Topic: Wheat (13 posts) Page 1 of 3

Wheat Again

If you've been reading the blog for a while you know that my photographs of the wheat fields in the area of eastern Washington called the Palouse have been central to my oeuvre for over twenty years.  I packed up and was on a plane to Spokane at dawn on Saturday.

After the opening of the American West show in Allston last Thursday I was done. Shows are work and this one was in many ways more work than most. One person shows put it all in one place: you. 

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon (7/2), I realize that being here, amid this incredible beauty, clean air, and blue skies, my mood and my disposition were severely affected by the photographs of fire damage at Paradise, CA included in the American West Show.

It is all too easy to see doom and gloom in our world these days. Being here in the Palouse, the extensive agricultural region in the southeast of Washingon, is like stepping off, getting free of the crisis that our daily lives are these days. In all the years I've been coming here little has changed. The land that time forgot.

So, what of the pictures? What am I here to do? Is it more of the same or something different?  The answer is a little of both. The last time was in late fall of 2016.They  are here. Rougher, coarser, the time of year predisposed the pictures completely. Here in early July they are not far from the first cycle of crops being ready to harvest. It is lush, very green and the wheat is at about mid thigh. 

I cannot escape that I  am making better files each time I come here. The first ten years or so  I was working in 8 x 10, 1993 to 2003, first only in black and white then in color. Now, of course, it is all digital but the evolution of those files is from smaller to larger, to lenses of longer reach and of higher quality. Easy to take for granted but the rendition obtained by pointing my camera at a field and clicking the shutter is now so high as to be comparable to the sheets of 8 x 10 film I used earlier.

Wheat 1997 8 x 10

The precedent for the work I do here is most likely Franco Fontana, working mostly in the 1960's. Let me clear, I care little for the barns, fences, horses,  combines harvesting this year's crops. Abstraction and design, light and form are my game, simple enough. Not so much what it is as what it becomes as a photograph.

Later this week I will make aerial photographs, much as I have in other years. The 2016 ones are here.

 This is what canola looks like.

Stay tuned. More Wheat coming.

Topics: Wheat

Permalink | Posted July 2, 2019

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Color,Wheat,Dunes,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017


Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:

Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Wheat,Digital,Color,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016

Out in Wheat

As I write this I am in Moscow, Idaho on a project to photograph wheat fields. Although I call this wheat fields much else is grown here besides wheat: garbanzo beans, alfalfa, lentils, safflower, etc. It is late October so this isn't a time of flowing golden wheat with a hot sun blazing down from above. The fields are stubble, turned under or lying fallow this time of year.

Why be here now? Because this is a time where the land itself has no covering to soften its contour. This is the much photographed area called the Palouse, where workshops meet, where vans criss cross the terrain filled with photographers looking for that iconic " shot", the one that's a keeper, the one that ends up over a mantle to wow the house guests at the party.  And yes, in July or August at harvest time this is an exquisite place, but in late October? Not so much. 

That's why I am here, to make essential photographs.

I've only been here a few days but working here now is proving challenging. "Dodging rain drops" is how I would describe it, although the fog at dawn this morning was something new.  

I will make good pictures here, for the 18 or so times I've been here have me well prepared, perhaps better than anyone.  I also will not be repetitive. The late time of year helps to insure that, of course, but also I am seeking to do some things here differently than before. 

I am sure you have found this too but to be someplace familiar where you've made pictures before and to think through a different approach, to try something else, to challenge past assumptions seems key to me. Much has been written about how we always make the same pictures, over and over. This is all too easy, to be in front of something with similar light, similar content, and a similar frame of mind to something you photographed in the past with some success and then to repeat that same image. I am trying not to do that while here. 

It would be rewarding sometime to assemble some of the pictures I have made while here that are not of the fields specifically, the outtakes, if you will (hint hint you curators out there). Honestly, how can you not make a picture of an oil tanker sized hay stack three times your height stranded in the middle of nowhere?

So stay with me for the next few posts as I take you through my trip out here in late October 2016. Next up? I flew yesterday with brilliant blue skies and bright sun at 10 am. The first day since getting here that it has been so. We used a Cessna 206, a four seater airplane, with the door removed. I was harnessed and strapped in, sitting in the seat right next to the large opening. It was 45 degrees. Totally worth it. This is me, still strapped in, after we landed.

How did I do, up there at 1000 feet skidding along at 90 knots, pointing down at this amazing landscape? 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Wheat,Color,Northwest,Digital,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 29, 2016

Skate Park Take 2

Okay, I can hear you now:  "Enough already with the skate parks!" but I really do have to add something to the one already posted, the Healdsburg Skate Park.

I found another one, this one a much more typical skate park. A more typical one combines all those wonderful concrete curves, hills and valley, dips and things to jump over, with, you guessed it: graffiti.

In this case young artistic expression run amok. Total chaos in an orgiastic display of colors and design by spray cans used without restraint. So cool.

What I loved most about this place, besides its sheer exuberance, was how the paint totally subverted the form lying underneath. In some of the pictures, you can't really tell what the underlying shape is.

As I worked around the park and the afternoon wore on I could see that back light was going to play a role:

like the broad back of some sea monster lying in the sun:

I can hear it coming, you saying a few months from now: "Yeah, Rantoul lost it that winter he went out to California and started shooting skate parks. He got so into it, it was all he was talking about. And the pictures? Totally whacked. You know, no one's heard from him since? I bet he's still out there shooting those parks. Poor guy."

When I posted the Healdsburg blog (Skate Park) a friend wrote back and said "Wheat Fields!"meaning that the way I was seeing these was very much the way in which I photograph the wheat fields in Washington (Wheat 2011). I have used form to make content, used shape to denote space, used pattern for emphasis, used tonality and color to convey emotion, used light to deepen and used repetition of forms to deny and reinforce spatial relationships for a very long time and do not plan on stopping any time soon. 

Do you think I'm finished with these, think we can now move on? Not bloody likely as I'm on a roll and having way too much fun.  BTW: this one is in a park in Santa Rosa on Fulton Street right across from the high school.


Topics: Skate Park,Wheat,Northwest,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2014