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Capturing life with the right frame of mind

Art + Design professor Neal Rantoul, head of the photography program in the College of Arts, Media and Design at Northeastern University, spends his Saturday mornings snapping photos in Cambridge, Mass., a perfect setting, he says, “to take wonderful pictures.”

“I don’t believe pictures must be made from glorious subjects,” says Rantoul, whose camera of choice is a Nikon D3X. “You can make a good picture almost anywhere if your frame of mind is right.”

Rantoul, who earned an MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973, began teaching at Northeastern in 1981. His 30-year teaching career, which will come to a close at the end of the year, is the subject of the new exhibit in Gallery 360 called “Neal Rantoul: 30 Years.”

The exhibit — which will run through Dec. 5, with a gallery discussion on Nov. 3 at noon — is broken up into three distinct sections that contain a total of more than four-dozen photographs taken over the last three decades.

One section includes several color photographs of wheat fields in southeastern Washington state. An all black-and-white series features photographs of cabins and graves framed by overhanging trees. A third section includes a score of photographs of abnormal or deformed animals and humans, such as conjoined twins.

Senior studio arts major Alyza Wenning, who took an advanced photography course with Rantoul, was particularly drawn to the images of animal and human specimens, which sculptor David Raymond has said, “insist upon deliberation . . . that seeks to find the intersection of provocation and valuing.”

As Wenning puts it, “They are ironically scientific.”

Rantoul, who has showcased his work in nearly 60 exhibitions throughout the United States and in Italy, England, Germany and Switzerland, is a self-described perfectionist. “I always feel that I could have made a better print, or framed a photograph better or gotten better lighting,” he says.

His students, who he encourages to become “trained observers of their environment,” will be missed. “They keep me young and in touch with their generation,” Rantoul explains. “We are able to challenge each other and create an amazing, rich energy.”

His words of wisdom to aspiring photographers reached one student, who penned an uplifting message to Rantoul in a Moleskine notebook in which visitors commented on the exhibit: “Your work will be seen and admired for many years to come.”

Photography by Christopher Huang.