Seeing In Black & White

Some photographers claim that they can see in black and while, but is there any truth to this?  Leica M9, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.
Some photographers claim that they can see in black & white, but is there any truth to this? Leica M9, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.

Let me start this post by saying that I love black & white photography.  Not that I have mastered this medium by any stretch of the imagination, but rather that I have come to realize that there are some scenes out there that come to life when shot on black & white.  In some strange way, the removal of color artifacts (or should I say, the substitution of these artifacts by different shades of grey) from the photograph kind of diminishes the judgmental interpretation of the photograph.  No longer can someone point out that the red shirt was not that red in the real world, or that blues look over-saturated.   When black & white photographs are involved, the observer tends to go through some sort of a mental shift as if being handed a different list of criteria by which to interpret the photograph.  Without ever having heard of Ansel Adam’s Zone System, these observers begin to interpret the photographs in terms of those grey variations that lie somewhere in between absolute white and absolute black.  What’s more, when black & white photography is involved, the whole notion of photographic composition seems to experience somewhat of a liberation to be analyzed without the distracting effect of color getting in the way.

But to what extent is the resulting photo the product of the photographer’s ability to “see” the scene in black & white prior to capturing it with his or her camera?  Is there such a thing as “seeing” in black & white when it comes to photography, or is it all the product of post-capture manipulation with today’s advanced software applications?  Frankly, I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I do venture to say that for most folks out there (and this includes your humble blogger here), playing with the software during post is where the action is.  We try this or that like a New York fashionista until voilà, we know it when we see it.  Having said that, I have no doubt that some talented photographers out there do have this ability uncanny ability to see in black & white.  At the very least, in they are able to see in grey variations, à la Ansel Adams.  For some, this gift will come natural; for others, no doubt the result of many years of photographic observation and practice.  Whatever the case, I am just glad that black & white photography is alive and well and that companies like Leica pay it tribute with the introduction of  such wonderful products as the Leica M Monochrome.  We can only hope that other companies follow in their footsteps.

Are Photographs Editorials?

Sometimes, the wait for something to happen can be a long one.  Leica M9, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
Every photograph makes a statement of some sort. Leica M9, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether photographers, when selecting what to photograph, are engaging in editorializing.  You know, like traditional writers who consciously choose what they want to write about.  After all, unless you are under contract to photograph a specific subject, there is a lot of personal choice involved in the process of selecting what to point your lens at.  And while I must agree that photographer do indeed attempt to convey a message through their photographs, it would seem to me that as a general proposition, photographic intent is never as easily defined as written intent.  The absence of words on a photograph do appear to shift the photo’s interpretation to the viewer, thus granting the photographer a sort of artistic alibi to declare his or her innocence when it comes to the issue of intent.  However, it would appear that the more a photographer manipulates the image before publication, the larger the risk of that photographer loosing the so-called artistic, non-editorial alibi.  Perhaps that is where the line of editorial demarcation lies for photographers: on the degree of manipulation.  Do more, say more.  Do less, leave more for the viewer to interpret.  Whatever the case, there’s no denying that every photograph makes a statement of some sort.  But an editorial?  I guess I’m going to have to leave that up to you to decide.

PhotoWeek DC Has Started

With the digital generation, photography has been secularized to the point that even some major national publications are using amateur snapshots for their covers. Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G.

I love PhotoWeek DC.  Maybe I should restate that: I love everything PhotoWeek DC stands for.  Since 2008 some very hard-working group of folks have labored intensely to bring us this celebration of all things photography, with tens of exhibits around town and lectures galore by talented photographers that are pushing the boundaries of their creative and business talents.  All of us living in the DC metropolitan area who spend endless hours behind our cameras should feel very fortunate to have such a festival right here in our back yard, and we do.  Nevertheless, recent developments in the world of photography have made me wonder whether there are some aspects of photography that are not receiving their fare share of time at these gatherings.  Put another way, I’m beginning to wonder whether the world of large prints, large cameras, and traditional portfolio review sessions continues to be emphasized in photo festivals as a defense mechanism against the emerging world of stock photo agencies, Tweeter, Instagram, and digital publications.

There is no doubt that today everyone seems to be a photographer.  And without getting into the never-ending professional vs. amateur argument (which by the way is a fruitless discussion, as a good photograph is a good photograph no matter who takes it), it appears that some leading national magazines out there are pulling the rug from under the professional photographers’ feet by growingly getting their photos from everything from stock photo agencies to Instagram.  Case in point: the recent (and controversial) Instagram cover photo on Time Magazine.  Now, I don’t know that this is the future or anything like that, but judging from the vitriolic complaints about Time Magazine’s moves coming from professional photojournalists, this must be a really sensitive subject, to say the least.  An amateur with an iPhone or one of those point-and-shoot cameras getting published on the cover of Time Magazine?  Heresy.  Unconscionable.  The death of quality photography.  You name it; it’s been said.  And yet, photography continues to be all about “being there.”   That is, about capturing a moment that has some sort of meaning to those looking at the photograph.  What you use to capture this moment really doesn’t matter at the end.  The videos and photos of Muammar Gaddafi during his last minutes on earth are no less valuable (or powerfull) as historical documents as a result of being recorded on a cell phone.  In fact, it could be argued that as photography becomes more secularized, as evidenced by the widespread use of simpler and easily-transportable recording devices, the world of photography will be transformed in new and incredible creative ways.  Chase Jarvis, the incredibly talented photographer, alludes to this new world of possibilities on a constant basis.  Even though he sits at the top of his professional photographic career, he continues to preach the mantra that the best camera is the one that is with you when that great photo opportunity shows up.  In fact, Chase celebrates all that is new and innovative in the creative arts, and that probably explains a lot of his success and his large number of followers.  The photo industry (and yes, some photo shows and festivals) have yet to catch up to Chase and the legions of amateurs and Instagramers who roam the world and who by virtue of simply “being there” are the ones capturing great footage of events while they are happening.  At the end of the day my friend, and as it has been from time immemorial, getting that picture is all that matters.