Part of a series looking at past works perhaps missed or under-acknowledged.
This time we're going to look at several seasons of photographing the town of Spruce Pine, North Carolina as I was teaching at Penland.
I have taught at the Penland School of Art in Spruce Pine, NC for 4 summers (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2018). Each time I would drive down from Cambridge, MA to teach for two weeks and then photograph every morning in town before class. Up early, grab a few students, drive to town, get coffee, walk and photograph for 30 to 40 minutes, drive back to school and go to class. Every day. Each of the four years I taught there.
After four years of this, the amount of work has grown quite large. The last time I taught there I brought the work with me (print size is 17 x 22 inches) and we looked at some each morning in class.
Unspectacular, often looking like just what is there, the work grew and extended farther out over the years, folding in more parts of the town and the valley as I learned the town and was looking for new things to photograph.
Working through a couple of different cameras, some life changes that were huge, a few problematic students, and some complex relationships, the photographs stand as a testimony to a way of seeing that has served me well. Spruce Pine itself is amazing, combining a southern railroad town with some serious decline. The work is close to my core in that it embodies the way I see diverse content; walking, looking, shooting hand held in different weather with different light.
The Spruce Pine works, split up into the years I made them, are here:
Spruce Pine 2012
Spruce Pine 2013
Spruce Pine 2014
Spruce Pine 2018
To date, this is work that has not been shown. I think it needs a book. What do you think?
An email from Jeremy Knight, a former student at Northeastern, reminded me of shooting here outside of Savannah in March twenty or more years ago.
Fort Pulaski has an interesting history and is a state park (Wikipedia) It is situated between Savannah and Tybee Island. I was out cruising around with students on a shooting trip while attending a Society for Photographic Education conference.
I found it irresistible.
By this time narrative series work was my primary vehicle and I was fluid with the form and the language. This was a "walk around series", loosely defined as making pictures as I discovered them, heading around a corner to make a picture of something I had never seen before.
I was fascinated by the reduction of the place, everything clipped close and manicured, all form.
I went out the next morning by myself to try to see what else I could see,
under very different light.
This was in analog days and my tool of choice was the Hasselblad Superwide (about the camera) The SWC was a fixed lens camera, distances and scale needed to be right for this very special camera.
Ironic that the blog post before this one was about photographing alone, in isolation (Alone),but, as I wrote, I did photograph with others around at times.
This last one was a sort of addendum, distinguished by the black lines on the edge of the frame. From left to right: Cristina Rivera, Jeremy Knight, Bob O'Connor and Pete Stitt, who I'd asked to point at nothing in particular.
Good times and I miss them all.
Give me a few days and the Fort Pulaski series will be on the site, accessed by clicking on the Gallery page and scrolling down.
By early next week I will be fully vaccinated. Is this nightmare coming to a close? I hope so. I wish you well.
(Late July 2020) As the weeks and months go on, as the virus maintains its grip on our world, as our government fails in so many ways, as I work to stay safe and wear a mask, I am missing many things, as I know we all are.
I miss travel. In many ways, the core of my work over the past 20 years or so has entailed travel. The vast majority of trips I took were to make photographs, the locations and time of year chosen to make certain kinds of pictures; Washington for wheat, California for so many things including damage from wildfires, Utah for its incredible landscape, Europe and Italy for, well, all that is so wonderful about it, and the American South where I teach frequently but also because of a four-year project photographing one town: Spruce Pine in North Carolina. I would be there again in a New York minute if I could.
A small town, nestled into a valley just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. The town is past its prime of being a center for feldspar and mica mining and has suffered from several arson-set fires that were set in 2007.
My photographs from four years of photographing in Spruce Pine while teaching at Penland School of Crafts a few miles away are not flashy and no single pictures stand out. The work is tightly sequenced within each year and constitutes a survey of the town and my perception at a certain period in its history and as such, serves as a symbol of many small towns across the south, caught at a crossroads between its past and an indefinite future.
I've written several blogs about the work and have tried several tactics to get the work shown, all unsuccessful. Take a look and see what you think:
Spruce Pine 2012
Spruce Pine 2013
Spruce Pine 2014
Spruce Pine 2018
I always wonder if people actually do click the link to see the work. Does that take too much effort? I am sure you'll let me know: Neal's Email
There has been so little art going on in my world. I am sure for many of you as well. No museums, galleries, workshops, classes, portfolio reviews, showing work, preparing for shows, hanging shows. Hard, as art is at the core of me.
This happened today in the parking lot of a local museum:
I handed over the Pulaski Motel series (here) to Rachel Passannante, the Collections Manager at the Danforth Musem in Framingham MA.
This unorthodox way to turn work over to a museum's permanent collection was necessitated by the pandemic, of course.
The history of this body of work goes back to 2013, and to Jessica Roscio the curator of the museum. Jess is one of a number of curators I show work to every few years. Come to the studio, take a look at a few portfolios, make no commitment, be under no pressure; clearly a prerogative of a photo curator and hopefully one of the pleasures of their job, looking at work.
Time and again, Jessica would reference the Pulaski Motel series when she came to look at work, often asking to see them again. These black and white photographs, made during a trip to teach at Penland in the spring of 2012 are made up of a walk around an abandoned motel in rural Pulaski, Virginia one very hot afternoon. No pretty pictures these, they present a dystopian view of a world not quite right. In the context of the present pandemic, they may have been predictive in that there are motels across the country that have gone dark over the past few months.
Foreboding and flat, oddly still, dark and a little creepy; right up my alley. I am very pleased for these photographs to have a new home.
Pulaski Motel has never been shown, in fact, most don't know the pictures exist. I have a hunch that will change for Jessica wants to show them. No artist wants his/her work unseen.
Just a quick post to write that I have new work on the site.
Spruce Pine: here
These were made in late May and early June (2018) while teaching at Penland in North Carolina. Each year I teach there I photograph in the early mornings in town before class, often with students. There are portfolios from 2012, 2013 and 2014 as well.
I made these in late June after returning from North Carolina. Menemsha is a small fishing village on Martha's Vineyard. Same thing: get up early, go shoot, every day.