Neal Rantoul

For a more recent CV or bio please visit the artist's website,

Neal Rantoul is a career artist and educator. He retired from 30 years as head of the Photo Program at Northeastern University in Boston in 2012. He taught at Harvard University for thirteen years as well. He now devotes his efforts full time to making new work and bringing earlier work to a national and international audience with over 60 one-person exhibitions over the length of his career.

Rantoul’s work is extensively collected and is included in numerous permanent collections such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA, the Kunsthaus in Zurich, the Biblioteque’ Nationale in Paris, the Peabody Essex Museum, the High Museum, the Fogg Museum, the Princeton University Museum, the RI School of Design Museum of Art, Harvard University Museum of Art, the Center for Creative Photography in the Boston Athenaeum, among others.

He is the recipient of many awards, grants and residencies including a Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation grant, Light Work, Hambidge Center for the Arts, the Baer Art Center in Iceland and Visiting Artist at ICP’s Lake Como Workshop in Italy, among others.

Mr. Rantoul served as an active board member of the Photographic Resource Center for six years and was on the Board of Corporators of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA serving on the Exhibition Committee, among others for many years. He served as a founding member of the non-profit service organization and consultancy called Photo Legacy Strategies, a group formed to help photographers with archiving their work and with other legacy issues. He also reviews portfolios each year for the New England Portfolio Reviews (NEPR) held in Boston.

Mr. Rantoul lives in Belmont, MA and has a daughter and a grand daughter.


BirthplaceStamford, CT
CitizenshipUnited States
Cultural HeritageEuropean-American
Light Work RelationshipArtist-in-Residence, 2001
Light Work PublicationsContact Sheet 117




Over the past several years the subjects that Neal Rantoul has chosen to photograph couldn't be more prosaic. Wheatfields, cemeteries, suburban housing developments, decaying institutional buildings, rural homes, and barnyards are a few of the ordinary places where Rantoul looks to find meaning. Through a deliberate practice of framing, sequencing, and exploiting the unique optical rendering of the picture-making process, Rantoul creates an interest and urgency in vistas and structures that most of us would pass by without as much as a second glance. Within the space of visual cast-offs and cliches Rantoul finds a rhythm of form, shadow, and light and then often nudges those formal qualities slightly off center with subtle shifts in his point of view that allow foregrounds to become impossibly large or buildings to appear on the verge of near collapse. These aren't grand distortions of the fun house mirror type but subtle shifts that seem to have the ability to provide his very static subjects with an emotional presence. Because the framing of his pictures is slightly off, a sense of unease is transferred to his subjects, and we respond as if his subjects were infirm friends who needed some help crossing the street.

In addition to slightly off center framing Rantoul makes other choices, as he says, 'to make the truly special out of what, after all is fundamentally mundane.' He rarely includes people in his photographs but the history, artifacts, politics, and daily activities of individuals, communities, and societies are as constant in his pictures as their physical presence is consistently absent. By removing specific personalities from his pictures we are left to fill the void with our own imagining of who currently is, or who so long forgotten did, populate the places he visits, photographs, and makes permanent. Sometimes the history of a place has a personal meaning for Rantoul. In the series Sockanossett Facility for Boys, Cranston Rhode Island, 2002, Rantoul adds to the pictures a mournful text contemplating the passing of the seasons and the troubled souls who inhabited the run-down buildings of the former home for wayward boys. On the trip to make these pictures Rantoul was visiting his mother in a nursing home and she died just a few days later. The text that he chose to accompany this series serves as an epitaph for the boys' facility and a marker for the passing of his mother at the age of eighty-four.

Including text with his images is a rare departure for Rantoul. For the most part the success of his images rely on the formal qualities of composition and form and further reveal themselves through a careful and considered process of grouping and sequencing. While the pictures from the series Sockanossett Facility for Boys have an emotional pull that is quite personal, the series Near Hershey, Pennsylvania is more typical of the way Rantoul works. In this series Rantoul reveals a small area fully explored for its visual nuances, classic forms, and powerful quality of light. Rantoul is as interested in the spaces between things as with the things themselves. His interest in looking at things photographically as opposed to simply rendering a scene with a camera develops its own visual language complete with syntax and punctuation. As our eyes move around his pictures objects like an unfurled hose or the arc of a dirt path lead us outside of the frame and like the page-turning process of reading a story they lead us to the next image which feels familiar yet not quite the same as the picture we just left.

Rantoul takes great care in crafting each image, and during his residency at Light Work he concentrated on producing large scale digital prints on watercolor paper that are as luminous and seductive as any carefully crafted conventional print. His printing style borrows from the tradition of Ansel Adams while his choice of subject matter explores elements of the mundane that is a staple of the work of Robert Adams. But Rantoul has made both the quality of his prints and his choice of subject matter his own by rendering them as places that he photographs instead of photographs of places.

Jeffrey Hoone 2002

Neal Rantoul lives in Cambridge, MA, and participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program from September 17 to October 19, 2001.