’Round Town

Black and White

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 7:15am

    Black and white photography has always been a fundamental interest of mine. It’s where my interest in photography began as a child when I discovered my grandmother’s box camera, negatives and a stack of small prints in the top drawer of the candy dresser. I was smitten early on by how it was possible to make recognizable prints of my family using this instrument and the transparent product I came to know as negatives. My grandmother never really explained the process but was always happy to chat about the photos and their subjects. It was pretty cool stuff.

    My interests were further energized by the photography I noticed in the magazines lying about at home, i.e., LIFE and LOOK. At that time some of the best black and white photography of the day was published in these magazines. And perhaps because I was a poor reader, the images observed made a greater impression. Even without knowing a thing about photography, it seemed like a bit of magic to see the variety of subjects, some as large as a full page!

    My father picked up on my interest and one Christmas, in the early ’60s, I unwrapped the gift of one model “J66” Polaroid Land Camera. It was a dream I never had. What a fascinating instrument. It came with film, only black and white, a small tube which held an interesting-smelling coated object used to apply on the prints that scooted out the side of the camera after making an exposure. The film was very fast – 3000 speed, then known as the ASA by those in the business. I remember one of my first experiences with the camera came after we had loaded the explosives for a mining operation which I worked on with my father and three other wonderful mentors, Chick Lucas, John Ivicic and Tom Bloom.

    I positioned myself close alongside of a “D9” Caterpillar dozer, protection from fly rock that could sail from the blast. Chick told me to listen for his signal when he was about to push down on the blasting machine plunger, so I could time my photo. When he hailed me, I hesitated just an instant and pushed the shutter button capturing the very instant the shot went off showing the ground heave as the blast occurred. It was a miracle! Nobody in our business had seen anything like it before. The photo got passed around quite a lot. This was to be a very significant step in my process to appreciate the significant role of photography in my life. Film wasn’t cheap, so I had to be frugal.

    For years I fiddled with cameras and the process of discovery, both out in the world and inside in the darkroom. With much discovery and no training I managed to plug along making every mistake in the book. I used to say, and still do, that I was self taught and not all my teachers were very good!

    This is my favorite black and white time of year. Everything is stripped to its most basic. Subjects are very raw. The distractions of color are pretty much tucked up inside, put away as it were, until a more favorable season. But even in the more colorful seasons of outdoor photography I tend to see in subtle shades and tones. I think all those years of looking at the work of great photographers went somewhere in my brain. When I discover something, a subliminal finger pushes  the button. Even now with all the digital technology at hand, I seem to record, almost without thinking, a subject of interest, unless of course I am hired to please others regarding proper exposure. I try. Fortunately I’ve had pretty good luck landing on the acceptable. There certainly have been many opportunities.