Topic: Northeast (73 posts) Page 1 of 15

Harry Callahan 2

I am struck these days, as I age, how little history people know or care about.

In my own field of photography as an art this is often born out by how important someone's work was while they were alive and how insignificant it seems now that they are gone.

Isn't history how we learn from past mistakes? Isn't history to see what precedents there have been?

A couple of years ago I posted a story about the photographer Harry Callahan who'd been a teacher of mine in graduate school.

     Harry and Eleanor Callahan, Atlanta, Georgia


This is another story about Harry.

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. 

Harry was a very big ideal in 1995, his work shown and collected universally all over the world. He had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier and was the US representative to the Venice Biennali as well. He had major shows at the National Gallery in DC, MOMA in New York and on and on. 

Time holds still for no one and Harry's work is now seen in the light of present times. Few seem to go back to look, to learn from him. It's a shame.

Topics: Northeast,Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 1, 2019

Reunited

The second blog I wrote, now seven years ago, concerned some 8 x 10 photographs I had made in 1982 from Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA I lived in Cambridge from 1975 until last year.

Ostensibly about a wall covered in vines, the work has been shown many times over my career. There is only one set. They are 8 x 10 contact prints on Kokak Azo paper, toned with gold chloride. Azo paper is long gone. They are, simply enough, irreplaceable.

In 1982, married and with a new baby (and a new job), my wife and I traveled to her home town of Lugano, CH where she grew up. We stayed with her parents and I gave them a print from the Mt Auburn series as a house present, inscribed "To Isabel and Fernando w/ love, Neal Rantoul, 1982". I never saw the image again. It was not included in any subsequent shows the work was in. Now, 37 years later, it has come back to me, reunited with the ten others to make an eleventh after all these years.

Micaela and I divorced in 1986, her father Fernando died of a brain tumor about ten years after that and Isabel died a few years ago. The work I gave them during those years came back to me recently (see Swiss Portfolio), thanks to my ex-wife and my daughter, Maru.

The post on the blog is: here.

Funny how things happen sometimes, isn't it? The full circle nature of this image being in Europe all these years, sitting in some drawer or on some shelf in a case, insignificant and probably neglected, no ripple of consequence or recognition at all, to be shipped back across the pond to Boston and to me, to be joined with its partners and collaborators, the set incomplete all these years, now made whole. 

Let me place the making of this work in context. This was a breakthrough time for me in terms of my own work. I was immersed in the making of all kinds of photographs but the effect and power of forming bodies of work that would narrate was new and fresh. In many ways, these were the first bodies of work that established that I had my own voice, that shrugged off the effects and influences of graduate study and where I was making my own statements. In this period I made the Nantucket series, the Yountville series, Boats, Mountain Work, Southshore and Fences and Walls (all on the site along the bottom row in the Gallery page). However, though I had begun working in 8 x 10, I was not making series work in this format. For the most part, the concept of making series work in 8 x10 ran counter to my practice. There are really only two using the large camera. The Mt Auburn pictures and another set called "Cambridge" from quite a bit later, in 1994.

Just this week in the studio, we have framed the long-missing image the same as the others as though there was never anything lacking from the set. The series is now complete. This creates a tremendous sense of well being in me. 

Topics: Northeast,Analog

Permalink | Posted June 6, 2019

Boats

I just added a very early series of mine from the 1970's to the site. Called "Boats" the photographs are black and white photographs made in 1978 and 1979 from two marinas: Martha's Vineyard, MA and Berkeley, CA

They are here on the site.

I made the pictures two years before the Nantucket pictures (1981) and as such, they don't have the emphasis on sequencing and narration that later works did.

Made six years after getting my MFA degree from the RI School of Design the prints show a predominant concern with design and have a full tonal range from 2 1/4 inch negatives. I almost always used Kodak's Rapid Selenium toner. This is evident in the Boats prints' neutral to cool blacks. By this time I  had devised a unique system for agitating the film during developing. This resulted in exceptionally smooth tonalities in areas like open sky. The prints are in perfect condition after all these years and are about 12 x 12 inches.

With so many photographs made over so many years, I tend to categorize my own work in a couple of different ways, mostly as A work and B work. The Boats pictures are solidly in the B column, meaning I believe they are important, but not seminal. To my eye, the concern is clear to see. This was a time of continuing development, as I was refining my own approach and deepening my understanding of the quality of light used to make my pictures. The pictures are about quality, with no interest in boats as a subject whatsoever, simply as surfaces to reflect or absorb light from the sun on early morning bright days. 

Made long before those of us in the photo art community thought of editioning prints, the photographs in my studio are the only ones in existence. If you'd like to see them please email me directly: nrantoul@comcast.net

Topics: Northeast,West,Black and White

Permalink | Posted May 31, 2019

Heaven on Earth?

Three weeks on the island of Martha's Vineyard in May. 

Is Martha's Vineyard heaven on earth?

Not in early May.

Let me explain.

My family's home is in Chilmark, close to the western end of the island. Rural, some farms, the fishing village of Menemsha, the cliffs at Gay Head at Aquinnah close by and a couple of world class beaches.

What's not to like?

In early May, the weather. When I arrived, it was cold, wet and windy. Nothing was green, the trees were bare. Only by the middle of the month do things start to pick up and then there were only a few days that were almost warm. I find the island tough when the weather is bad. Surrounded by such beauty without being able to be in it beats you down.

I photographed right through it all, no big surprise, and got into some sets and subsets of things both new and visited before. One was is a stream running across the south beach and into the ocean, runoff from the marsh at Moshup Trail.

Patterns in the sand from the water and reflections on the surface. Remarkable. 

Are these something? I don't really know yet as I will need to work the files and make a few prints to be able to tell.

Being compulsive means I trekked up there six different days, a considerable hike a mile or so down the beach at Philbin to get to it. I tried photographing this with a tripod and without, used a PC lens to get the planes more parallel, went on diferent days with a long lens and a wide lens and with  Sony and Nikon cameras, with flat light and contrasty days. I learned to go after it had rained as two or three days of no rain and the stream trickled off to almost nothing.

I went up in a plane this past week for an hour flight with good light and the leaves just coming out on the trees.  We went up about 3 pm, late for me, but one of the pilots I work with flies over from Nantucket.  In the morning it was far too windy so we waited and the wind calmed somewhat.

Note: these are not finished files, but pretty much as they come out of the camera as RAWS.

We flew from the Aquinnah end of the island over to Noman's Land, a small restricted-access island a couple of miles off the south shore. The island was used for bombing practice by the military for many years and there is unexploded ordnance scattered around, hence the prominent"No Trespassing " signs.

I first made aerials here ten years ago and, in fact, it was the first of the Massachusetts islands I made pictures of.

Why go again? The technology has changed. The files I am making now are leaps above the files I made back then. Higher resolution, greater dynamic range and a color engine far more subtle and nuanced. In optics, the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor lens I use now for aerials is two generations improved from ten years ago and it shows. These are excellent files.

What else? I tried to mimic the series of the fishing village Menemsha I had made last year but couldn't pull it off. Perhaps someone else could work to make good pictures here offseason. But for me it seemed disrespectful and cruel. Menemsha is not a pretty sight in early May in the rain and the wind and the cold.

There are a couple of trees I photograph each time I go to the island. They are in Chilmark and are old friends.

As we are now in production for the next show at the Harvard Ed Portal opening in late June, the new Martha's Vineyard pictures will have to be put aside for now.

But let me make this statement and challenge: the body of photographs of mine from Martha's Vineyard over a long career begun in the late 60's is significant and important and should be looked at by curators and/or editors for increased exposure. Not only does the work encompass a survey of some of the massive changes to the island over the past 50 years it also tracks the evolving aesthetic, comprehension and refinement of this career artist. What better place to work over a whole career than an island? 20 or so miles of land surrounded by water means finite content, a place that is a microcosm divorced from much of the rest of the world but also part of it.

Any takers?

Topics: Northeast,Digital,Color,Black and White,New Work

Permalink | Posted May 27, 2019

Snow

The third chapter in the book called Trees, Sand and Snow published in 2017.

The series is on the site here.

 Introduction to the chapter:

Snow
I was a little shaken by the power of the two groups of pictures I’d made on Martha’s Vineyard that day. When back home in Cambridge, a few hours away from the island, I did what I have done so many times before: I worked the files. This simply means getting the pictures I made into the computer, working on them with a few types of software and printing them. The room I do this on at my home looks out on my condo’s tiny back yard and over a fence into my neighbor‘s, which is larger. One afternoon a few days before Christmas, as I was working on the photographs I’d shot from Squibnocket, I looked up from the computer monitor to see that it was snowing. This was the first snow of the season and, as it was cold, it was coming down in small light flakes.
I always love the first snow in New England, the clean smell of the air, the quiet it brings. As the snow started to stick and accumulate I started thinking about where I might go photograph that afternoon. I am still in a place where I am so appreciative of having this freedom to just get the camera and go whenever I want. I’ve been retired from teaching for 5 years. At any rate, I headed just a mile or so away to the City of Cambridge’s skate park, a new park for the city and built under the elevated Rt 93 as it comes down into Boston, across the river. I’d been photographing the park for some time, both with people using it and not. I knew this day with the snow sticking no one would be there.
I arrived and the snow was slowly building up to cover everything and make the form, steps, ramps and curves disappear under its blanket. But not yet.
I started to work, much in the way I had photographed the laid bare sand at Squibnocket two weeks before. Just as I did then, I photographed the overall and then moved in to look at the small. Here I had to be careful and plan my approach so as to not find my footprints in my pictures. Pristine and pure, the skate park was becoming increasingly obscured by the snow falling. Time again played a part in the making of these pictures, the contrast of the exposed beach being covered over by the rising sea and the skate park disappearing under the blanket of snow. Just as the ocean had receded to show the sand below the snow was drifting down from above to cover the skate park that afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Time is a big concept in photography because often we freeze it in a fraction of a second to stop time and motion or spread it over a period of seconds or minutes to blur or make our pictures spread through time.

In conclusion, these three chapters called Trees, Sand & Snow exist due to time’s prevailing place in all things we do in this life on this planet. Reaching 70 years old, looking back at my career as a teacher, an artist and a father, the pictures I made on Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge stand for me as symbols of, quite simply, the character of time through life.

Once again we start out with a wide perspective on a place:

Then move in to find hard concrete covered with the softest of light powdery snow, the metaphor of the uncovered sand two weeks before on the Vineyard inescapable, time doing its thing once again.

The shortest time period of all three bodies of work, all soon to be obliterated as the snow continued to fall, water in this different state but not so unlike the water covering the sand on the beach that day as the tide rose.

So, to finish these three posts: I had never made a book or, in fact, a portfolio of photographs quite like this, three disparate series of pictures connected by something like the way time was effecting each. Furthermore, it was up to me to write explaining  what it was that I was doing, for I wasn't confident the reader would find the connections I was making without some help.  Writing and photographs, not my favorite combination, for I much prefer the photographs standing on their own. But turning 70 years old gave me a little license to stretch my work and push it towards something less known. 

I am most curious about how this work is received by you, my readers. Let me know, here.

And thanks for reading and subscribing.

A word about the status of the book. The bad news is the first edition is now sold out. The good news is that we are about to go into a second printing, with a couple of edits as improvements. We can take your orders via email to: Book Orders. The book will be signed and numbered. It will be $36.00 plus shipping.

Topics: Northeast,Digital,Color,New England

Permalink | Posted May 5, 2019