Topic: Northeast (76 posts) Page 1 of 16

The Show 4

This post will conclude the series of articles about a show of my photographs at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in August 1995.

I applied for and was granted a sabbatical leave for the fall semester in 1994 and chose to spend it on the island. I rented a place just a few miles from the family   home,  choosing independence over staying with my mother. It was a good decision. Up early each day, out shooting all day, back as the light died, unloading and loading film holders when it was dark, only to repeat the next day. I was in heaven. One of the lessons I learned that fall was that if your source for making pictures is close by you can get more done.

By this time I had finished the VOLF project and was photographing on my own, knowing the show was coming up the next summer. That fall I probably shot 500 or 600 sheets of 8 x 10 film.

All that work edited down to 21 prints for the show in 1995. No way is that representative of what I did over the years 1988-1994. Just the very tip.

Finally, after the show I worked over the next couple of years to process and print my best images of the island from that period with the intention of getting the work published into a monograph, to no avail. One publisher said that the book was of "regional interest-only" and felt there would be too small a readership for a national press. Another didn't buy the tie-in with Atget's work of Paris in the early twentieth century. It was never clear to me that he'd ever heard of Atget's work.

Now the 21 prints from the show will go to the MV Museum for their archive. I have hopes for stewardship that will care for them, that will respect the work and my intention to make photographs that showed the island at a certain time in its history and development. I also hope they will store them well. I will mourn the loss of this work from my collection but, as we age, it is incumbent on us to part with work that can have a life under others' care.

Thanks for riding along on this journey about my work shown on the island of Martha's Vineyard in 1995.

Any comments welcome: Neal's email

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast

Permalink | Posted October 1, 2020

Field #2

Here goes:

I’ve been riding a lot. There are great bike trails here. I live in Acton MA since early April (the Assabet and Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are right here).

I’ve never been a great rider and hills used to be agony. But with practice, it all becomes better.

I no longer dread the climb out of the little valley I live in each morning. And I am riding longer. This all feels really good. I ride daily now early before it gets hot.

At any rate, I have seen some tremendous material as I ride. If I had a camera would I stop? Maybe I could bring a camera, I thought. Or come back with a car to get close to shoot what I’ve seen? I’ve brought the Sony on the bike a few times, but, although lighter than the Nikon, it is still pretty bulky and fragile so it sitting at the bottom of a backpack doesn’t seem like such a great idea. One time I saw something along the edge of the river, stopped, ran the bike into the woods, got the camera out, started shooting and the bugs found some fresh meat and tore into me. I now ride with Cutters.

Today I did things a little differently. I’ve had my eye on a field for a while. I first discovered it last week at the very end of the Bruce Freeman trail, tucked deep into the woods.

There is another “Field" on my site:

https://nealrantoul.com/projects/field

Made a few years ago behind the Medfield State Hospital. This one made me think of that one. I know we are doomed to repeat past successes but this new field was truly gorgeous and could not remain unphotographed. Both these fields hold rich pasts, histories of events, and uses.

I figured I would do a scouting trip. Bring a camera. Try to drive as close to the field as I could, park, bring the camera and if I wasn’t parked too far away I could hike in. I might make a few pictures. The light was good, it was just after a thunderstorm and the air was thick and the foliage was wet.

I drove around for awhile using as a base West Concord, trying to parallel the bike path and get as close to this field as possible. The field had no road or trail going into it that I could see. I found a place to park near to where I thought the field might be, loaded up the Nikon with one lens, a fresh battery and a tripod strapped to my back and off I went.

About 1 1/2 miles in there it was. Surrounded by trees, it was an old baseball field, some nets for soccer and/or batting practice and maybe lacrosse (?), recently mowed but very overgrown around the perimeter. What had started out as a scouting trip now might prove real.

I walked around and took pictures.

A magical place, resonant with its past use, which seemed to be high school sports. This field belonged to a school that had moved or folded at least moved its athletic field, a mystery here for sure.

After an hour or so, tired from holding the giant of a Nikon, tired of my glasses fogging up, sweating and tired and thinking that I wanted a beer ( a sure sign of waning interest) I turned around and headed out and slogged it back to the car, to ac, to home, to a beer.

I will, of course, have to go back as these are never complete with just one pass anymore. When I was younger I’d blast through one in a couple of hours, sometimes on the road, and never look back. Now, if I find something hot like this, I’ll book into a motel if far away and hit it again the next day, hoping the weather won’t change too much. I used to worry more about continuity.

As there are no rules any more continuity seems like less of an issue.

I will hope for tomorrow for more shooting.

I have over the past few weeks determined that I have a cause. I am tired of good work reaching no acknowledgment. In fact, good work not seen doesn’t exist, really. (There might be a lesson in there for you too). I will endeavor to make my good work be seen.

There may be an opportunity here. Curators not curating, stuck at home. We will see.

Finally: This is a little different, yes? I am showing work in process, something I don't do much. Usually, I show work just completed or go back into earlier work. This is work not even printed yet and maybe not even fully shot. I am trying to show you the process here, not just the end result.

Thank you for indulging me.

Addendum: Since writing this I have been back to the field several times to photograph. Different approaches, different light, different times of the day. The series is now becoming large enough to become a portfolio when printed. Can't wait.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted June 21, 2020

There Was a Tree


There was a tree on a one-day shooting trip to southern Vermont in the early spring in 1977. All by itself, chopped down, many of its branches and pieces on the ground scattered around it. 

Since many of you are photographers you might like to know these were made with the single lens Rollei SL66, hand held, shot on Kodak's Plus-X film, processed in D76 1:1 and printed on Agfa's Portriga Rapid paper in 11 x 14 inches, hence the slightly warm color of the prints. You are seeing copies of the prints, not scans from the negatives.

Context? Sure. I was teaching at New England School of Photography (NESOP) which, ironically, is about to close for good next month. I was single as my wife and I had divorced the year before. I was living in Cambridge, MA. I had finished graduate school a few years earlier and my career hadn't really begun in any meaningful way. That would start the next year as I began teaching at Harvard in 1978.

This was a time where my photographing and printing was incessant. I would have a one man show at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA the next year, along with smaller shows at NESOP and at local galleries in the Boston area as well as shows at Martha's Vineyard. In fact, coming up the next summer I would have a two person show with my mom in Vineyard Haven. My mother was a painter.

Why show these now? Well, because I came across them in a box of loose prints from the 70's last week. But more importantly, they always held a place close to my heart. They are "series work" before I knew what that was or that series work would form a foundational basis for my photography throughout my career. And they are evidence of a disaster, much like my pictures of Paradise CA are today. As a metaphor for larger tragedies, these photographs of a felled tree all by itself in a large field in Vermont has stood as a symbol for my relationship to the end of life and death for the past 43 years. 

I am showing you the full set, just six prints. 

I remember the photographs of the bodies strewn around the battlefield by Mathew Brady or one of his crew during the Civil War. The next summer I would travel to Europe to photograph at Dachau outside of Munich and soon I would make my first intentional series work in Nantucket in the summer of 1980.

I don't even have a title for this work. It could be "Tree in a Field". Perhaps you have some ideas for what to call this series of mine before I was making series. 

If you come Sunday I can show you the prints.

Thank you for reading my blog. 

________________________________________________________________Coming up this weekend!

You should come...

Topics: Northeast,Analog,Black and White

Permalink | Posted February 17, 2020

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