I think my first love in photography has always been classic black and white. The work of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Diane Arbus or WeeGee for that matter. Not that I don’t enjoy great color work also. Like Cindy Sherman, William Wegman, Irving Penn or Chuck Close.
I started out in black and white on an U.S. army base in Heidelburg Germany, way back in the sixth grade in a middle school where I had the opportunity to take a class in photography. There was no darkroom but we got to shoot and develop our own black and white film. Later in high school I had the chance to use the darkroom and develop black and white prints. What a magical experience that was. Funny thing was that in this small rural school in East Haddam, CT the darkroom was across the hall from the art room. The darkroom was housed in the shop class and taught by the shop teacher and not the art teacher.
Watching a print come to life in the darkroom is amazing but I recall never having a good grasp on exposed of the paper. Later in my college years I continued with black and white and bought myself an enlarge and darkroom supplies – chemicals, paper, trays etc. I was going to be the next Ansel Adams even if my darkroom was a closet or bathroom.
At one point I even had an old Graphic press camera that took 4×5 negatives. Next I was shooting Polaroid Type 55 film which provided a positive and negative and could be developed basically in daylight. I’d carry around this big heavy backpack with the massive camera and heavy wooden tripod because after all, that is what Ansel Adams had.
Fast forward to digital and I found myself excited to explore color photography. With modern digital cameras and printers the expense of creating color images was reduced to the point that there was no longer a need to choose black and white for easy or cost. In the old days quality color was dominated by slides and you would have to wait to finish a roll, send it off for processing and then wait and wait for the slides to come back.
Digital provides instant feedback and software based post processing of images provides a whole new level of control and well “power” to the artist. Being in complete control of color photography was an exciting experience for any photographer who was limited to black and white based on the expense and difficulty of processing color film at home.
Of course the love of tonal range and focus on subject matter is the real draw of black and white photography. Its not all just about cost and easy of processing. After exploring the color world for a number of digital era years now, I’m finding myself drawn back to black and white photography.
The drama one can create in the black and white world of shadows and highlights still intrigues me. Black and white photography focuses on the subject and the storytelling and can create deeper more meaningful work whereas in a color image the color itself might be the subject.
From my recent black and white I see myself drawn to deep dark shadows and silver white highlights gleaming off the chrome of a classic car or catching the glow of a beautiful patina on an antique sliver spoon or capturing the subtle mid-tones on wildflower.
From a collectors standpoint black and white has a number of benefits. There is just something about black and white photography that comes across as modern, straight forward and perhaps honest. You see it all the time in TV dramas when they want to show a home of a character that says modern, urban, intelligent.
And when it comes to display, black and white photography looks great as a collection. One can arrange a wall display of black and white photography from different artists or different subjects and it will look cohesive because of the common palette.
I think that 2015 will see a lot more black and white work from me.
Ansel Adams was one of the greatest photographers, his work and development of the ZONE system shaped photography as we know it today.