Edward Weston, a peer of Ansel Adams and a fine photographer, made a series of images exploring the surfaces of bell peppers. By selecting his subjects carefully and lighting them selectively he showed sinuous and sensual aspects of what most of us barely glance at before slicing or chopping for our meal. Those aspects of the peppers were always there, lying dormant until the eyes of an individual prepared to see their potential picked them up and released those characteristics for the rest of us to admire. In the case of Weston’s peppers, and the image of last fall’s leaf above, color is superfluous to the essence of the image. It’s the tones, shades, gradations, lines and curves that our eyes follow, undisturbed by whether the right color is rendered or all the other assessments color demands of our brains.
Would this be a better picture of a leaf with color? Perhaps so if my intent was to show a photograph of a leaf. My goal, however, is to show the delicate way light plays across this surface from the top to the bottom, offering the eye a chance to dwell on the S-curves of edges and veins, the paper-thin surface, the contrast between the straight twigs and the leaf wrapping an embrace around them. Do you even need to know this is a leaf in order to gaze on the image and explore the textures presented?
I’m finding the transition from written word to visual image difficult because I want my photographs to reflect how I see in a way similar to what’s going on in my mind when I write. I generally write from a sensation, an emotion, a feeling. Words don’t appear in my head as I write; they appear on the screen or page to illuminate what I’m sensing inside. I thought I could use photography the same way but I find the technology gets in the way along with all the rules/guidelines/tips on how to make good photographs. Writing is non-technical for me – it’s either my pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard – so I don’t get caught up on the details, just the essence. I guess the camera hasn’t become the extension of my mind the way my fountain pen has.
This is important right now because I’m learning how B&W can be a way to get the technology out of the way, to start seeing the character of subjects instead of the literal aspects. My reading on better photography continues to hammer this notion – except for documentaries a photograph is an expression of the photographer’s vision of a subject. Black-and-white is becoming the means to express my use of light as a tool to craft views of subjects that interest me. It is ironic because the technology to create B&W from digital files is pretty sophisticated, just as the tools of the trade used in the darkroom continue to be. However, I’m finding my eye is going beyond the B&W tools as I’m starting to have a sense of what the image can be even before moving the controls around. This is leading me to look for that sense while in the field actually photographing, which affects how I search for and look at subjects. It’s becoming a revelation. I do want to get back to color but am understanding why great and influential photographers have worked without it.