Press The Shutter, Already!
I really am no fan of academic photography. I don’t want to look at dull pictures that purport to be about the history of art or about typologies or about curating or about the social impact of current photographic practices by the masses. My photographic heroes are dead; Minor White, Ralph Meatyard, Harry Callahan. These guys knew that photography was about looking and being out in the world. That photography is a process of multiple discoveries, personal, cosmological, empirical. The discoveries are packaged and wrapped in silver (or pigment inks) and presented to the world as precious objects. Precious the way music is precious, the way a great piece of writing is precious. My heroes are gone.
I began as a black and white, silver gelatin based photographer. Learning all the alchemy that was around in the waning days of film and darkroom. As a magazine photographer I was intrigued by color and especially color transparencies which naturally led to digital photography when it came of age. Color and digital imaging are made for each other. But ever since the beginning of practical digital imaging I have wanted to bring the control that a digital workflow affords to black and white. Many people would have just said that all you needed to do was convert the color digital image to black and white. Well not really. While technically it’s true. The nature of the digital file, especially of the larger sensor cameras was always to smooth and clean to really capture the essence of a black and white silver gelatin photo. If you don’t believe me convert your favorite color file from a large sensor digital camera and compare it to a Daido Moriyama photograph. See what I mean.
I believe I have found a digital camera that can mimc the quality of black and white I have been looking for these past few years. It’s my Panasonic G5. I have to admit I almost got rid of it because of the quality of the color images I was getting. There was nothing really wrong with it. For my taste it was’t smooth or clean enough especially compared to my Nikon D700. Then one day I decided to shoot some images with the intention of converting them to black and white just to see what I would get. What I got were files that looked incredibly like images I would get from my Mamiya using 400 speed film. Now I must admit that part of the look may come from the lens I am using, a Panasonic-Leica 45mm macro lens. The bokeh is phenomenal as well as the rendering of what almost looks like medium format film grain (see image above). I have been running around like a child who has rediscovered photography!
To tie in my opening polemic to this essay, this discovery has reinvigorated the sense of absolute joy that comes from force of seeing. I don’t care about any burning photographic issues. I want to see and discover and invent and play but like a man who has come to rediscover his sense of wonder and play again after coming full circle through a life.
The joy of photographing in the light of the sun is… Minor White