Topic: Northwest (31 posts) Page 1 of 7

A Personal History #2

Continuing a series of posts on my career as a photographer.

By the mid-eighties, I'd been married and divorced, had one child, had owned a home and lost the home, had renovated a house, was teaching both at Northeastern and Harvard and photographed and printed constantly. It was fast times. 

Being on a tenure-track in a university comes with a whole host of requirements as you are under great scrutiny. I was exhibiting frequently and at increasingly prestigious places, I was shooting and printing constantly, my work was being published in periodicals, I was receiving numerous grants and I was presenting at conferences and symposia. I was teaching on the Vineyard and elsewhere in the summers and traveling whenever and wherever I could to make new work. In 1983 I received a one-semester sabbatical and traveled extensively throughout the American southwest photographing.  In 1986 I returned to the southwest to photograph over three months with the 8 x 10 camera. It was significant that I was Northeastern's first photography professor. This put me under some pressure not only to validate my work and myself but to validate that photography was a legitimate academic discipline worthy of study. In 1988 I was tenured at Northeastern University in a unanimous decision. 

#4 Digital

By the early 90's it was clear big changes were coming. I was successful in getting some very expensive scanning equipment donated and we were off and running in very early digital days. Initially, we were just scanning but soon after we were printing too. By 2003 the Photo Program I headed was legitimately on a roll; new courses were on the books, we were hiring new faculty and I was scanning and printing my 8 x 10 and 2 1/4 negatives. And, I had started to work in color. 

My whole creative output from the time I was a student until then had been in black and white. This for the simple reason that I didn't think most color photography was any good.

I had been traveling to the SE corner of Washington starting in 1996 in the summers to photograph the extensive wheat fields there. I had been working in 8 x 10 black and white making minimal, austere and formal studies of essential elements of the landscape.

In 2001 I began shooting in color, initially without much success but by the second year was beginning to get it. As I got better at it and my confidence increased I started exploring color in other aspects of my work and was beginning to print my color work digitally, from scans of my 8 x 10 transparencies.

This was tremendously exciting and motivating, to start as a novice and to be a student again in something new. I believe this is essential for a career artist to stay active and viable. Taking risk is key.

While digital capture (photographing digitally) was still in its infancy in the early 2000's, staying with film, scanning it once processed and then making inkjet prints was a highly qualitative way to work in those earlier years. 

Back at Northeastern, I had now been advised that I should apply to be a full professor, a position I call the "last promotion" for an academic as there isn't anything else after that. While less of a career-threat than tenure, as you aren't fired if you don't get it, the full professorship carries more prestige and establishes that you have "arrived", at least on campus. Think: big shot. I became a full professor at Northeastern in 2003 in a unanimous decision. 

Let's stop here. For the next post I will follow through to my retirement from Northeastern in 2012 and we'll take a look at the work I made from then to the present.

I thank you for your time and for joining me.

Topics: Analog,Digital,Northwest,American Series

Permalink | Posted August 9, 2018

Washed Out

This one is to introduce the new group of pictures on the site called Washed Out (here). And to explain my rationale.

Can wrong be right, can ugly be beautiful, can accuracy be exchanged for interpretation? Something hovering around the question of attempted objectivity versus the purely subjective. 

These washed out and somewhat pink landscapes of the mountains behind Malibu, California are this photographer's effort to describe what it feels like to be driving through the canyons on a midday in midweek, with the sun at full force, no wind, the ground cover bleached out, the soil dusty and like chalk; a somewhat apocalyptic view of a place no doubt influenced by my aerially photographing wildfire damage a few days earlier up the coast in Ventura.

These are, of course, the Santa Monica Mountains.

In initially rendering these in normal colors and tonality I was struck by how they conveyed nothing of the intensity of the light and the dryness. 

I was thinking of how our eyes react when faced with going from someplace dark into a landscape blindingly bright. How the colors are bleached out and monochromatic.

But think about this for a moment. Think about how photography has changed, how its use as an art form has been so drastically redefined in recent years. How the investigation into how it sees and we see has been pushed to new boundaries. Somehow, although I still make them, the straight landscape is over, done to death and how, if the drive must be to see things new, there is nothing new. How the prevailing discipline would need to be an interpretation of surroundings, a molding of the combination of the mediums' use and the content serving the photographer's wishes. This then leads me to the photographer's intention.

One train of thought would appear that we are no longer, in higher levels of art, allowed to leave that up to the viewer to work out. That it would be necessary to drive the outcome more specifically. Hence "Washed Out".

The last point, imagine I made these into a small book, with about 25 pages of images all in this same bleached out tonality. Sit down with a glass of that nice merlot you found in Italy last year, comfortable in your favorite recliner, to look through these pictures, to study them. How fulfilling and rewarding an experience would that be? Would you become invested in the subtlety and nuance of the different images? Feel there is a rhythm, a narrative?  Doubtful. But you might believe that you are looking at a concept, a conceptual rendering, a deliberate distortion of the actual into something made for looking then thinking about what you saw to understand intention. This does get perilously close to a personal politic, doesn't it? For the quality has been sucked out of these images, denied the very basis for our determination of what is a good photograph. Of course, we see this all the time, either by ignorance or by deliberation. 

Is this simply devil's advocacy? Placing these pictures in a place of contrary perspective? This is for you to decide, for I am simply the maker. You are the determiner.

Washed Out:


Comments always welcome: nrantoul@comcast.net

Topics: Northwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted April 23, 2018

Pinnacles

Pinnacles National Park is in Paicines, California, about 1 1/2 hours south of San Jose.

I just finished making prints of the park as I was there in February. These are just the tip of the iceberg and I hope to go back next winter. As it is a national park it is good to go with a pass, if you have one, as it costs $25 to get in otherwise. Also, try to go during the week when it isn't so crowded. This is a very popular park.

I focused mostly on the trails. I'd just come from several hours of photographing a series called "On the Way to Pinnacles" so was beat by the time I got there. I hiked up a trail maybe a couple of miles, photographing along the way and then came back down. 

Note: I  hand held the Sony A7R MK III while at Pinnacles, which turned out to be a mistake. I have learned this camera is a sort of hybrid, in that it is small and capable of tremendous results but that it is all too easy to screw up sharpness. Follow this twisted logic of mine, proven to be wrong. Small camera means you can use it like a point and shoot, popping frames off without much regard to settings, particularly shutter speed. I've learned that this does not work well. This is because it makes a huge file and therefore deserves great respect. I would most definitely shoot these next time with the camera on a tripod. I blew about 40% of my pictures at Pinnacles that day.

Pinnacles is just a jumble of rocks but on a very large scale. It is a fascinating place and reminds me of constructions I would make in the field behind our house in Connecticut as a kid where I grew up. In those I dug in the dirt, making ramps and roads for my trucks and loaders, moving earth and rocks. 

Pinnacles National Park, California. Highly Recommended.

Topics: Northwest,Digital,Color,New Work

Permalink | Posted April 16, 2018

Wildfire: Before and After

I've been showing pictures and writing about the effects of wildfire damage in California for a while now. I photographed the area of Santa Rosa in February 2018 after it had been heavily hit by wildfires two months earlier. 

Early on with this project, I realized I had something of a unique perspective for a non-local in that I had rented a cottage for about a month on a ridge in the hills above Santa Rosa in the winter of 2014.

So, yes, these have turned into a "before and after" project of one small area, what I photographed when living there and what it looks like now.

Let me preface that this was an exceptionally beautiful place, a small two BR cottage on a ridge with a valley to the east and a valley to the west. Often I'd wake up to something like this:

with early morning fog that would burn off by 8 am or so.

Looking west across the valley the cottage was situated right on the ridge:

with some really wonderful oak trees nearby.  These were irresistible:

Let me see if I can paint this picture. Often after returning from long days photographing and long drives (I was heavily immersed in the Tafoni pictures on the coast and Skate Park pictures that winter) I would kick back on the deck with a beer and the camera next to me on a tripod and just click off a frame or two as the sun went down. This was a paradise.

I even had the owner's dog, Din, as a companion at the place that winter:

In late February, from the air, this same property looked like this:

with the owner's house on the left and where I stayed in the cottage on on the right.

From the ground:

What do those same oaks look like now?

Evidently when the fire came through wind was so fierce the flames often scorched the trees but didn't kill them. You can see that in this last photograph. The hill behind the tree is darkened and some trees are stripped of foliage but not all of them.


Let me leave you with this as a symbol of the destruction: the property owner's fully restored VW Beetle:

Owners and dog all are well. They rode out the fire that night in an apartment down the valley in town.

Topics: Northwest,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted April 11, 2018

Salt Evaporation Ponds

Above is the title page for the new portfolio of the same name. I had seen these ponds from the air on a commercial flight landing at the San Francisco Aiport several years ago and thought it would be wonderful if I could photograph them. It is a little tricky as the ponds often are in the landing path for jets coming in to land. I found that if we stayed below 1500 feet or so we were okay. So that's just what we did, flying under the big jets flight path in their approach to land.


It was dead calm, and the flight itself was smooth so the files from this shoot are exceptional. The Cargill Co. owns and works these ponds to make sea salt, the minerals in the water making different varieties. 

The full portfolio is now on the site: here.

Consistent offer. Want to see the prints? Email here

Topics: Color,Digital,Northwest,Aerial

Permalink | Posted March 17, 2018