Tag Archives: Black and White

Black + White Magazine (UK) – American Connection

 

 

I’m very honored to have been profiled in Susan Burnstine’s column, American Connection, in the April 2016 issue of Black + White Photography Magazine (UK).  Black + White Photography is a high-quality international magazine published in the UK, focused, as it name implies, exclusively on black and white photography. It is available in the United States at Barnes and Noble, international magazine stands, and online.

I met Susan Burnstine last Fall at the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego. Susan’s own black and white photography is hauntingly beautiful, and created with hand-crafted film cameras and lenses made out of “plastic, vintage camera parts, and random household objects, with single-element lenses molded from plastic and rubber.” While quite different from my own work, I find it beautiful and intriguing, and presumably she saw something in my work interesting enough to write about as well.

The article can be seen here: Black + White Magazine – American Connection

(Courtesy of Black + White Photography Magazine (UK), April Issue, #188)

 

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Still Seeing Straight

I recently read Group f.64: Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and the Community of Artists Who Revolutionized American Photography by Mary Street Alinder. It’s an excellent book, detailing the development, personalities, and some of the lesser-known aspects of the well-known photography “movement” known as Group f.64.

More a loose association of like-minded friends than a formal organization, Group f.64 came together in the Bay Area in 1932. It was named (primarily symbolically) for a very small lens aperture that provides great depth of field in a photograph (the areas in sharp focus). The members of Group f.64 shared a conviction that photography should capitalize on and celebrate the medium’s inherent strengths of sharp focus and detail, as manifested through finely crafted prints. This was in opposition to pictorialism, in vogue at the time, which emphasized soft-focus and unabashedly manipulated images, usually presented on heavily textured papers. Pictorialism attempted to use photography to mimic or reference other art forms, while the straight photography of Group f.64 celebrated the medium’s own unique strengths.

While the members shared these basic tenets, they were far from a homogenous group. Differing opinions about photography’s social relevance and responsibility developed as time (and the Depression) wore on. Some (such as Willard Van Dyke and Dorothea Lange) felt photographers had a duty to expose society’s ills to the world, while others (such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston) believed their primary duty was to creativity and self-expression.

Although the group itself was fluid and fairly short-lived – its last exhibition was in 1939 – its influence lives on. Referred to as straight photography, pure photography, or West Coast photography, the style still has many admirers, advocates, and practitioners. It also continues to have its detractors and those who question its relevance.

I’m a great admirer of this aesthetic, and it has undoubtedly influenced the way I photograph. Although I now embrace modern digital technology in image capture and printing, my ultimate goal remains the same: to capture and print expressive images based on reality and the innate characteristics of photography.

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BLACK AND WHITE at PhotoPlace

I’m happy to announce that one of my images, Oceano #13, has been selected for the juried BLACK AND WHITE exhibition at PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont.  Selections were made by Karen E. Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

 

The exhibition opens March 28, 2014 and runs through April 25, 2013.  PhotoPlace Gallery is located at 3 Park Street in Middlebury, Vermont.  There is an artist’s reception April 4 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

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Using Photoshop with Restraint

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” That’s an old saying, but it’s extremely relevant to manipulating digital images with Photoshop in today’s “digital darkrooms”.

Photoshop has become such a powerful and complex program that I doubt that anyone truly knows all its tricks. I would estimate, on the high end, that I might use 5% of its total capabilities.

Photoshop’s power can truly be a siren song, and it undoubtedly has played a major role in ruining many a good image (and many more bad ones). It’s human nature to want more saturation, more contrast, more clarity, more sharpness, and on and on.  It’s also now possible to make all these adjustments in truly complex and convoluted ways, all the way down to making changes on a pixel by pixel basis.

In my experience (in Photoshop and elsewhere in life), the more complicated things become, the more chances there are to screw them up. If I’m having trouble printing an image, the first thing I do is turn off all the adjustments I’ve done and go back to square one. Often, by simplifying things considerably, I end up where I really wanted to be in the first place.

I spent many years printing in a traditional darkroom, and follow the same basic approach when I print digitally. While the tools are different, the primary goal in black and white printing remains the same: taking the tonalities that existed in the original scene and translating them into the desired values by the use of filtering, global and local contrast control, and dodging and burning (lightening and darkening certain areas of a print). A quote from Ansel Adams, as relayed by John Sexton, applies nicely: “dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made when establishing tonal relationships.”

As in a traditional darkroom, it seems best to build up to a final print gradually. A final print shouldn’t be produced in one step. Print it, evaluate it, think about it – the process takes time.  Come back to it additional times and start over if necessary. It’s an evolutionary process. As in the darkroom, once you go too far, it is often hard to go backwards to what might be a more subtle, more delicate, and more appropriate print.

My aim is to present a final image that shows no sign that it has been manipulated in any way. Although each image has been carefully processed and printed, and may have many layers of adjustments, my goal is to make those adjustments invisible.  I try very hard not to let Photoshop get in my way.

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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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Shades of Gray

Black and white digital printing has come a long way over the last decade or so.  In ancient times (in digital terms) – say the year 2000 – color inks were used, and they were notoriously bad at producing black and white prints.  The prints often had an unpleasant tint, were subject to color shifting or fading, had less-than-satisfactory detail, and suffered from “metamerism” – appearing differently under different lighting conditions.

To combat these issues, dedicated black and white software and inks were developed, most notably by Jon Cone at Cone Editions in Vermont.  The early inks were prone to clogging, but when they worked properly, the results were impressive.

Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find a host of off-the-shelf solutions: for example, the “Advanced Black and White” mode offered in some Epson printers, and a variety of dedicated black and white ink sets.

What do I currently use?  I print with a modified version of the hex-tone process developed by my friend Tom Mallonee at Owens Valley Imaging. Hex-tone uses six custom-blended carbon-pigment inks (black plus five shades of gray) to create exceptional digital black and white prints.  Using six black / gray inks provides smooth tonal gradations, and results in what is essentially a continuous tone print, even though it is produced digitally.  The printer is controlled by special software called a Raster Image Processor (RIP).  I use Quad Tone RIP developed by Roy Harrington (which despite its name can be used to control more than four inks).

Ink Colors Used in Digital Black and White Printing

I’ve replaced the eight original inks in my Epson printer with carbon-pigment inks: black, plus seven different shades and tones of gray.  Using Quad Tone RIP, I’ve created two separate hex-tone profiles which control how the inks are put down on paper – one slightly warm and one slightly cool in tone.  The warm and cool profiles can then be blended to further fine-tune each print.  The result is exceptional control and beautiful prints.

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