Monthly Archives: March 2012

Appreciating Black and White

My early experiences in photography were purely in color.  I don’t think I understood the point of black and white photography for quite some time (presumably due to a lack of exposure to it).

I was a Freshman at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1975.  This was the year that the Center for Creative Photography, founded by Ansel Adams and the University, was established.  I was vaguely aware that the new Center was being constructed in a former bank building on Fourth Street near campus.  Although I knew very little about it, I thought it sounded interesting, and I did go there once it opened its doors.

Regretfully (and embarrassingly) I went in, took a fairly quick look around, and then walked out.  I didn’t have the background to appreciate what must have been on those walls.   I remember that the prints were fairly large, and that many were black and white, but they really didn’t catch my attention.  I’m now saddened to think about the opportunities I may have missed.

I first began to become really aware of black and white photography about nine years later, as a result of the all the news coverage following Ansel Adams’ death in the spring of 1984.  Although I knew who he was through his TV commercial for Datsun and his environmental activism, I didn’t know much about his photography.  After his death, I remember being moved by his black and white images, shown in newspapers and magazines and on television.

The following year for Christmas my parents gave me his Autobiography, and I was hooked on black and white photography.  The first chance I had to see his prints in person was when my wife and I took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego to see an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Art in Balboa Park.  I have since seen countless exhibits of black and white photographs (of Ansel’s and many others).

Although I enjoy looking at color photography, for my own creative photography I exclusively work in black and white.  From my own experience, I have come to the conclusion that black and white photography may be an acquired taste.

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Roots in the Landscape

People sometimes ask how I got interested in landscape photography.  I think the answer lies first in my interest in the landscape.

When I was growing up, family outings and vacations usually involved lots of time in out-of-the-way places. My parents were “rock hounds”, and my grandfather, H.H. Nininger, was a pioneer in the study of meteorites.  We would spend days (or weeks) in remote areas, camping and exploring. As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of patience for actually looking for rocks, but I really loved the requisite traveling, camping and being outdoors.  I always enjoyed looking at and being in the landscape. I clearly remember struggling to stay awake on long car rides so as not to miss anything interesting along the way (which I still do today).

Like many photographers, I developed an interest in photography at an early age, although it was initially fairly casual and secondary to the experience of actually being in the landscape.  I have vague memories of having an old Kodak Brownie camera when I was very young, and clear memories of receiving a Kodak Instamatic camera for my 12th birthday.  These piqued my interest in photography, and I eventually got a hand-me-down Argus “Brick” camera from my mother, and finally my own 35mm SLR.

Initially, as with most photographers, my photos were primarily records of places and things.  Photography was a way to enjoy and remember the experience of being someplace.  While the technical aspects of photography came to me easily, and I think strong compositions were fairly natural for me, photography really didn’t get much deeper than that for me until I was in my 20s.

Throughout my formative years, I think I was most interested in the landscape itself, with photography being a strong, but secondary, interest.

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