I remember so clearly the first black and white photograph that had a real, tangible effect on me. It was, predictably, a photograph by the great American photographer, Ansel Adams. I was in art school studying graphic design and was looking for something to draw as an illustration for a class assignment. At that time, there were three major photography magazines: Modern Photography, Popular Photography and Peterson’s Photographic. I had gone to a local book store and purchased ‘Peterson’s’ to look for likely subjects. The moment is still clearly imprinted in my mind. I had never seen anything like it: ‘Moon and Half Dome’. Once I saw that photograph, the direction of my life would be changed forever. Never again would I consider being a board illustrator, or rather a ‘bored illustrator’ – I would make photographs.
It’s 3am. Something by Bach or Mozart is playing softly in the background. An image of ‘Morning Light on the Towers, Needles District’ is slowly appearing on the piece of paper that I am gently massaging in a tray of chemicals, under the soft amber glow of a safelight. The fan of my enlarger hums softly in the background. In my mind, this is what photography is all about.
Months earlier, I had carried my backpack of over fifty pounds several miles into the early morning darkness in search of this and other images. After locating a promising composition, I set up my camera; field edited the composition; determined the exposure that I thought would yield the best results; and exposed the film. From there, the piece of film was transported to my darkroom, processed and proofed and now, I am in the process of extracting the image that I know is hiding somewhere inside the negative.
The reward of all this effort is an image on the wall whose highlights softly reflect image detail and whose shadows glow in subtlety. They almost always evoke an emotional response. You can’t simply ‘take them or leave them’. Creating and printing great black and white photographs demands ...