Black and White.

Black and White. And Digital...

Digital ought to be perfect for black and white photography -- all the control, none of the mess. For years I used to drag a bunch of filters and a whole zoo of black and white films around with my cameras, to get those dramatic dark skies or that beautiful IR effect -- or just to show abstracted structure and texture as I saw it. For years I struggled in the darkroom to push and pull, dodge and burn, and just generally manipulate the various elements in the process. I was often frustrated by the limits of my abilities in this medium -- things rarely came out the way I'd visualised them (either in the viewfinder or in test prints), and I started thinking that the (then new) digital revolution might help. After all, why not take a fairly-accurate colour shot of the subject, then use Photoshop (at that time Version 2.x...) to do the manipulations after the shoot? A lot easier than doing it in the camera with the filters or in the darkroom later, especially since many of the shots I did were not easily amenable to zone-system-like setups or constant fiddling with settings at the actual time of shooting. I was hardly the only person thinking this at the time, I know, but I plodded on...

But my original foray into this was a little disappointing. Digital didn't seem to bring anything more to it than my darkroom did, and while I started using digital techniques and gear extensively, with very few exceptions this was always for "straight" work, i.e. just using digital as a way to capture and print or display what I'd already got pretty much down as-is on film or pape, in black and white or colour. I'd do little more than fine-tune the various levels and contrast, a bit of dodging or burning here and there, and a lot of cropping. Plus, more importantly, I got side-tracked into colour again, and lots of other things besides, and I lost the thread completely for a few years.

And while I wasn't really looking, Photoshop and scanners and digital cameras got better -- and cheaper -- and when I started thinking black and white again, I thought I'd try digital black and white properly this time. So, inspired by sites like Jeff Alu's digital black and white fine art site (and others), I tried again, playing around a lot more with the various channel mixers, posterizers, curves, channels, etc., on my digital snapshots and some of the older stuff from Pandemonia (all the images used were originally colour images). Black and white's always been about abstraction to me -- texture, shape, contrast, etc. -- and finally it worked. At least for me.

Some of the results are below. They're not for everyone -- plenty of people intensely dislike or are quite bored by this sort of stuff, but I'm not apologizing. Is it art? Who cares? Is it original? Not bloody likely. But I'm a slow learner, and I'm already a convert -- I love being able to finally get the strangely-lit landscapes or angled abstract buildings or radiant skins or infra-red effects I've always seen in my mind countless times, without spending hours of fruitless time in the darkroom dodging, burning, or just plain swearing. I've come to love the way you can bleach skin in one case, and totally bring out interesting darkness or texture in another face -- with just a few adjustments to a Photoshop layer. The biggest problem now is printing -- nothing I do with my little Epson 1270 yet comes close to the quality of blacks I get from "real" photo paper processes. But that'll change too, sometime soon....

As always, click on a thumbnail below to see the full-sized version (which may be quite large...); mouseover the thumb to see the image title.




Front Room, Berkeley



Berkeley, 2002



Studio City, 2002



Back Garden




Deep Springs Road






El Capitan



Red Rock



Big Pine Trail



Lenticulars, Mt Shasta



Siberia. CA



Bryant Street












BErk 1927



Hot Dip Galvanizing, Berkeley



Hollis Street



24th and Peralta



American Dream



Burger King



Santa Cruz



Space Noodle



Downtown Oakland



I-80 Overpass, Berkeley



City Center


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