Black and white

I’ve been combing through my archives recently, trying to make some kind of organization and sense out of my photography over the last decade, and I couldn’t help but reflect that, from the very beginning, almost every single photograph I’ve taken for art’s sake was meant to be in black and white. I actually remember when I was first beginning with digital photography: I was looking at a photo, wondering what it’s reason for being was—there was something about it that was important, but I couldn’t put my finger on it—and it struck me that I need only click to convert it to black and white, and it would suddenly make sense.  It was meant to be that way.

…and if I went through previous photos that had something about them, in black and white, they too made sense.

Black and white prints have a singular beauty and richness to them. They also have the heavy weight of tradition behind them. And using traditional black and white film, as I often have, also imparts a special look. But none of that is why my work is in black and white. Those reasons are choices. But I feel that I truly have no choice in the matter. My ideas sing in black and white. They demand it. I don’t have any control over them; I can only acquiesce.

Some artists talk about their vision for a particular photograph, as if they can bend the image to their own will, making it conform to how they would like it to be. I confess that I may not understand what kind of experience they have. I raise up my camera, and the photo takes itself. And the photo is in black and white. There may be colors, but those are just insubstantial threads covering up what wants to show itself. I can choose to keep it covered up, but I can’t choose to make it a color image underneath.

There’s a game I sometimes play with myself. Working with a digital camera, I like to view my images in color at first—they can be so mysterious to me. Why did I take that image? What was I doing? What possessed me? But I press the button to desaturate them, and, however primitive the first rendition is, there it is…and I understand. I feel like a child, amusing myself by turning off the lights just so I can turn them back on and see again.

I have occasionally taken a color photo or two. I do treasure them, but I don’t really know what to do with them. It’s as if a chicken one day lays an egg that hatches a lizard. She loves all her children, but, how should she mother a lizard?

I have some ideas for studio images that could well be in color. I think that the difference between a found scene, out in the world, and one that I bring into existence, is that in the latter case I would start from what can be, and bend what is until the two meet. But all the fine art work in my archives is found—all starting from what is—and it doesn’t need to be bent any more than a chicken needs to become a lizard.

While all this is true of my photographs considered by themselves, collections of photographs are another matter entirely. I do put those together, very deliberately. That’s why combing through my archives, trying to organize and make sense of what I have, has taken so long. But I’ll say more about that process in the future.

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