Median Perspective

Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 14, 2012 12:48AM

Mama please take my monochrome away.

Rate: 17 Flag
Today was typically monochromatic for this time of year, the winter kind of day that we’ve been blessedly spared for most of this winter season. Coming off four days of semi-debilitating (that is, annoying more than anything else) back pain, despite the black-and-white and shades of gray coloring our world, it was nice to get outside, even nice to point the camera at something besides sunsets, sunrises, dogs, cats--the usual winter things you look for when the world seems otherwise without color.

I haven’t thought in black-and-white, really, in a lot of years, not since Tri-X Pan days, when I worked for a while as a sports photographer for a local newspaper, then as a photojournalist in the army. Once I left school and the army, I never did black-and-white again.

As a photographer I am more photojournalist (or photographic journal-writer) than artist, more interested in the “content” of an image than the image itself. That is not to say that photojournalists cannot produce art, or that photographic artists never produce excellent photojournalism. It really is a difference of approach, how you go about looking at potential “subjects” and even at that tool you carry in your hands and (when you’re lucky) begins to feel like a part of you, an extension not only of your eyes, but of your mind and heart, as well.

This means I take a LOT of pictures, some of them good, most of them ho-hum, some of them godawful. This also means that I have little time for “post processing” and other digital-darkroom manipulation of the images I “capture.” For the most part, that is not a bad thing, I think. My camera does a pretty good job at exposure and all that other stuff all on its own--while I COULD manipulate the image later, there is no real reason, most times, given that it is not the “image” I’m after, but rather more in the life captured IN the image, if any.

Which brings me back to monochromatic today, sort of.

Two of the dogs--Cecil and Nina--having charged off toward the back 40 or down to the river, the other one, Xena, lying comfortably in the snow, and the cats all inside, there wasn’t much at which to point the camera besides the black-and-white landscape, especially since, given the aforementioned back problem, I wasn’t able to get down and crawl around on the ground, etc.

And I began to see in black-and-white again.

It truly is a different way of looking at things. First, you look at shapes and patterns and lines, stuff defined not by color, but by, well, their shapes and patterns and lines. Then you look at contrast--you want black blacks, white whites, and as many of Ansel Adams’s “zones” in between as you can manage. The chisel-plowed field to the north, the chisel-plowed then anhydrous-drilled field to the east, along with trees in both directions, multi-shaded gray sky, all offered opportunity.

I looked and shot and shot and looked until my fingers were nearing frostbite (can’t manipulate a camera with gloves on, and it WAS cold), then came inside, plugged the SD card into the computer, inspected what I had.

“Muddy.” That’s a word we used to use to describe B&W photos that lacked those black blacks and white whites, but were instead only varying shades of gray. In “real” darkrooms back in the day, we could use “burning” and “dodging” and other tricks I’ve forgotten after my 30-something-year separation from trays of developer and rinse and fixer, smells of chemicals and thick black felt hung over doors, working under reddish light, watching images appear slowly, then leap into view on the sheet of paper you’re swishing slowly and methodically in each tray successively.

“Digital darkrooms” aren’t nearly as much fun, but they’re functional, and I admit I was even satisfied with most results. To be able to transform the image I saw on the computer monitor into something more closely resembling what I had seen through my own eyes . . . “Cool” only begins to describe it. And while the final product may be “boring,” I’m happy with it--especially because it reproduced what I remembered.

Trips down memory lane, back into a black-and-white world, can be fun, frozen fingers and all.

That said, I’m sticking with color and with my non-post-processing world. Call me lazy, call me a non-artist. It’s entertaining to visit sometimes, but the black-and-white world is no longer as comfortable for me as it was when I was 18 or 20 or 22. Figure that one out.

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Comfortable or not, that is a really cool photo. I love it.
Beautiful photo and your essay gave me all kinds of memories of just how bad i was at developing pictures. But i loved Tri-X when it was exposed correctly. Art indeed. Thanks for this. RRRRRR
looks like zebra stripes, and cold, and intelligence too.
Lovely photo and lovely essay.

I agree with Amy: I learned to shoot Tri-X, and it was definitely an art. With a digital camera, even a really really good one, I have too many ways to fudge.
Rated for the photo alone, but there's a lot more.
Oh how I miss those "monochromic" days driving in Iowa and other areas of the Midwest where I used to live. As bleak as so many people think this is, there is its own form of beauty. Perhaps it's knowing that in just a few short months this land will be gorgeous in its multi-shades of green and alive in the sounds of insects and birds.
Such a stunning photo...from this mountain-y world, a nice change of view.
I've driven all over the country, lived in many areas -- I never tire of all the various geographic themes, how the regions' people so often evoke the architecture of the land...
Ansel dug his red filter when dialing up the contrast — black & whites can be colorful.
I love B/W. I, too, am not fond of post-processing. I do not aspire to any real sort of photojournalism, but recognize the different requirements with the same tools. I prefer color for most anything, but there are times and moments when B/W really brings out the contrasts, the form and structure of the imagery being captured.

I was just starting to get back in touch with my B/W youth with my latest digital Point and Shoot, but it failed on me. My newer, "better" upgrade for my warranty service was a lesser camera in function, even though it had more Mega-pixels.

I have also discovered that post-processing digital efforts are beyond my patience level for the most part. Not my skills, just my patience and tolerance to sublimate my time and effort on it.

Then again, my overall point of view has been, if I didn't catch it in camera, then I didn't catch it at al. I recognize this may be seen as photographic snobbery, but, in truth, it was born of being extremely poor and being barely able to afford my film most of the time. I became what I called a "stingy" photographer. This meant I didn't snap photo after photo, I just couldn't afford to. I had to make each photograph count as well as I might.

In today's digital camera world, I am almost in heaven (I'm currently in digital photographic purgatory or limbo) because I can snap away with abandon and experiment with light, settings and angles without having to pay for film processing.

I can't shoot in B/W, though. Shooting in color and digitally processing them into B/W means I have to shoot in color while thinking B/W and that's godawful hard to do without the feedback. Granted, back in the analog film camera days, that's exactly what I had to do. Somehow, it seems that the digital conversions from color to B/W seem to lose their effective impact.

Anyway, just talking shop with someone who obviously can understand.

That's a great photo. Loved the look. Nothing to recommend on cold fingers -- when it gets really cold out here (which is rare) I have the same problem.

It's a wonderful photograph. I loved black and white in my 20's. I need more color in my photography now too. ~r
Great! Love the b&w landscape image. As a digital photographer (, I appreciate your essay. I spend hours in my digital darkroom as I shoot every day. I actually have epicondylitis, also known as Tennis Elbow from mouse work on images. Rated with RRR
Thanks, everybody, for the EP, ratings, and most of all, the comments! I'm sure y'all know that "writing in a vacuum" feeling you get sometimes when it seems like no one is hearing you at all.

Walter, I've been looking for signs of spring since about Thanksgiving, not that I'm in a hurry for it or anything. Maybe it's the anticipation of spring that pulls us through winter, or maybe it's just that we resign ourselves somehow to appreciating winter as best we can because we know and accept (like we have a choice) what a long haul winter can be.

JustThinking, you reminded me of a writing teacher I once had (not in the biblical sense) who instilled in us an awareness of the importance of "place" to a writer--and, simply because she came from a place very far away from most of us, an appreciation of the value/importance of other people's "places." Or something like that. Long story, but she was a great teacher (whatever my own shortcomings as a learner might have been).

Dunniteowl, I think it would be cool to sit down over a beer or coffee for a while and talk shop. Sounds like we come from pretty much the same place, no matter how far apart our respective places may be. Digital isn't really photographic purgatory or limbo--it's just different from film. The "objective" is the same.

Same goes for you, Robin--maybe some of your "darkroom diligence" would rub off on me!

Thanks again to everybody!
Love the photo and the essay, it definitely brought back my own darkroom memories. Every now and then its fun to revisit things in black & white, especially this time of year. Would love to see more photos and hope your back feels better ( I know what that's like to)
Nice photo... it captures the mood of the day. Shoot what you see. If you don't see b/w anymore, shoot what you do see. r.
started photographing in 1970 (in college). twas all black and white. oddly, can't seem to get the same magic by trying to shoot B&W with my digital camera. (has several cameras then, including a crown graphic.)
started photographing in 1970 (in college). twas all black and white. oddly, can't seem to get the same magic by trying to shoot B&W with my digital camera. (has several cameras then, including a crown graphic.)