Photographic Rites of Passage

My theory about learning photography is that one can teach technique, process and maybe even a search for meaning if the moon is in the right phase, but other parts may be kind of intuitive, or continue to be elusive. Part of it is still just slowing down and noticing the small stuff, and part of it is what you bring yourself. For an example, this photograph of the glasses was made partly because late one afternoon I was playing Keith Jarrett’s brand new “The Köln Concert” on the record player. It was very meditative to listen to as I played with a nifty little Leica IIIF camera, learned its controls and how to load it with film, easily becoming comfortable with each other. Oscar Barnack had me totally hypnotized with it’s barely audible “click” and how tiny it was.

I wanted to learn formal photography with a camera that had a classy aura, not funky old pawnshop camera, so I got this little gem of a Leica to hopefully add some good mojo to my new work. I was hoping that the Photo Goddesses wouldn’t view me as being shallow. After cleaning the Leica, I put it on the record player and noticed how different it looked in the low light and reflective surface, kind of like a photographer’s altar. It was an unintended humble art consecration, like a loaf of hearty bread or a roll of black and white film.

Leica IIIF

This Leica got me to see things a little differently–

Seeing this scene got me to playing with other things in the room and putting them on the Plexiglas top too, just to see how they’d look. I took off my glasses and put it on the mirror-like surface and thought it looked interesting, so I moved the turntable over to the window where there was better light. It became an impromptu studio, and it looked kind of mysterious so I set up a big 4×5 studio camera to try and capture this scene. This quiet meditative afternoon turned into a very intensive studio session.

It was exhilarating to have noticed something accidentally and to have transformed it into a photograph. Before I knew it a few hours had gone by and the light was changing so quickly I had to take light readings every ten minutes or so. This was where the Sekonic light meter really kept up with me and stayed right on it all. As it turned out, gear mattered a lot.

Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter

I still use this classic Sekonic studio light meter to this day, even with my digital cameras.

The high performance Schneider lens was impeccably sharp, but I wanted a little bit of bokeh, or softness in the background so tried a few shots at f/11. Time to fess up here because this is part of a rite of passage too. I got a red “R” marked on the back of this photo, which meant “Reshoot.” It wasn’t even good enough for a real grade. That took the air out of my sails right quick, and later that day I could be found in the living room again, carefully examining every inch of the print with a magnifying glass. Jarrett was playing his solo piano again and I could see where I went wrong.

Rite of passage photograph.

Rite of passage photograph; my first really good negative; circa fall of 1975.

This was a reshoot; I draped a dark cloth over part of the wall and window, which transformed that jumble of junk into a rich dark value, and the glasses instantly seemed to be emerging from the darkness instead of being mired in a mess. It was simple, yet kind of poetic; absolutely inspired by the Jarrett piano solo I’d been listening to as I worked.

As it turned out, this was my first notable black and white negative I ever made, and I loved it’s simplicity, the feel of it. Much of my future work would have this same low-key feel to it with a similar kind of lighting. It was sharper than any negative I’d ever made and all the previous ones looked like shabby pretenders. The range of tones was phenomenal and the subtleties stopped me right in my tracks. Did the Photography Goddesses like me after all? Who knows? I’ll be forever reminded of piano solos whenever I see it because of the shooting session. Maybe the thing that startled me the most was the large size of the 4″ x 5″ negative compared to the tiny 35mm frames. Man, that’s lots of real estate.

It became instantly clear that everything done before this was just for fun and this was the real deal. It reminded me of rites of passage, like the first time you got laid or something. Well heck, maybe it wasn’t as momentous as that first time, but it was kind of a revelation in the sense that sometimes we have no idea that something could be so cool until we experience it ourselves. Or like skiing down the mountain the first time without being completely terrified, thinking to yourself, “Oh yes, I do this all the time, no big deal.”

Some of the backstory was it was late 1975 and I’d just returned from working my first stint as a bona fide Pipeliner in Alaska to help pay for my education at Santa Barbara. It was a true culture shock, because in October I was working on what looked like a frozen moonscape high in the Alaska Range, helping lay 48” steel pipe for on oil thirsty nation wanting to be less dependent on foreign oil during an energy crisis. It was already nearly -40º F there and our crew resembled a jumble of frozen zombies shuffling around in slow motion. Time to go man; nobody had to tell me twice.

This transition was like getting on a Rocketship and going to another planet. Even the stars were different down there, to go along with the palm trees, sandy beaches and laid- back town. There was a class named “Basic Photography II,” which was the most demanding first year class. Brooks kind of used it to sort out the slackers from the photographers, nothing laid back about that. Their version of “basic” was way different than everyone else’s, because we went deeply into finely crafted large format negatives where we used both artistic and scientific processes every step of the way.

Sometimes it felt like being a mad scientist in a stone castle, sometimes like a budding artist trying to find their way in the fog. This was another echo of the odd sensibility of  being on another planet, not familiar ground at all. Who ever heard of learning something so visually intoxicating as photography with plotting charts and dusting off the cobwebs from calculus and chemistry classes? And what the heck does “Circle of Confusion” with the physics of lens optics mean? Running in circles with our hair on fire?

Anyway, it’s been nearly 40 years to the day since this first significant negative was made, and I’ll be forever grateful that a decent negative emerged so early as a photography student. Here’s to the Photography Goddesses and tough photo instructors; I bow to you and offer this humble offering (holding up an awesome mug of coffee).

Tech Head Stuff:

  • 4×5 Calumet Studio Camera
  • Schneider 210mm f/5.6 lens
  • Kodak Super XX 4×5 film  (hell yes!)
  • Sekonic Studio Deluxe incident light meter
  • Kodak No. 2 fiber paper (only paper allowed for grading)
  • Leica IIIF 35 mm camera with Summitar 5cm lens

Story and photographs copyright Larry McNeil 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Day in the Life of Photographer Larry McNeil, circa 1980’s

Back in the early 1980’s I was struggling to make a living as a photographer in Anchorage doing all kinds of photo jobs, and never really knew what was up next, and was delighted with nearly all of it as long as it didn’t involve driving a cab. As a freelancer, my gear was always at the ready and traveled frequently all over the state. Being a freelancer sounds kind of jet setting and exotic, but after a few years it really meant dealing with a grueling schedule and being on the road much of the year. You’d get no complaints from me, because it meant I was making a living as a photographer instead of cleaning fish or something (although survival jobs are good to hold you over too– my fist winter back in Alaska was spent driving a cab and was an “official by god” census taker for the 1980 Census).

Kootznoowoo, Inc. wanted portraits of their elders; sadly, many of whom have passed on by now. They called me at my Anchorage studio and asked if I’d be willing to travel to Angoon where their elders lived. I gave them a quote over the phone and asked about logistics, because I’d be traveling with four large cases of studio gear. They gave me a remarkable amount of freedom about how to shoot the project; I asked if black and white was okay, because I was envisioning a specific look with photographs that could last for decades. It meant spending a lot of time in the darkroom later, but that sounded good to me, I liked the Zen-like aspect of making prints. I ordered a new batch of the Agfa Portriga black and white paper that I preferred for this kind of work; it had a higher silver content and made rich, warm blacks.

Herbert Johnson, Man of the Bear Clan. This was how I imagined the look for this series and spent a lot of time setting up the lights and doing Polaroid tests prior to photographing the elders.

Herbert Johnson, Man of the Bear Clan. This was how I imagined the look for this series and spent a lot of time setting up the lights and doing Polaroid tests prior to photographing the elders. I used a medium format camera with Nikkor lenses, B&W film and my ever-trusty Sekonic light meter.

Upon arrival at Angoon via a small floatplane, a tall silver haired muscular man was waiting on the dock in the driving rain to greet me. As I stepped onto the dock, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the rain forest and instantly felt at home. He introduced himself as Herbert Johnson, who was easily a couple inches taller than me, and we both smiled upon noticing that we were dressed nearly identically with grey wool fisherman jackets and caps to keep the rain out of our eyes.

I also noticed that it was low tide, which meant that the ramp was at a steep angle and was a little worried about getting the large cases of gear up the ramp without dropping any of it. I wondered if my cases would float. It definitely looked like an overkill of gear, but as it turned out, everything was used. After years of doing work on the road, I was used to lugging around large heavy cases and joked that I no longer had a day rate, but now get paid by the pound. I felt more like a Sherpa than a photographer. Sometimes the person on the other end of the phone got silent when I described my payment until I laughed an gave them my real day rate, kind of like that old TV cowboy series where the hired gun had a business card that read “Have Gun Will Travel.” A Sherpa cowboy photographer.

Anyway, there I was in the pouring rain with all of my gear getting soaked, when Herbert quickly slung my heavy tripod case over his shoulder, picked up the largest case of lights with one arm and picked up the aluminum camera case with his free hand. He energetically walked up the steep ramp as if he were carrying nothing and was nearly half way up when I grabbed the other two cases and followed him up the ramp.

It took me all morning to set up a small studio and was lost in concentration with the nuances of the lighting. One of my contact people stepped in to ask when he could start sending in elders to be photographed right when I had my last lighting test finished. I looked out the door and there was a line of elders all dressed in beautiful regalia. They were quietly speaking in Tlingit to each other and making low-key jokes amongst themselves. I liked it that they were all very relaxed and ready to get down to the business of being photographed.

Their demeanor became serious when in front of my camera and I directed how I wanted them to be posed, because the lighting was set up in a very specific way so as to accentuate their facial features and regalia. Strangely enough, I also do my studio lighting to add shadows in very specific places too, so it’s kind of like “subtractive lighting” where both highlights and shadows are strategically and subtly placed. This was how the series looked.

Their demeanor became serious when in front of my camera and I directed how I wanted them to be posed, because the lighting was set up in a very specific way so as to accentuate their facial features and regalia. Strangely enough, I also do my studio lighting to add shadows in very specific places too, so it’s kind of like “subtractive lighting” where both highlights and shadows are strategically and subtly placed. This was how the series looked.

After a while, they were laughing, patiently waiting their turns, and the feeling became kind of festive. I smiled at the line of elders because it reminded me of kids being photographed for school portraits; only this was for honored elders. After a certain point, it became kind of a blur of photographic activity and all of a sudden, Herbert was next in line, dressed in full regalia. He had some dried halibut for me, which was nice and was gobbled down nearly instantly. I fine-tuned the lights for each person and by late afternoon was finished. After work like that you get a semi-dazed feeling because it was so much precise work done in such a small window of time.

Before you knew it, I was finished and was ready to break down the studio and jump on the plane again because there was another job two days away, and it took a day to do the prep work for the next job. If I was lucky, I’d be able to get at least one good night’s rest at home that week, but it was all good. Gunalchéesh Kootznoowoo! It was a true honor to do this work for you.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D/ Canon stuff for sale

I know, I know, in the big scheme of things this is kind of like debating which hammer is best. Well… if you build houses there is such a thing as a favorite hammer, one that stands out from the crowd.

I’ve got both the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D bodies and an array of professional lenses for both of them. These are both of their flagship professional bodies, meaning they’re intended for pro use for discerning users who don’t have the time to mess around with nonsense.

Us pros use this stuff as tools to pay the mortgage and the kid’s college tuition, so it can’t fail us and has to be high performance gear out in the field. We’re not doing this for a hobby or for fun, so we’re on the extreme end of making keenly judicious decisions about high performance camera gear.

At any rate, I’ve had the Canon 5D MKII since it was new, and it’s been in a climate controlled plastic box for nearly five years (there are newer versions of both the Canon and Nikon bodies). It’s all in mint, like new condition, including the pro “L” lenses. Why? Easy as pie, man. The Nikon D810 series blows the Canon gear back to last year. In this guy’s opinion, there is no contest, the Nikon gear beats the Canon at every turn. So guess which system is getting sold? Yes, the Canon gear.

Bye bye Canon. You’re good, but not as good as Nikon. I know that there are lots of Canon enthusiasts out there, and I don’t really want to debate with you, I’d much rather sell you this mint condition gear. Hey, if you like rugged Canon gear, buy this stuff. I’ll Fedex it to you overnight.

Canon 5D MKII body and pro lenses.

Canon 5D MKII body and pro lenses.

Here’s what’s for sale:

  1. Canon 5D MKII body, mint condition. Only used for a couple projects.
  2. Canon 17-40 f/4 Pro L lens with Canon filter. Mint condition, looks new
  3. Canon 28-135 f/3.5 Image Stabilization lens, Canon filter, mint condition.
  4. Canon 70-200 f/4 Pro L lens, B+W filter. Looks completely new, only used a couple times.
  5. Two Canon batteries for the 5D and charger.

Email me at for a price and shipping information.

High end pro bodies: We pros need a full sized sensor for high quality photographs. I have an easy performance test for pro DSLR bodies. They need to be as fast and reliable as pro film SLR bodies. It’s as simple as that. If I end up fussing with a DSLR camera body instead of shooting, that’s an obvious negative point in my book. While in the heat of shooting, my mind is at one with the camera and creativity is at the forefront of everything, and I’m not thinking about which camera function would be cool to play with. No kidding, this is how I work and the bottom line is that I don’t want to be distracted by a camera.

Pro lenses: A general rule of thumb is to try and get the best quality glass you can afford. This is why I have a preference for Nikkor lenses. Nikkor lenses are more ruggedly built than everyone else in conjunction with making extraordinarily high performance glass, which is a one-two punch that is nearly impossible to beat.

New innovations such as the vibration reduction built into some lenses work very well and they’ve proven themselves to be reliable. The theory of prime lenses (non-zoom) being the best designs still holds true, especially when you need high performance with something like a 20mm lens with minimal distortions. I’ll confess that the Nikkor 24-120 f/4 ED zoom lens is one of my all-time favorite lenses though. Nikkor used pro glass for some of the key lens elements and it’s fast and precise. If I could only use one lens, this would be the one because it’s so versatile and can deliver impeccably sharp photographs. The autofocus is fast and intuitive to use and you have a wide swath of choices as to how to use it. You know me, I go for speed and precision with no fussing around.

Anyway, this ongoing tussle between Nikon and Canon isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. In my opinion, they make each other better because one is always trying to outdo the other. In the end, I’m not really all that sure that one hammer is better than the other, especially if they both do a good job of banging in those nails. In the meantime, want to buy a Canon?


Copyright Larry McNeil, 2015 All Rights Reserved

Read more.. Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

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Read more.. Sunday, November 30th, 2014

The Art of the Digital Age, Sharing Photos!

Welcome to the “Fun with Smartphones Project.” Pull out your smartphone and share your photos!

It’s formal title is “Larry McNeil and the Art of the Digital Age. Through the use of a camera phone and social media sites like Facebook, art photographer Larry McNeil explores the art of everyday life as perceived by a contemporary indigenous person. Presenting hundreds of his own snapshots made around Washington, D.C., informed by his unique visual aesthetic, McNeil invites NMAI visitors—in person and virtually—to add their own commentary to his photographs and to upload their own snapshots to his Facebook page.”

National Museum of the American Indian calendar website.

I’d like to make this fun and interactive, because the emphasis is having us collectively figuring out what “The art of everyday life” means to you. I’ll be at the Smithsonian National Musuem of the American Indian on Saturday and Sunday October 25th & 26th if you want to show up and get feedback with your smartphone photos. We could play with different ways of making photos and just see what unfolds.

At various times I’ll likely ask you to photograph something thematic and share it on the site(s). I think that this will be fun and maybe even thought provoking, but we’ll see, because this will be a group effort.


On Facebook just look for “Larry McNeil” to participate. Here’s what my page will look like:


Link to Larry’s Facebook page:


On Instagram, look for “1_photographic” to participate. Here’s what the page will look like:


Link to Larry’s Instagram page:

When sharing photos on Instagram, please use the hashtag symbol #, followed by my username 1_photographic. It should look like this: #1_photographic.

If you find yourself in Washingtion DC, please take the time to stop by our exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and see the photography exhibition up titled, “Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson!”


Selfies are wildly popular on Facebook, so I decided to make one especially for this project. It’s me at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC, and even cooler, made with a Nokia Smartphone. How cool is that?

Please join us by sharing photographs. Thank you, and get those photos uploaded! All user agreements are between you and the companies, not McNeil or the Smithsonian NMAI. All McNeil is doing is organizing a place to share photographs on existing social networking sites. No legal agreements or any agreements are made with anyone with this project and no liabilities may be extended to any party. The legalese language is made between you and the user agreements at the social networking sites.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Friday, October 17th, 2014

National Museum of the American Indian New Calendar

Look at who is the 2015 NMAI calendar boy!


Larry with the new 2015 NMAI calendar. Photograph by T’naa McNeil

Earlier in the summer of 2014, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian had a fun contest for their members. They voted on which photograph was going to be placed on the cover of the 2015 calendar. The platinum photograph “Elders” won the votes.

Thank you everyone! Hey, bring it on by and I’ll sign it for you over a nice mug of coffee.

Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson exhibition website.


Photograph and story Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved

Read more.. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

The Slippery Magic of Photography, Nikon and Leica IIIF

Magic stuff
For me as a creative person, my imagination is still what separates me from everyone else. After that, it’s a way of seeing the world that maybe involves the stories that I want to tell. Maybe not, I’m still kind of trying to figure out the creative process, even after all these years. I think that’s what makes it fun, is that once you think you’ve got it all figured out, something new happens that makes you rethink everything. Reality checks are good.

If one could reduce some of this to it’s essence, I suspect that the creative process has to do with your own personality, the stories you’ve experienced, the things you’ve seen along the way, and maybe your own style of making images. Everyone’s brain is hardwired in a specific manner, and your photography is a visual manifestation of that, which is what I find to be very slippery, mysterious, and sometimes even kind of  magical. I just call this “the sometimes-magic of photography.”

The sacred sign of the aperture

The sacred sign of the aperture, from McNeil’s public art “Tonto’s Earthen House.”

Cameras (including cell phone versions)
I’m asked by a lot of people about cameras and advice about which ones to buy, which brands stand out from the crowd. Usually it’s a person who wants something that can get better results than the usual bland and generic look from a cell phone camera. Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion, the most convenient cameras being made are in cell phones, but they do have their limitations, especially when you want a photograph that involves your imagination.

This seems kind of like name-dropping, but what the heck, some brands are definitely better than others. I’m reminded that musicians have their favorite instruments, and some of them are likely quite pricey because they can do things that others can’t. It’s cool to play keyboards on an iPhone app, but I’ll bet you my best camera that artists don’t use the iPhone app for recording their best material. Same with photographers; the cell phone cameras are fun, but it’s not what we use for our real stuff. As for myself, I use a very powerful and easy to use Nikon D800 for everyday use. It’s lightning fast, has a large, beautiful image sensor and a cool array of professional lenses. It allows me to imagine a scene and make it a reality, something that cell phone cameras still lack; the ability to make a visual manifestation of what you imagine. Sorry, but that one is an epic fail, as my son would say.

McNeil learning Photography back in the day… 
When I was attending Brooks Institue back in the late 1970’s, it quickly became clear that the flagship Nikon F2 was the 35mm camera for us aspiring pros to be using. They were rugged, fast and had the best lenses, a killer combination that was hard to beat. I couldn’t afford one yet, but got one the next class session. I wanted to learn photography with a classic camera, so I got a 1953 Leica IIIF rangefinder camera with a Summitar 50mm F/2 lens specifically for the intro creative class at Brooks. To me it was like getting a 1953 Fender Stratocaster to learn the guitar. Hey, I wanted the classic mojo man, to learn how the photographers back in the day made their photographs.

Leica IIIF

Leica IIIF

The first thing you notice about the Leica rangefinders from the 1950’s are that they feel like  what cameras should feel like. Small, precise and made with the best craftsmanship of the times. Many of the gears were machined brass, not cheap stamped metal, and it had a heft to it that felt good and natural. It exuded a low-key authority and classiness, and the shutter was a quiet near silent click. It was a stealth camera. Ironically enough, what I liked best about it was that it forced you to slow down and take more time to compose your photographs. I used a different camera for speed, this little baby was for contemplative work where I took extra time to carefully compose the photographs.

Lets not kid ourselves, using a Leica was also like wearing a tailor made designer suit, not some off the rack thing from a department store. Does anyone really care about this when looking at photographs? Probably not, but the point was, I did.

This Leica IIIF was designed at the dawn of 35mm photography when cameras were set to evolve into something dramatically better, and I wanted to learn a critical part of what photography was about with this camera. It was a fun journey of exploration; one that hasn’t stopped yet, regardless of whatever gear you’re happening to be using.

As mentioned above, I’ve gone digital and love what the media can do these days. This photograph was made with a Nikon D800 DSLR with the beautiful 85mm Nikkor F/1.4 prime lens. This lens has a depth of field, or bokeh that is very appealing, because it renders the background to various degrees of softness, something that you can’t do with generic cell phone cameras by the way. Shot in my little makeshift studio with north light and fine coffee. Bottom’s up, buddies, and here’s to making more cool photographs.

Story and Photograph Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Naming New Work & Mighty Nikon Platinum Photograph

Platinum photographs look cool. Actually they can look a bit warm too, depending on the mood of photo goddesses and gods on that particular day. In reality, it’s such a temperamental process that even when you have the scientific aspects precisely correct, one can still get dramatically different looks that seem to defy logic. This drives some photographers completely mental, and many simply abandon it and move on to something easier, like quantum physics.

People who are willing to let go a bit, and go with the flow from what the photo goddesses send your way generally get good results. In other words, it’s critical to have a look or feel that you like and strive for making a visual manifestation of it, yet be open to the fluidity of what the process has to offer it’s practitioners. Be steadfast yet flexible, kind of like how you raise a teenager, and when everything seems beyond redemption, try again, don’t give up.

Larry McNeil in the darkroom

Larry McNeil taking a quick break in the darkroom while making platinum photographs for the “Indelible” exhibition. He was getting great results that day because he made a proper sacrifice at the shrine to the photo goddesses. With Chilkat blue gloves, no less.

Platinum photographs, or platinotypes are a 19th century photographic process where you mix up a liquid photographic emulsion that contains real platinum and other light sensitive compounds. You coat the paper with this emulsion, let it dry and then expose a negative with ultraviolet light onto the paper. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it’s quite complex, but in my opinion is worth the battle to make it work because you end up with a look that is so unique. Each photographer who uses this process starts to have their own visual aesthetic or tastes with how they want their prints to look.

Please go see the work for yourself at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian from now until January of 2015. Here is a link where you can see  all of the photographs in the exhibition, “Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson.”

"Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands" platinum photograph by Larry McNeil.

“Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands” platinum photograph by Larry McNeil.

I’m partial to sharp detail even when the look is a little soft because of how the emulsion interacts with the paper. The photographers who used soft focus lenses in the 19th century were practitioners of Pictorialism, where the platinum photographs were often “dreamy looking” where soft focus lenses ruled the day and it was a highly romanticized look. My photographs are anything but romanticized, but I like to think that they have a certain poetry to them, but with a hard edge, both visually and metaphorically.

This Nikon photograph was designed to be in both color and made into a platinum print. There are a multitude of variables with making the transition to a digital negative, but in my opinion, it's way easier to make the shift into digital negative form when the photograph itself originated from a digital photograph, as opposed to scanning actual film.

This is where “the rubber meets the road” as they say. If you can’t make a decent digital negative, maybe it’s time to walk the Earth until you get your mind right. It’s when you see whether the photo goddesses are partial to you. If you still get bad negatives, perhaps you ought to consider just using a cell phone camera or get on your knees to the photo gods and do some serious begging to get back in their good graces.


The moment of truth. If you’ve got an exceptional negative, you are now free to start getting abused in the darkroom. Sorry, I mean if you have a great tonal range and it’s sharp, you can sneak into the darkroom before any bad mojo catches up with you. Your platinum photograph is going to be the same size as the negative.


The Act of Naming New Work
Like any creative work, my photographs nearly always earn a title, and I view a title as another creative aspect of the work itself, sometimes offering a subtle layer of meaning. Naming new work is always a challenge, because we generally want something “short and sweet” as they say, without being too blunt or factual. It’s a fine line, because hopefully the title is also perhaps a little poetic and a natural reflection of the work itself without seeming to force anything.

Since this was a collaboratively made photograph with my son T’naa, it was only fair that we named it together. We bounced a lot of ideas around in my office, including why the photograph looks like this, and thought that maybe a title inspired by one of his Metal Bands would be good. Just by dumb luck, T’naa was taking a college writing class at the time and he explained that some classic writing verses have what’s called an “iambic pentameter.” For an example, Shakespeare used an iambic pentameter which consisted of five pairs of two syllables (or iambic feet). This means that there is a quantified rhythm to the English language.

Having established attitude, rhythm and meaning, we started writing down a list of words; some humorous, some a bit presumptuous, and some just plain way too serious for it's own good. I insisted on keeping "Raven" somewhere, because after all, he's the one walking around the scene.


Having established attitude, rhythm and meaning, we started writing down lists of words; some humorous, some a bit presumptuous, and some just plain way too serious for it’s own good. I insisted on keeping “Raven” somewhere, because after all, he’s the one walking around the scene. I still like a plain little notebook for brainstorming ideas and have stray notebooks around the studio.

Ready for what we came up with after all this? Drumroll please, and preferably from a Metal band: “Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands” 

We both liked it because the idea of a sunrise is about hope, a literal new day that we can make our own. The word “stroll” seemed perfect because it infers something leisurely and maybe even kind of carefree, like the idea of a relaxed walk through a park or garden. Much like the photograph itself, the words are juxtaposed with the last word “wastelands,” which is what helps add momentum to the idea that the photograph may be a bit satirical. When we tossed this title into the mix it made both of us laugh out loud, so we knew we nailed it.


Smithsonian Website Indelible
I hope you take the time to visit the Smithsonian’s Indelible website for the new platinum photography. Not only that, I hope you get the opportunity to see the exhibition in person, because there is a subtlety to the photographs that is difficult to reproduce on a web page. Each photograph has a very cool set of audio recordings to accompany the work.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian "Indelible" website.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian “Indelible” website.

“Raven is known among the Tlingit to have created the world. Of the deepest platinum black, he surveys wreckage strewn across a post-apocalyptic landscape, casting a shadow upon a smashed camera. Although the bleak setting suggests photography’s demise, Raven instead announces a new beginning for the medium. With Raven’s connection to the camera, McNeil asserts the power of the power of American Indians to create their own photographic representations of and for themselves.”


Audio files!

Audio files where McNeil talks about the photographs. Check them out!

The audio files were fun to make. Scroll down on each image page and listen to McNeil as he shares his wisdom about such topics as Raven’s Boneheads, or Baskets Before Time. Each platinum photograph has it’s own set of audio files. Get yourself a nice mug of coffee and a comfortable chair to listen up.


And Don’t forget about the Nikon that makes cool digital Negatives 

This high resolution Nikon D800 makes stunning digital negatives for platinum prints!

Nikon D800 DSLR & Nikkor lenses

This high resolution Nikon D800 makes extraordinary digital negatives for platinum prints. After comparing scanned film with photos shot directly from a digital camera, I’ve been finding that the digital negatives are very, very high quality. For whatever reason, the negatives are more forgiving for photos originating from a digital camera. I suspect it’s because you don’t have to make the transition from film grain to pixels, and the pixel to pixel transition is a very cool lateral shift where image quality is not compromised in the least.

The 36 megapixel sensor makes highly detailed photographs that can easily rival a large format scanned negative. Toss in some cool Nikkor lenses and you get great digital negatives. This Nikon is going to make my platinum printing faster without compromising image quality, which is what us photographers are constantly chasing around the planet. With ravens.

Now go check out the Indelible exhibition. Do a road trip, man.


Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.



Read more.. Friday, March 14th, 2014

"Tonto's Earthen House," Global climate change

Tonto’s Earthen House is a hip hangout. It’s new public art that is also a part of a fundraising auction back home in Tlingit country.

"Tonto's Earthen House," was made for a public art project in Boise and is around 12 feet wide.

Aldona Jonaitis Ph.D., the Director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North wrote a very brief description of “Tonto’s Earthen House” for a catalog produced as part of the Tináa fund raising auction for the Sealaska Heritage Institute:

Tlingit photographer Larry McNeil, well known for his compelling and often humorous and satirical collages, has become increasingly concerned by the global climate crisis that so few people today seem to be taking seriously, and fewer still endeavor to do something about.  His current series, “The Home Planet,” is addressed not so much to today’s audience, but more to people born after 2031. By that time, people will wonder why we were so careless with our environment.

According to this photograph, part of the explanation is our insatiable appetite for gasoline. This complex image first appeared in Boise as a 12 foot wide public art project and incorporates Tlingit imagery — the Chilkat weaving design juxtaposed on the “Chilkat blue” 1959 Cadillac and silver engraved bumpers — as well as the ambiguous pair of Tonto and the Lone Ranger (here inside a jail).  Since he’s an Indian, Larry is supposed to be spiritual, so his “sacred symbols” are the strip of film drawn onto the wall, and, next to it, the swirling, “cosmic” image of an aperture. The self-referential camera sits in the back of the car, ready to take more photos. Indicators of the climate crisis include that gas-guzzling car as well as the bicycle Larry used to drive to work before being destroyed by a 5000 pound SUV.  Sitting at the wheel of the gas-guzzling car is Larry himself, who wears a particulate mask woven from spruce root “because it’s a health hazard to pedal my bike in the thick carbon dioxide emitted from cars.”

Chilkat Blue

Killer whale silver engraved bumper.

Spruce root particulate mask.

Sacred signs.

Commuter bicycle.

I named my digital desktop "Larry's Place." It's where there is always good coffee and interesting conversation. Our son T'naa helped make some of the photographs like the bike that were a part of the storyline.

I was a bicycle commuter for five years prior to being hit by a monster SUV, which is why the bicycle is a crucial part of this and other works. This is a saddle bag with new inks for my big printer.

Raven coffee is a requisite for cool art! The mug was a gift from our good friend and Keet Gooshi Hít sister Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It's often said that technique informs style; many of the components were shot with a Nikon D800 camera and a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 "prime time" lens. Photo of Larry hard at work by his assistant T'naa Z. McNeil.

“Tontos’s Earthen House” was made as part of the Boise Traffic Box Public Art Project, and is installed across from the downtown theater.

Gunalshéesh, thank you everyone, including my home team whom helps make all this work possible: Debi McNeil, my wife, partner & studio manager, and T’naa McNeil, our son and most excellent photographer’s assistant.

Please help support the Sealaska Heritage Institute's Tináa Art Auction on February 1, 2014.

“Tonto’s Earthen House” will be amongst many other contemporary masterpieces of Northwest Coast art. The auction is designed to help raise funds for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Pixel Lounge Workshop

In reality, anyone who knows me realizes that the title “Pixel Lounge Workshop” is an inside joke, and you’d better be awake long before 5:00AM to keep up with this kid.

Today is day two of a 2 day digital art workshop that I’m leading as a guest of the Evergreen Longhouse Educational and Cultural Center at Evergreen College. We are using the very cool facilities of the Evergreen College Photography area, which resembles a low-key lounge, yet is very efficiently designed with state of the art digital gear. Thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, we are enjoying it very much.

Okay, tell me that this doesn't seem like a comfy lounge. The ambient light is just right for viewing the monitors so that you don't get eyestrain, and this is just the front part of the lab. To really make it feel like a pixel lounge we need some hip jazz to fill in the mood of working with cool images. Come on over, and bring a nice espresso and images to work on.

Gato Barbieri playing “El Parana.”

Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler, Oleo (Sonny Rollins)

Here’s to a great day of making new art!

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2013, All Rights Reserved. All musicians retain their own copyrights on Youtube.

Read more.. Saturday, November 9th, 2013