For this assignment, choose a theme or a subject that you will conceive, shoot and process in black and white, attempting to bring out the monochrome image qualities of form, tonal contrast and texture, perhaps also experimenting with key. To accompany the final images, which should be between 5 and 10, write an account of why you chose this particular theme or subject, what you set out to achieve from the point of view of black and white imagery, and to what extent you feel you have succeeded.
While it’s an overused quote, this sums up for me the challenge of this assignment, of being able to look at a subject and to see it in black and white.
‘To see in colour is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul’ Hery, Andri (Worobiec and Spence 2008)
In a more digital age, colour has become the standard, where we have digital sensors and screens these predominantly all record and display in colour, leaving the photographer to develop the skill to envisage colour scenes in monochrome and then to recreate this within image editing software. Although Leica have developed the Leica M Monochrom that has a sensor that is black and white only.
I started off my photography using black and white film and even though I now use digital, for me there is a more aesthetical and timeless quality in good black and white images but that the subject needs to be strong to carry it off. As a result I had in mind strong shapes, lines, contours and shading that I knew would stand up to be converted to monochrome. Sometimes colour images can be too bright and busy with lots to take in, in comparison black and white images are more subtle and they force the viewer to slow down to take in the individual tones as opposed to viewing colour and immediately seeing which is the stand out point.
I’d been reading through ‘The making of great photographs-approaches and techniques of the masters’ (McCabe, 2005) making a note of any photographers or photographs that stood out to me to look into further and those that inspired me. One of the images that really stood out was the ‘Sea of Steps-Wells Cathedral’ by Frederick Evans. Architecture is one of my favourite photography subjects and I did consider basing the assignment on this but I wanted to try something new. After reading around on Evans, I found an interesting piece of information stating that his interest was in the texture of stone and the light and shade of buildings, one of my key aims and something that stood out to me when looking for subjects was the texture of the stone and while I was using natural light for all of the images, I found it was often the early morning light that made the subject catch my eye such as the ‘Dry Stone Wall’ where the colours and tones were really standing out in the sunlight.
The assignment called for between 5-10 images, in order to choose my selection, I printed all the images that I’d shortlisted and then spent some time with them pinned up to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t. I was also looking to ensure that they continued to fit my theme of ‘stone’ which encompassed stone, brick, rock, limestone etc. My overall aim was to ensure that some of the characteristics of rock, such as sharp, smooth, hardwearing, versatile were featured. I found that when I was thinking about the scope of this project, I’d visualised stones and rock that were found more in landscapes. As I started on the work, my eyes were drawn to more different forms of stone than I expected, often in areas where I would not have thought to look, and it’s some of these scenarios that gave me the strongest images. I was keeping in mind this assignment as a series that needs to be viewed in a particular order, so I came at this from the angle of presenting these either in an exhibition or in a book. Choosing the order of images was quite tricky, unlike other work where there might be a series of actions or people, each image stood both on its own and as part of my series but aside from all being stone there wasn’t that obvious link from one to the other that would be evident elsewhere. In the end I decided to look at what would provide a clear opener and then followed through how I felt they worked best. To begin ‘Stepping Stones’ seemed to be the obvious choice leading the viewer down a pathway into the rest of the series. I tried to balance the more detailed close up images with the larger subject images as I didn’t want it to go from the stepping stones, obelisk, and tor point to the detailed close ups of stone, pebbles and stone wall as it would feel too disjointed so to intersperse these seemed to make more sense and to remind the viewer that the close up images could form any part of these larger structures.
1) Stepping Stones
A different use of stone but in the same location as tor point is this path leading down the hillside. It caught my eye as I was sat down taking a break, and I used the low angle as I felt that from a standing position it wouldn’t have the same effect and I’d first seen the potential when I was at a lower angle. I wanted to use leading lines to draw the eye in and along to where the path vanished and all you can see are the hills in the background. I also liked the contrast between the squares of stone and the grass they are set in, the colour difference has come across well in the conversion to monochrome of darker grass showing off the lighter stonework. A couple of challenges I had for this and the trig point image was waiting for walkers to pass as it was a very popular route and in this case I didn’t want to have a person in the image as it would have given it a different feel. I tried three different compositions to this but I preferred this one where you could see the whole of the stone on the right hand side and to me, I feel like that I’m on top of the path.
2) The Hand
An abstract sculpture of a hand holding an arrow caught my eye for the sheer size of it, but the background was cluttered with benches, flowerbeds and a glass visitor centre in the background. I didn’t know if this was going to work so I decided to zoom close in from a lower angle and fill the frame, I wanted to get the stone in but not the main part of the arrow as it was confusing as to what it was. In colour this didn’t work, it didn’t have any impact, but I think with the conversion to monochrome it stands out much more and the texture and shadows within the stone stands out. As well as showing the strength of stone, the subject of a clasped hand also to me portrays physical strength in the clenching of a fist.
3) Dry stone wall
This caught my eye as the wall in colour had a lot of interesting colours and tones, combined with varied shapes, lines and textures that I felt would have enough power to draw the eye in and to keep the viewer engaged in looking at the image. I got close in to the wall as I wanted the pattern to just fill the frame to force the eye to look at the patchwork effect. It also had the advantage of taking it out of the context of Chester Zoo and encouraging the viewer to think about it, where it’s located and what’s behind it for example.
4) Marker Stone
The Monsal trail, is an old railway line that’s now been converted to be a pathway for walkers and cyclists, as a result there are lots of details still left from its life before. One of those was a brick obelisk that looked like a marker stone cut into the natural rock landscape of the hillside. This immediately grabbed my attention as it just looked striking against the rock and abstract shape and strong lines seemed well suited to be converted to monochrome. I positioned the marker as central as I could in the image as I wanted symmetry. The lines of the marker lead the eye upwards into the image, but then the contrasting horizontal lines also ensure the viewer looks at the left and right side taking in the whole image. The conversion has still kept the tones in the rock, and the viewer can see the lines between the bricks which I wasn’t sure would still be there once converted but I’m quite happy with it.
5) Rock Texture
Walking through Dovedale I saw lot of different rock formations and shapes that while they looked stunning, I didn’t feel that they were strong enough for the subject as they were very much more landscape images with less emphasis on the characteristic of rock. I did pass some loose rocks that had fallen from the landscape at some point and were lying on the side reclaimed by nature and the texture and ripples within these really caught my eye. I knew I wanted to photograph these but I didn’t know how effective it would be or if it would work when taken out of the context of its environment. I tried a landscape and a portrait layout for this, and I preferred the landscape as you can see the layering effect of the rock. While the tones and textures of the grey and green stood out in person, I didn’t know if they would when converted, and even when I’d been viewing the test print as part of the selection, I wasn’t sure if it was suitable for my audience. I tried to picture this hanging in a gallery and within a series between ‘Marker Stone’ and ‘Tor Point’ it fits in. However I’m not sure if it was out of context on its own as to how strong it would be as a single image. I feel that as within a series it helps to tell a story to the viewers.
6) Tor Point
This trig point attracts a lot of attention, when you reach the peak of a hill you automatically go over to the trig point and a lot of people were posing for photographs with it as a record of an achievement. Once you get onto the hill, this was the highest point around and seems to grab your attention. As a result I decided this would make a good subject if I got the composition correct. I didn’t want it to be a normal landscape with this just in the centre of the image, I wanted it to be large and dominating so I knelt in front of it to capture some of the stones it was sitting on and the landscape and sky behind it, I was quite close to the stone as I wanted the frame to be filled and out of all the images I took of this, I liked the one where it was just going off the print as it needs some space around it to put it into context. In relation to the stone, I like this as though it forms a shape, it’s not man made, the sides are not perfectly flat due to the stone being used and the different shapes and texture of each stone forming this point are evident.
I had an image in my head that I’d seen somewhere of pebbles that had been arranged and photographed from above. In reality I didn’t have to set this shot up, it was part of the environment within a butterfly house that I found by looking down from a bridge in search of butterflies. As soon as I saw this, I knew I wanted to photograph it, the smooth texture and size of the rock on the top left of the image caught my eye, while I’m sure the arrangement had been composed, it looked natural to me, I was happy to have the twigs in there as it added a more organic feel compared to a set up still life. The colours were quite muted and neutral so I could see from the first image that I took, that it would work well as a conversion as there was nothing in that scene that would be lost by it not being in colour. I can also see this tweaked to have just a hint of colour and used as artwork. For a strong composition, once again I filled the frame with the stones as I wanted an effect where the stones were leading the eye out of the image and suggesting the pattern was continuing. Compared to the rest of the series, the smoothness of the rock creates a distinct contrast and creates a sensation of wanting to reach out and touch them, and shows that stone can be smooth and tactile.
8) Stone Griffin (Tideswell)
I’d passed this statue a number of times in the car and it always grabbed my attention, so when I was walking through the village a few days later, I made a point of photographing this. While I tried a number of different angles, this was the most successful as it had the comparison of the statue against the background stone of the bank. Other angles had too much of a cluttered backdrop of the street, road and houses and I wanted the focus to be very much on the griffin with a shield as if it was defending a castle. I think that it worked quite well, the overall colour was quite neutral and muted so I didn’t need to do much post adjustment on the tones. From a composition angle, I like the fact the subject is strong, there are clear lines and shapes and you immediately can recognise what you’re looking at.
All of the processing was undertaken in Adobe Photoshop CS6. I used the black and white conversion option which gave me a number of different filters. For most I opted for the default with some minor tweaking increasing the saturation, the blacks and reducing the yellows slightly. For some images that had a good range of tones already, I felt that I didn’t need to do anything further than a straight conversion. I printed test prints off from the printer that I was going to send the final images to so that I could check the colours were ok and not too dark. While I didn’t need to do any further tweaking, this would have been the stage for this, and then I would have repeated the test print process.
This was an interesting assignment to tackle, challenging due to the option of choosing any subject. My concern was that I would choose poorly and not have a strong enough subject to carry a series of images. I think that I chose my subject well and that it had the scope to show some of the image qualities of form, tonal contrast and texture required in the assignment brief. I’ve certainly got more of an eye for black and white and have learned to recognise in an image components which work well and those which won’t necessarily translate from colour.
If I had to replicate this assignment, I’m confident that I’d still choose the same images and go through the same shortlisting process to get to the eight that I’ve presented here, I would like to do this again with another subject and see how the results compare. If I had to make any changes, I’d probably be inclined to create a still life of stones and pebbles and to light this artificially just as a comparison to the natural environment and to continue my skill set obtained through the Art of Photography course.
Cheung, William. 2003. Black and white camera craft. Ava Publishing, p6
Evans, Frederick- Sea of Steps- Wells Cathedral . Available through: National Media Museum, The Royal Photographic Society, National Photography Archive. http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/Collection/Photography/RoyalPhotographicSociety/CollectionItem.aspx?id=2003-5001/2/23326 [Accessed 4th August 2012]
McCabe, Eamonn. 2005. The Making of Great Photographs: Approaches and Techniques of the Masters of Photography. David & Charles Publishers, pp 52-53
Worobiec, Tony and Spence, Ray. 2008. Black and white photography in the digital age. 2nd edition.
David & Charles Publishers.
I can’t find the original source for the Andri Hery quote outside of the book by Worobiec and Spence where I first read it. I have found that Hery has officially changed his surname to Cauldwell so this quote could be found under this name too, but again actual evidence on the internet is hard to find but I wanted this clarified here for any future readers.
Information on the Leica M Monochrom
http://uk.leica-camera.com/photography/m_system/m_monochrom/ [Accessed 4th August 2012]
This assignment required me to submit some prints as opposed to my usual digital submission. While this wasn’t a problem, I’ve learned some things during this process. I originally chose 10 x8 prints but looking at these, they didn’t fit the images and when I resized images, I found I still lost some detail as well as some aspects appeared stretched or compressed. I then decided to try a slightly smaller print size of 10×7 which was more the correct aspect and once the images came back from the printer, I was very happy with them.
I opted for a matt finish as I find gloss is too shiny, catches light and reflections easily and shows up fingerprints. One thing that I didn’t do here and will consider in future is to add a white border around the image so that they can be handled without the body of the print being affected.
Online learning log
All entries into my paper learning log are replicated electronically here