Topic: Southwest (23 posts) Page 2 of 5

Thompson Spring, Utah 3

The third in a group of posts on my blog looking at a body of work made in 2010 called Thompson Spring, Utah. 

This one, looking at the side of a barn, is the first real change in structure and also content, for we are no longer sliding along the main street of the town. It also presents a far more difficult path with its screen of wire fencing and bushes to get through.We are now looking at the subject for the first time at an oblique angle, which is inherently different than our parallel plane photographs from the portfolio so far. Also, a series of photographs such as this assumes viewers will retain the previous image in the sequence while looking at the one in front of them but not know what is coming ahead, as in turning pages in a book or flipping prints in a portfolio. The presumption is that we can't unlearn what we've already learned, that we can't unsee what we've already seen.

We've also gone a little darker and the structure of the photograph isn't like anything we've seen up until now. The pictures have been "parallel plane" photographs so far, taken square on to whatever was in front of the camera. If you follow my work and/or read the blog you know this is a primary driver behind Neal Rantoul photographs. As a device being parallel contains the photographs and makes them begin and end at that surface. The above picture slides from left to right and therefore out, leaving a little relief or escape from the dark to the light. 

The tactic is similar to what Eugene Smith did, the very famous documentary photographer in the mid 20th century making incredible photo essays on assignment for Life Magazine. Look up Minamata and The Country Doctor for examples. In this, Smith's own children walking up the dark hill to the light. 

Credit: Pinterest

Heavy symbolism, out of the dark tunnel into the light. From painful days after being wounded in WW ll, with almost two years of convalescing, wondering if he'd ever photograph again.

Let's move on:

Back to parallel planes. This one looking relatively modern or contemporary, nothing indicating decay so much but clearly closed and empty. That cafe didn't look like it would would open anytime soon.

Then to this, planal again and with minimal convergence, which means I worked to keep the camera level as opposed to pointing up. So beautiful to me that I did this:

moving in closer and focusing on the light skidding across that ribbed wall framed by the single window with a closed curtain inside. Not the first time I'd moved in to isolate something I felt strongly about.

So, since I have some space here, let's summarize where we are now that we've looked at about 2/3 of the pictures in Thompson Spring. We began way back at  the start with the gas station picture and quickly established the "ghost town" character of where we were. Then this overall definition continued through the house pictures and, though different, the motel pictures. We then changed things up by moving off the main street to the barn (which we will see again soon) and then back to show the cafe and then the small house with the beautiful window being hit by early morning sun. Remember, we can't unsee what we've seen but what proceeds will inform what is to come. 

I hope you're enjoying this break down of some pictures I made nine years ago.This is a good place to stop, as we're about to see some more changes next in Thompson Spring 4. 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Southwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted March 27, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 2

Continuing a few posts on some work from Utah made in 2010.

By now, into the fifth frame in the series, I knew I had a hold of something and was excited at what I might discover as I continued walking down the road and photographing.

Here is the start of my imposing an internal structure to the pictures as I believe it is important to have a logic behind them. But put yourself here, say, 75 years ago. How many evenings sitting on that porch, watching the sun go down? How many stories told, rocking the baby to sleep, cups of coffee in the morning before heading off to work?

Why all three sides of this one, why such weight placed on this home? I can't really say, perhaps I was thinking these same questions, this present version serving as a  monument and remembrance of past lived and gone.

And then we jump

to this. Bang! A new chapter in the series? Certainly we are someplace else, although the light is the same and the sky. We have moved farther down the road to an abandoned motel and a core group of pictures in the series.

There also is a pattern developing here. From clarity in some frames taking us to see through to the background or obscuring the background and forcing us to a  close or middle ground. This is deliberate although fully realized more in editing than when shooting originally. Remember, in series work I have made many more exposures than what we see here.

For me the motel represents some kind of life, thinking of guests checking in, an electrician or perhaps a plumber staying there overnight working on a job, or a young couple on their way west, stopping for a night in Thompson Springs in 1952. Clearly the building of the highway nearby choked the life out of this town, everyone passing by at 75 mph, rather than passing through town. That, of course, cascaded into the loss of the RR station. The morning I was there last fall, I stood on the Frontage Road and watched as a train came swooping through really fast, no need to slow down through a ghost town.

This is the last we will see of the motel but by moving around to the right side it is also a predictable image in that it repeats what I had done with the house earlier in the series.

As a side note: this is perhaps where I am most comfortable making this sort of work. Working alone, no distractions, no one else either by my side or nearby, not being observed through a kitchen window, not trespassing, just looking, thinking and pressing the shutter button occasionally. Over my career I have made pictures in amidst people and traffic and all kinds of outside influences but this quiet, this solitude, this ability to concentrate is my favorite and quite rare.

Next up is Thompson Spring 3 where things will change quite a bit from the pattern I had established so far.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 26, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 1

If you read the blog you know I spent a couple of weeks photographing last fall in and around Moab, Utah. As I often  do, I went back to a few places I had photographed on earlier trips. One was Thompson Spring, about an hour northeast of Moab. I made a series of photographs there in 2010.

We will look at that series in the next few posts.

The full series is on the Gallery page of the site: here.

In 2010 I was still teaching at Northeastern in Boston but was on a sabbatical leave, my last before retiring in 2012. That winter I spent time in Austin, Texas and Moab.

I came across Thompson Spring on a whim, curious to see what it looked like about a mile off the highway.

Not much to look at, much of it torn down or abandoned, the 2010 census shows 39 people living there. Evidently the town's past included cattle and mining and it had been a stop along the railway line you can see going right through town in the above Google Map aerial.

I got there about an hour after dawn and found an essentially abandoned town.


This is another in a long list of projects where I was discovering as I was making. Walking along Frontage Road, the first picture I made served as the first in the series, a gas station, now torn down as I discovered this past fall, 8 years later.


The effort to make a series, form a narrative, say something cohesive and establish a rhythm, to go deeper, often unfolds as I move along. What I had right off was exquisite light and a growing sense that this place was presenting something unique.

I know, the cliche' of an old western ghost town, but something perhaps a little more telling and that was the trailers, double wides and RV's in the back in most frames, as though the occupants simply picked up and moved to another location, discarding their origins.

Again, my interest was piqued as I found what had happened to this town.

In 2010, I was working by then with the Nikon D3X, the second full frame sensor digital camera from the company at 24 mp. The lens is the 14-24mm Nikkor. The prints are 17 x 25 inches.

Next up? Thompson Spring 2.Stay tuned.

Topics: West,Digital,Color,Southwest

Permalink | Posted March 25, 2019

What if?

What if a photographic artist went back to a place where he made work before? What if he was working within the overall definition of "landscape photography"? What if he took the opportunity to make the final prints a divergent opinion from what he had done before? 

That's what I am working on, as a recently turned 72-year old career photographic artist with close to a thousand separate printed portfolios of work made over my career. Another way to pose this is: what would be the point of going back to Utah to make the same pictures you made before?

Spoiler alert: I am looking at the trip through a different lens.

We all know we can do anything we like. We all know we have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, the only penalty being how our work will be received. I am working on these files to  alter the subject more, to apply a more individualized set of controls, to interpret and direct more, rather than hang on to a factualized record of time and place.

I also made some panoramics, something I don't do often. Let me share with you how I do them and why.

Of course, there are two ways to make these. One, to simply crop a wide angle image top and bottom. The other is to shoot multiple frames, usually from left to right and then bring those files into Lightroom, Photoshop or another software to merge them all together. This has advantages and disadvantages but for me is the only way to go. A downside is that this then ends up being a very big file (this one is 830 mb, for instance). This takes some serious grunt and time for the computer to work through. But the fidelity and ability to make this a very large print is unsurpassed. I have one in my studio from Iceland that is 86 inches long!

Another approach I  am working on is to minimize the photograph in content and skew its colors to divorce it from reality. This is tricky as the work can be easily dismissed as gimmicky and contrived:

I have some history of doing this. Last winter's "Washed Out" from Malibu, CA made pictures that were distinctly not pretty (here). BTW: Washed Out are from the same canyons in Malibu that burned due to recent fires.

And finally, as I was at Thompson Spring a couple of times this trip, revisiting the site where I made the series

 Thompson Spring (2010)

I noticed the loudest and most prominent aspect in this almost ghost town was the train going right through at high speed.

So the RR line became a fascination:

Which, of course, I followed until the road ran out.

(I know, hard to see on your phone so small is the evidence of the RR track going though. This is a little easier in a 22 inch print.)

That's what I am working on so far and links you to my current thinking as well. This is a process that takes time, thought and perspective. And finally, and this is big, I am relying upon literally decades of experience as I sift through this new work. Past efforts are at play here, as I reference these pictures to ones made in Utah before and a broad array of my work, both from earlier analog days to current digital practice. I also have no interest in being repetitive. The very best part of having done this so long, I really know what I am doing. As well, the adjustment and configuring tools are so amazing these days that I find it a miraculous world of possibility and opportunity to explore, interpret and invent. Are you an artist or a documentarian? If the former, you really have amazing freedom of expression. Use it.

Topics: Southwest,New Work,Utah

Permalink | Posted December 2, 2018

Utah Day 8

I left Moab yesterday and drove the 3 hours up to Salt Lake City. What a boring drive! It's all I could do to stay awake.

 But in the early a.m. I drove out to

which you get to by driving on the northern access road just out of Moab to Canyonlands Park. This essentially is a peninsula above the desert valley. It is an extraordinary place and, from this vantage point, essentially like standing on the bow of a ship.

It felt like aerial photography with the advantage of not going 100 mph, giving you all the time you wanted to study and look. I loved being able to roam around this whole expanse with a long lens and pick and choose my pictures.

As I was photographing, looking through the lens, I found myself thinking of macro versus micro economics, minimal versus maximal, a world view versus a hyper-close view.

This was oddly powerful. I don't know that I have ever been accused of having a God complex but if ever that were to surface now would be the time, as though, click the shutter, there I've made another butte, click, another canyon, click, another wash, click, another spire.

Last, another thought along a different line, at what point would the image break down in terms of intelligibility? As I pushed the medium and the limit of my lens, as I reached now across miles of information, content compressed through great distance, the image would just lose its comprehensibility and break down into abstract lights and darks.

I know, "Neal, what were you smoking?" Right? I swear, I was substance free. But you'd have to be clueless to not have deeper thoughts in a place like this. Our world can feel very large here, and us, very small.

To wrap up my time in Moab I leave you with this:

with the shadow of me and the rental Jeep in the picture. I hate goodbyes, always hard when you leave what you love, but Moab continues to be a place close to my heart, something about its scale, its color, its shapes and forms, its accessibility, draws me in. Goodbye Moab, I hope to see  you again soon.

Topics: Digital,Color,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2018