Topic: Peddocks Island (5 posts)

Something New

This post will break with precedent. This post and a few that will follow will attempt to fold you into process, how this career artist makes his work. 

All the posts in this blog's past have presented final projects, mostly series work that has been shot, processed and printed; then written about here.  "Something New" will take you and I through a project in the making. You can see early attempts, experiments at how I am planning on working, failed efforts and bad decisions (that hopefully get corrected), shoots that get rained out, new approaches and good outcomes. I will try to write about all of this as I go along. So far this new series is planned as a summer project but may need some autumn in there as well. Finally, I have written in the past and taught students about the idea that original definitions for projects very often need to be quite fluid as, when you're inside the work, understanding increases as well as focus and this may change things fundamentally.

But let me show you some preliminary pictures of the facility or "campus". This is the Medfield State Hospital in Medfield, MA. Although you may not go in the buildings the exteriors are wide open with public access. That is rare and really wonderful. Thank you town of Medfield, as the town now owns the whole place.

These are from the first drive out there and are made as a way of "taking notes" or, essentially, made on a scouting trip. Good camera and nice day but made just to begin to see these wonderful structures rendered in photographs.

As it turns out I have a friend who just moved to Medfield and she went to the town meeting that was held to discuss what to do with this large place that the town now owns. 

After riding my bike through the campus and then driving through it I have a couple of ideas. One is that sunlight shouldn't be the light for the majority of  what I shoot. Also that late light will work better. Sorry for the logistics but I will photograph with the camera on a tripod and will use, mostly, the 24 mm PC lens. 

There's lots of documentation about the Medfield State Hospital which was a state mental hospital founded on the principal of work, mostly farming, to improve mental health. You could start here, J.W. Ocker's blog called OTIS (Odd Things I've Seen). There is also a film, somewhat long and a little dated, that gives the history of the place on You Tube: MSH.

So join me as I begin a new project and work to make pictures that resonate with the place, respect its heritage and perhaps straddle the fence between documentation and making photographs that I find fulfilling as an artist. Challenging.

Can't wait.

Peddocks Island 4

To quickly recap, so far in Peddocks 1, 2 and 3 we've looked at two series of pictures I made from the island, made in 2005 and 2011. Back in #1 I said I had made another series of pictures from Peddocks in 2012. In this post we'll take a look at these (Peddocks 2012).

So, going back last summer to photograph at Peddocks did I know if things had changed or if there was more to do? No. But I did know that there were bunkers and gun emplacements on the back side of the island that, if the growth around them was cleared, might be good to at least see. "Little did I know"*

that a whole new area had been opened up to reveal some wonderful things and opportunities for more pictures. Peddocks had been built up to serve as protection for Boston Harbor with batteries of gun emplacements. By going into this newly cleared area Peddocks gave me yet another discovery.

Yes, you've seen this before under "Hits 2012" in the blog but I couldn't resist. And, below, the armory where the munitions were stored:

circular in shape, dark under a thick canopy of trees. And, finally, a few of the edge between cleared and uncleared, as dense as any  jungle:

Notice anything unusual about this last set of pictures? I am definitely now (in late 2012) working with color differently. Some in this series, as in the last two images here, combine black and white, color and some monochrome tailoring to get the picture to reside in the emotional tone, meaning color palette, I want for the photographs. I am no longer so interested in keeping distinct barriers or categories of pictures, as in "color " or "black and white" series. This series is the second where I've been working against those older norms, take a look at ˙Sconset, for instance, or for two that take a more radical  approach:  Grain Silo or Salton Sea.

So here we are, at the end of another analysis or breakdown of some work by the photographer Neal Rantoul, meaning me. Once again, my take and interpretation on this work are not the only one and you will, no doubt, bring your own to the conversation. But please, two things: if you are enjoying the blog please spread the word and ask people to go ahead and subscribe via email. It's easy and helps me to understand who my readers are. But also, please think of what we are doing here as just that, a conversation. That means sending me your comments. I will start to include relevant comments from readers like you soon. Best way to do that is to email me your comments. There is a heading for this right along the blog on the right.

Thank you for taking the time to read this series of four posts.

* "Little did I know" is a quote taken from the movie: Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhall. It is a phrarse that lies at the core of the movie.

Topics: Peddocks Island

Permalink | Posted January 13, 2013

Peddocks Island 3

In my last post I  wrote about the tragedy of finding what I had photographed in 2005 being razed in 2011. In this post I will show you some new pictures I made that demonstrate that all was not lost.

Part of the plan was to tear down buildings impossible to restore but to leave many standing that were in good enough shape to remain. Also, the planners made some serious inroads into cutting and clearing growth that had taken over the island in the past 75 years or so. Much of what I couldn't get at or didn't know existed was now visable and accessible in 2011. This is the "revelation" I wrote of in Peddocks #2 Peddocks 2011.

There they were, these brick and stone sculptures of clear and distinct form, embedded with a rich history I couldn't pretend to know, displayed out in the open for the first time in decades. This made the hardship of losing the other buildings somehow bearable as this was hugely exciting to me.

These buildings now formed the core of a new series, a reflection on the 2005 pictures but also something very different entirely. To respect this newness I chose to separate the 2011 pictures from the originals by making them in color. In fact, the 2005 Peddocks Island pictures were one of the very last series I made shooting film and these new ones were in digital.

I'm going to throw a few more in here as the series spreads out a little from these buildings to another complex of buildings now also accessible:

Funny how steps are a prevailing theme here throughout the Peddocks pictures.  Could this be deliberate? 

One more:I should hope so. 

Okay, so where are we? We've looked at the first ones from 2005, all dark and flat and overcast and brooding. We've looked at these from 2011 Peddocks 2011 and I've written about tragedy and revelation. So, what could be next and why would I go back again this past summer and what could I hope to get by returning, camera in hand, once again to Peddock's Island to photograph.

Well, not to sound immodest, but OMG wait until you see!  

Peddocks Island # 4 coming up.

Topics: Peddocks Island

Permalink | Posted January 10, 2013

Peddocks Island 2

In the last Peddocks Island (Peddocks 1) post I introduced the first series of photographs I made on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor. In this one I will  bring us closer to up to date and highlight the series I made in the summer of 2011 of the island. (Peddocks 2011)

I've written before about going back to favorite places to photograph and Peddocks serves as a good example of this. Who's to say that when you first go to a place to photograph it that the work you do then is the work. And wouldn't it be something if you went back and reinterpreted the place, saw it differently and worked to make a new contribution to what you did previously? And if you did this couldn't you then compare one set of  pictures to the other? And wouldn't it be good if you could effectively make a statement about how art is often just that: the artist's point of view and interpretation at any one time? Exactly.

By the summer of 2011 most of the primary residential row of buildings had been torn down and the land extensively cleared around them. Funds had been allocated by the state legislature to clean up Peddocks and to make it a better tourist destination along with allowing overnight camping. 

But before we go to the pictures I made in 2011 I wanted to show you what Hollywood did to Peddocks as it turned it into Shutter Island for the movie.

First, here is Peddocks as it looks from the ferry approaching the island with Hull on the right (outside the frame):

and what the movie producers made it look like as Leonoardo DiCaprio rides the ferry to the island in the beginning of the movie:

Can't you just hear the ominous soundtrack playing during this scene? 

Let's be clear, this was a very bad movie of not a very good book by Dennis Lehane.

Kurt Vonnegut had this wonderful turn of phrase in writing about the bombing of Dresden during World War II in Slaughterhouse Five: "so it goes".

So it goes.

At any rate, onwards and back to earth to look at what was there when I went in 2011. This time I didn't kayak across the gut at Hull to get to the island. I took the ferry from Hingham.

This is what I found the afternoon of August 14, 2011(along  with swarms of mosquitos):

empty plots where the buildings had once stood.

along with a few familiar landmarks left behind:


and 2005:It is difficult for me to describe how I felt when there that day and I don't want to sound melodramatic but this was partly tragic for me and partly a revelation.  The tragedy was to realize these buildings were now gone:

This no longer exists:

nor this:But the revelation redeemed the sense of loss that day in August 2011 and turned a  day that seemed like the death of loved ones into new birth (how's that for melodrama?).

While I have a fairly long story to tell here, I don't want you to stop in mid-read or have you leave this drama as it unfolds so I will stop here until we pick up the Peddocks saga in Peddock 3.

BTW: Did you know you can subscribe to these blogs? Yes, its true and easy and not permanent,  unless you want it to be. Just click on the "subscribe to blog" on the right side of the page, provide your email address and you won't miss one of these riveting posts.

Next up Peddocks Island 3. Stay tuned.

Topics: Peddocks Island

Permalink | Posted January 9, 2013

Peddocks Island 1

I have had a nine year love affair with Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor. Since making the first series of pictures of the island in 2005 (Peddocks 1) I have been back most years and have now made two more series: Peddocks Island 2011 (Peddocks 2011) and Peddocks Isand 2012 (Peddocks 2012) .

Peddocks Island, Boston Harbor, MA

Why such a strong connection to the island ? I thought you'd never ask. I am going to answer that over the next four posts but first a short island history.

Peddocks Island is the largest of a chain of islands in Boston Harbor.

This from Wikepedia:

Principally used for farming since the early 17th century, Peddocks Island has also served military purposes. During the American Revolutionary War, over 600 militiamen were stationed on the island. In 1904, Fort Andrews was built on the island, and it served as an active harbor defense fort until the end of World War II. As of 2008, 26 of the original buildings of Fort Andrews were still standing, although most of them were in decrepit shape and were closed to the public for safety reasons.

In 2008, Peddocks Island was used for filming scenes in Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

When I first photographed there in 2005 most of the buildings were sill standing, although they were run down, vandalized and partly boarded up.

As the original Peddocks Island pictures have been shown and published frequently, I have written about the work several times and in different ways. One was to write a fact based fiction story about how an unnamed photographer made the pictures and what was going on in his head when working on the project.

He decided he would go back to Peddocks Island to photograph.

He'd been there once with a friend while kayaking and

had thought then that it would be good to return with a camera.

This time he went prepared, knowing that on this gray

day threatening rain it would be dark in the woods where the

old buildings were. He drove out of Boston down to the south

shore where there was a high school and windmill at the

point. There he loaded his kayak with his camera and a tripod

and paddled across the channel with little boat traffic on this

early summer day in the middle of the week. When he

reached the island, he pulled his boat up and changed back to

his sneakers, loaded his camera and set off to photograph.

The light was perfect, smooth and even and flat. He worked

for the next few hours, concerned that he might get caught

with his expensive camera in the rain. But the rain held off

and he was alone on this island that was filled with ruins from

another time, the early 1900's. He was struck by how different

it was to photograph here in comparison to where he'd been

shooting earlier in the year after a snowstorm at the new

Frank Gehry building at MIT in Cambridge called the STATA Center.

 All color and reflective metal with curved forms and whimsical spaces.

The STATA Center at MIT, Cambridge, MA

These buildings he photographed now, with their broken down

porches and their busted out windows, were brick and wood,

right angled, Victorian and upright, not a curve in them.

Having been brought up in New England, he felt he knew

these forms. Being at Peddocks that day wasn't so much

scary as it was solitary, perhaps the way he liked to work best,

comfortable inside the intensity and single mindedness of

photographing to really capture the place over several rolls of

film. He finished and went back to the landing where his

kayak was, and found he was reluctant to leave.

This feeling of being the only one on the whole island was

oddly powerful. He ate his sandwich at a picnic table overlooking

the harbor and then shot two more rolls in color film

instead of black and white, in brighter light, of a different subject

and in a different frame of mind. Then he packed up his

boat, and while paddling back across the channel to his car

and the mainland, it started to rain. He was often very lucky

this way.

The STATA Center and Peddocks Island pictures were shown as large grids at a Northeastern University Faculty Show in 2008 with the quoted piece above hung between them on the wall.

In Peddocks #2 I will write about what has happened to the island since I made the    first series and will show some of the new pictures. Stay tuned.

Topics: Peddocks Island

Permalink | Posted January 7, 2013