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.