Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Black Holes, Event Horizons, and recurring headaches

I’ve taken a few “self portraits” over the years. I put that in quotes because the concept is implicitly squirrelly. Where’s the self? How is it a portrait?
Stand in front of a mirror; look in the iris of your eye. It’s just black. No light escapes. No clues to the mystery. Get your camera; put it on a tripod in front of the mirror. Stand there with it. Take a picture. Now there are two (three, technically) irises. The black holes stare back. Still, no light escapes. But now you have a picture of you and your buddy.
So it’s a black hole, and we “are,” via the magic of the event horizon? Somewhere in all that blackness . . . Yes, nothing does escape.
I suggest this as an exercise worth doing. You’ll end up with an enduring portrait of mystery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why I shoot black and white (and color)

I got an e-mail recently that asked;

I was just wondering, why do you enjoy taking photographs in black and white? Do you like the effect is makes? Or do you think it perhaps communicates a certain message to the viewer?

I do like the effect, and by that I mean the effect of conventional black and white film printed on black and white paper. In a way, this doesn’t make much sense to someone who is getting into photography currently, unless they’ve seen some black and white prints. I started in photography when film was the only available medium for capturing still images. There is a certain look that one gets printing black and white materials. For that matter, color film also has its own unique look. However, in the case of color, that was generally a limitation, so generally, nobody emulates it in digital.
That vintage black and white look was a higher contrast, and there is a texture in the image due to the film grain. The grain could be thought of in the same way that pencil shading works in a paper drawing. There are certain qualities of the shading (grain) as it goes from a mid-tone to black.
In the digital age black and white is still around, but mostly for design or artistic reasons. Some people like to shoot character portraits in black and white because they think of the color as distracting. The subject is thought to stand out more when there is less to distract from it. I don’t necessarily agree with this. It also has to do with the type of subject, and lighting.
There are all sorts of experiments going on with color, or various color sets, especially limited ones. There’s sepia, a way of toning an image that is monochrome so that the entire tone scale is slightly brown.
So, it is a bit complicated. I’ve got one photo that consists of black, very dark brown, and a lighter brown. http://www.deasy.com/dreams/paupers_graveyard_2b.htm . It’s called a tri-tone, something invented by the printing industry. It works pretty well for the particular image.

Where I work, which is a research lab, I’m now using digital imaging exclusively. I had no choice in this particular change. The speed of digital and the reduced costs won over film. All the public relation style photos are in color, because they eventually go out for glossy brochures, or the web. Same for all the research documentation, they generally need to be in color. Sometimes they are images of materials research, and color accuracy is crucial.
I do a lot of night photographs for my own photos. There are usually street lights, which are arc lights that put out a narrow and incomplete spectrum, mostly in the green range. I use black and white for these, because the color makes a sickly green image, which is not how it looks to the eye.
So, in spite of the name on this blog, and the name on my main site, which is also Black and White Dreams (http://deasy.com ) I do shoot color from time to time.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Washington D.C. - An Uncomfortable Photo

This is a photograph found in the old album. Unlike the ones that were posted before, this is a photograph from hell. Actually, it says "Washington D.C.' on the bottom of the photo (same thing?). Considering the inventiveness of the photographer in other shots in the album, one wonders if this visual tension is intended. Is she having a chuckle about the typical "person in so-and-so place" photo? The subject is even made so uncomfortable by the composition that she's trying in vain to lean to correct it. The line in the sidewalk seems to be trying to lie about the vanishing point in the distance. She's squinting into the noonish sun with the usual expression that accompanies severe eye strain.

We don't know who this is, never will. If anyone can guestimate the date from the dress and shoes, drop me a note at ed@deasy.com. I also don't recognize the location, although I suspect that might be the top of the Smithsonian building in the background. If so, the spot on the Mall of America could be triangulated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More old album photos - National Cemetery

This is a photograph found in the same family album the prior post. Condsider the humor that pervades the shots in this family album. I think the irony of the beautiful girl against the background of graves stretching off to the horizon was not lost on the photographer or subject. Neither could have quessed that some unforseen event in unloading or developing the film would cause such a perfect fade-to-black on the right side of the image.
It was 1920. The parade of non-descript graves were probably from World War One. I can't imagine how much it has expanded as the years have passed.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Family Portrait

This is a photograph found in an old album. Its a very humorus and original pose, and each person in the photo communicates some sense of their personality. This is probably the aesthetic key to portraiture. Something is communicated between the person in the picture and the viewer. Yet, it tends to be beyond words.

Notice the box camera in the foreground. I have something similar on a shelf here, a Brownie Junior 6-16, from some uncertain vintage. The one in the picture might be a senior, judging from the size difference. With two cameras on scene I suspect that this group was enamored of snapshots, which could explain the playfulness of the photograph. One tends to make eye contact with each person in the image. Each person has a certain presence, and there is some sense of connection from one time to another.

Black and White Dreams -- Beginning

This is a blog about photography.

I’ve pulled images from trays of chemicals in dimly lit darkrooms, and now from patterns in silicon. It’s still an image.
As you might imagine, there will be pictures posted. Some mine, some from archives, some scrounged from musty corners, old postcards, whatever comes up.
There is also a web site of photographs at http://deasy.com
I love old family albums, which one can find here in Virginia, in a variety of antique stores. Someone dies, and their soul get put out in a tag sale on the lawn. These are photos documenting the better part of a lifetime, in an album, usually for ten bucks or so.
Sometimes I’m surprised at what I find. One album in particular, had images with more flair than the usual. You could get a sense of a family full of humor, playfulness. In posts following, I will share some of these.