A snail's life
A Boston photographer returns again and again to a snail-paced project that delights in disorder
Daniel Ranalli is an extremely patient man — at least when it comes to one of his photography projects.
Double Line #2, 2007/2009 | (Daniel Ranalli)
For more than two decades, the artist has traveled to beaches both near his Boston home and farther away (most recently, Nova Scotia) to create images for his perennial project, the "Snail Drawings Series."
"The impulse to make (the images) comes and goes, but never disappears entirely," Ranalli says. "Because I teach [at Boston University], I have a block of time in the summer to work, and at times there have been other projects that kept me busy and too engaged to work on the snail series. But most years, I will do a few pieces just to keep the fluency with the project alive."
Using low-tide, silky sand as his backdrop, he arranges snails into a pattern and then simply lets them roam free. The resulting diptych photographs capture the neat before and the delightfully chaotic after of art influenced by a living medium.
Circle #11, 2005 | (Daniel Ranalli)
X #2, 2008 | (Daniel Ranalli)
That decision to let go — and, in this case, allow a creature as humble as the snail to influence his work — is one Ranalli says has followed him through most of his career.
"It is the relinquishing of control that I like best about this series," he says. "I have a fascination with found marks as abstraction…in each case, there is much that I cannot, or do not wish, to control."
The snail series, then, is the perfect artistic representation of the unexpected forces that can beautifully disrupt life's plans, giving shape to a new future. Not that Ranalli creates the series from an entirely metaphorical, serious place.
"I like the humor," he says. "When I watch people in a gallery or museum as they encounter the work, there is first a confusion — 'What are those things? Little stones?' — and then they see the titles, and a beautiful smiles breaks across their face. And mine, too."
Spiral Start #9, 1995/2009 | (Daniel Ranalli)
Line #6, 2002 | (Daniel Ranalli)
Chaos #2, 2004 | (Daniel Ranalli)
And while you might expect the snails' journeys to be painstakingly slow, Ranalli says he often faces the opposite problem.
"Once I place them, the action is more rapid than most people think," he says. "With bigger pieces, some of them start off before I am ready! Most [of the diptychs] are completed within a half-hour."
In his years working with the little snails, the photographer says he's figured out some tricks that make his shoots go more smoothly. The snails tend to move best on an outgoing tide, and they like to head for the sea. If Ranalli needs fast movers for his images, he looks for snails that have already left long trails through the sand toward their hiding places.
Ranalli has made one unsettling observation over the course of the series, though: Finding the snails seems to be getting harder and harder.
"They used to be very abundant," he says. "Now, I actually have to search for them."
Rock Vein #1, 2013 | (Daniel Ranalli)
Rock With Eight Snails, 2013 | (Daniel Ranalli)
**To see more of Daniel Ranalli's work, visit his website**