Tuesday, 4 June 2013
SHADES OF GRAY
"No!", I am sorry, this blog post is not about that book of recent acclaim, much sought after in the bookshops at the moment. Instead it is about the peculiar propensity of photographers to deprive the world of its colors, so that the viewer may concentrate on shapes and luminosity when considering views in their representation on fine prints.
Even if this could be considered an ultimate artistic sophistication, the practice has its origin in a technical invention. That one consisted of spreading a porridge of silver nitrate on glass or paper, which turned, when subject to light, into shades of grey, the darker the more light received. Thus suddenly any person, able to afford the – rather expensive – equipment necessary to catch the light on the substrate, was turned into a magician that converted the world into shapes of grey, whilst still preserving outlines and luminosity.
For more than 150 years this was the utmost of photographic imagery, much longer so for the enthusiastic amateur. Even if color photography was invented eventually, it was cumbersome, expensive and not easily subject to manipulation. All this of course changed in the digital age. Nowadays, everybody and his/her grandmother are happily clicking away and sharing the result in glorious color, on paper or – preferably – on the screen of our precious new viewing machines.
Still, the old art of black-on-white is not dead. There is the almost limitless mass of pictures from the pre-digital age resting in our cupboards and in photo-books of yore. Now and then, but rarely, a practitioner of the old art can still be seen exploring the world, with tripod on shoulder and huge camera in tow. In addition, people have started converting digital pictures into shades of gray; in the real sense of the word, they are taking the color out of the world, keeping only shape and luminosity.
I hate to admit it, but I am one of the old-timers whose photographic production was most active in the old days of black-on-white. I have been taking pictures for some 60 years now, but only started to take them in color since five years back, when I acquired my first digital camera, a humble Nikon D 60.
Why have you never seen any results from my 55 years of color-less photography? The answer is simple: most of my photos were taken on large format film, with negatives of size 9x12 cm or larger. In my younger days, I could just about afford to buy a camera and lenses for those large negatives; no money left for the huge investment in equipment to enlarge the negatives and rendering them into prints! Furthermore, there was never room in any of my lodgings for the considerable space needed to create a functional darkroom.
So my thousand or so large format negatives from this productive period of my youth have been resting, patiently asleep, in my drawers all those years, without me being able to judge whether they would be worthy of a larger audience.
Comes the digital age to the rescue! I have recently acquired a scanner that permits me to download all those negatives into digital yes's and nos. Now, for the first time, I am able to observe what came out of my feverous activities of yore. I can tell you that I am very surprised about the quality of those pictures. Consequently, you will not be getting many blog posts from me in the near future, and neither will my website be updated as frequently as usual. Most of my time will be spent on developing – and printing – those old negatives. Who knows, even a book may eventually come out of this exercise.
That's all for today, I am afraid; off to the computer again to develop some more negatives!
POSTSCRIPT: The finished book can from abroad be ordered from my website emsvision.com. Swedish readers can order it from BOKUS or Liten Upplaga.