denigrates and diminishes rather than simply looks at art from the time in which it was made. Context is all.

This one, the last in the show, needs a little explanation. About 1976 the Fogg Museum at Harvard had a show of some recent photographs by Robert Frank. Rough, blurry and scratched, many of the prints were from Mabou Mines where he spent time with his wife June Leaf. It is where he made several of his films and by then he no longer considered himself a photographer as he'd moved on to making films. One set of pictures in the show were of a post, some gray sky, some land, and the ocean. Minimal and spare.

These from Lines of My Hand, photographs by Robert Frank

He made them in response to getting the news that his daughter Andrea had been killed in a small plane crash in Guatemala. It was her winter coat he placed on the post. I had been moved to tears when I saw his pictures that day at Harvard. When I saw this single pole sitting on the bluff near a lighthouse at the Vineyard I thought of Frank's pictures right away. So I made a picture in tribute and out of respect to him and the tragedy of losing his daughter (Thanks to Michael Hintlian for setting me straight about this).

***

Finally, as I write this in November 2020, I am beginning work on a new show of my work to be at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in late January 2021. These will be color aerials, some made in 2012 and 2013 and some made in 2019. The work I donated to the Museum this past fall will also be included in the show. More details to follow soon. 

So there are three generations of my work from the island: the show in 1978, the work I donated this fall to the Museum shown in 1995 and this new show coming in January. How cool is that?

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted November 19, 2020

The Show Addendum

In The Show 1,2,3,4, I gave some perspective on photographic prints I was donating to the Martha's Vineyard Museum from a one-man exhibition I'd had on the island in 1995.

In this, the addendum, I'll share with you the handing over of the 21 prints to the Museum. 

On a bright, sunny, and very windy day in early October 2020 my daughter Maru and I arrived at the scheduled time, prints in hand, and masks on. As it turns out the Museum is open but restricting the number of visitors.

Photos are by Maru:

We put the two portfolios out on white tables and went through the prints one by one with Bonnie Stacy, the Museum's curator.

Taking masks off for a second, we held one up I took of Keith's Field in 1993.

We then went upstairs to the library for me to sign a donor's form.

This gave me a chance to ask some questions of Bonnie: how the prints would be stored, whether they would show them, and so on. She showed us a couple of galleries that would be suitable for my work and said they were considering some ideas about putting them on display.

I then signed the "Deed of Gift "form ceding the prints to the Museum, giving permission to use them in any way they wished, including selling them, but I retain the copyright. This simply means that while they now owned the original prints from the show 25 years ago I retained the rights to use and own the imagery.

Then we left. Thanks to Maru for her help throughout this project

So that's the end of the story of donating prints I made 25 years ago to a museum on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.  

Like the story? Comments? Let me know: Neal's Email

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Topics: Martha's Vineyard,New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 8, 2020

The Show 3

In The Show 1 and The Show 2 I wrote about an exhibition of my photographs at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in the summer of 1995.

The show itself was modest, set off from the other exhibitions in its own room with good light but low ceilings. My family was on the island for the opening and, as some are from California, this made the event more meaningful. 

During the six weeks the show was up, Harry Callahan, my teacher from RISD, and his wife Eleanor flew to the Vineyard as Harry was giving a talk on his work. I'm going to quote myself here as I wrote about the evening of Harry's presentation a few years ago on this blog:

Harry was invited to Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1995 by Carl Mastandrea of the Boston Photo Collaborative to give a presentation on his work. I was on the island for part of that summer and had a show of island landscapes at the MV Museum up at the same time. The day for his talk arrived and as the afternoon faded into evening the sky was darkening, a storm approaching. It was hot and humid, the air lifeless. As the crowd arrived at the Chilmark Community Center where Harry was to talk, the sky had turned very black and we could hear thunder in the distance.
Harry began his talk, standing up front at a lectern, speaking into a microphone.The house was packed with the overflow standing in back, kids crossed legged on the floor in front, Harry talking about his work in the darkened room, slides thrown up on a big screen. Crack! Came the thunder, the wind picking up as the storm approached. Harry continued, now his voice was competing with branches thrashing outside. The windows were open, the wind blowing things around, the audience was getting concerned and edgy while Harry continued. All of sudden lightning stuck the building, the power went out- Bam! - and Harry was standing there in the dark hall, the lightning having arced up the microphone cable and right to where Harry was standing. For an instant the crowd was in shock, immobile in surprise. Was Harry hit by lightining? Was he all right? For several minutes the power was out, the battery powered emergency lights were on and people were fussing over Harry to see if he was okay, the room bathed in a dim glow. Harry was standing there seemingly all right but very quiet, appearing to be wrestling with what just happened. A few minutes later the power went back on but, as the microphone was toast, people were asked to come forward to be able to hear Harry speak. The whole dynamic of the presentation changed then, Harry loosened up and the crowd was now experiencing something warmer and more intimate, as though in a conversation between friends rather than in a formal lecture.
Harry and Eleanor flew to New York the following day to visit with Eleanor's sister. Harry had a massive stroke a few days later in NY that knocked him back and that he never fully recovered from.
Harry was in his eighties that summer and we never did know if he'd been struck by lightning or not. I always felt there was a connection between the lightning storm that night in Martha's Vineyard and Harry's stroke, but I never knew for sure.

Images from the show "A Special Place" 1995 Photographs ©Neal Rantoul

Harry died in 1999.

I had driven Harry that afternoon of the day of his talk to see my show. I remember feeling very proud to get him there, to have my former teacher see my  work. 

Was this show in a small gallery at the Museum in August a big deal? No. Viewed mostly by tourists there to see exhibits of the island's whaling history and lighthouses it received a review in the local paper that praised some of it but was critical that some of the prints were too dark.  

As the culmination of over four years of work, I considered the exhibition mission accomplished. The show was an acknowledgment that the work was valid and worthy of being seen. And I had aided VOLF by making pictures they could use for their needs.

No one contacted me during or after the show came down. No one wanted to see more work. No one wanted to publish a book of the work.

So it goes.

Next up? The Show 4. Where I will bring us up to date and look at where the work is going 25 years later, in the fall of 2020. 

Topics: New England

Permalink | Posted September 29, 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

Sockanosset

Socka what? Sockanosset Boys Training School in Cranston RI. Now long gone and turned into some stores, a restaurant, and offices.

Evidently the school was built in the mid-1800s to house and train boys that were posing some difficulties for the state. Right up the street from a prison.

I would guess I made these about 2005. I have a friend who was living nearby and she mentioned that I might want to take a look at where the school was as the vines and brush were being cleared as prep for developing the site.


I remember I shot them once and blew it. Work this way and you can't have a frame that is out of focus. I just reprinted it at 45 x 34 inches as earlier ones sold long ago.

A note about size: while striking smaller, this image really needs to be large to see the subtleties in the variation of these three buildings. The grid is made from several rolls of 120mm film that I scanned then composited together to look like one roll of twelve exposures.

Topics: New England,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted December 27, 2019