What color is your black and white? Why?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Mar 26, 2017.

  1. David, I haven't read the quotes, but I'll try to respond to your question as you've posed it. Things that can individualize and affect our screen images are the background colors we show them on, whether we put some sort of matt color behind them and a frame or keyline around them, our black and whites can be toned or not and to varying degrees. With subtle uses of sharpening tools, contrast application, even some of the textural filters available, we can infuse our images with a sense of texture without it feeling like a gimmick and without it feeling more exaggerated than the way a print can provide texture. Of course, if we're printing from digital files, we can do a lot more things.

    For me, a key to thinking about this stuff is not necessarily to try to mimic what past greats could do with very different processes and technologies. I keep in mind that they were discovering what their given technology could provide them with when they got creative about it. Rather than, for example, trying to mimic the grain of various processes and films of the past, consider what's unique about digital and be creative with that. That might include using digital noise without trying to imitate grain, using pixel distortion, pixellation, using the halos we often get around sharply-contrasted edges, using some of the technical distortions we're all used to seeing in digital imagery, and using them in such a way that it feels native to the process rather than like a mistake or a clumsy overreach. [Not saying don't overreach sometimes, just don't be too clumsy about it. ;-)]
  2. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    a fairly wide range! is it any wonder nobody prints anymore with such a paucity of choice?
  3. If you know Photoshop, there are so many ways to tinker with tone, I won't even try to cover them. In addition, there are the obvious choices of paper (color, texture, finish) and inks plus color management. Or you can use a really good professional printer who will listen to you and do the tinkering for you. For example, watch the video on the left side of the landing page at Griffin Editions. Behind the discussions, which do not address tone specifically, you can see black and white prints of many different tones.

    Or you can use digital for explicitly expressive comments on black and white. Here is Pieter Hugo in There's a Place in Hell for Me & My Friends:

    "Greetings dear Friend and Photographic Subject​

    "Herewith an edit of my portrait series. The subjects are all friends of mine who are either from South Africa or have made this country their home."​

    [ ... ]​

    "A brief description of what I have done to the images:​

    "The color process used in making these pictures involves turning the digital color image to black and white, while keeping the color channels active. In this manner one can manipulate the color channels and bring certain colors to prominence as greyscales. The red and yellow color channels were darkened to the point where nearly all information for these colors was rendered as blacks and dark grey. The pigment responsible for skin color and appearance, melanin, which appears in two forms — pheomelanin (red) and eumelanin (very dark brown) — is brought to prominence in this color process. As a result of exposure to UV rays the skin produces melanin to protect nuclear DNA from mutations caused by the sun's ionizing radiation. The damage to people's skin caused by exposure to UV is thus shown up in their skin, along with capillaries and small blood vessels visible just under the skin."​
  4. It really depends upon the image. Sometimes I prefer just the regular classic
    black and white look, while sometimes the image begs to be in sepia. Other images I like slightly toned. And, sometimes I like them with a background texture that makes them feel vintage, etc. There is no one answer for me.
  5. Phil,
    I share your opinion that the processing should be integrated with the rest of the content and shouldn't stand out. However, in Julie's examples, processing (and paper texture) was presented at the same level of significance as the content, in my opinion. Rather than playing the regular role of enhancing the subject matter, processing here transforms the subject, by changing its texture and even partly obscuring it in some cases.

  6. [I know these are crummy pictures: they're used for tone/color comparison only.​

    No, they are fine art! Seriously, Julie, they really aren't bad at all, regardless of your intent in taking and processing them. I might desaturate them by twenty-five to thirty-five percent, but that is a personal preference. When toning is used, I typically prefer for it to be muted.

    Last edited: Apr 1, 2017

  7. I wish Di Piero had elaborated on that because I think it doesn't make clear what I think is the larger difference between Frank and, for example Weston and Adams. It's my belief that for Frank, photography is performance. It's the doing, not what's made.

    Consider the writer Shakespeare, the actor Olivier and the play Othello. For Frank, there is no Shakespeare. Life is the Shakespeare. He's Olivier and he doesn't want to be trapped into playing Othello for the rest of his life (Olivier as Othello does New York; Olivier as Othello does Canada, etc.) He wants to be Olivier murdering Dustin Hoffman, too (or any of the other great roles inhabited by Olivier); in whatever case, it's about the generation and what is revealed by the performance of "photography." When he moved to filmmaking, he wanted to shoot (and sometimes did) without a script.

    " “The photograph must be the result of a head to head,” Frank later asserted, “a confrontation with a power, a force that one interrogates or questions.” Like reality, sometimes those confrontations were decisive and emphatic, but often, as in the photograph of the baby on the floor of the Beaufort cafe, they remain unresolved, uncertain, and filled with questions more than answers." — Sarah Greenough

    "In Black White and Things, he succeeded in creating a work of art that was not about experience but was the experience itself." — Sarah Greenough

    By contrast, Weston and Adams, IMO, are Shakespeares, shaping and making, with the Olivier and Othello being fulfilled in the nuances of the print. Yes, you can always tell that it's Shakespeare (they have an overwhelming style). That's as it should be. They aren't performing: they are being what they are, making and shaping what they believe to be insights or "the essence of the essence" to quote Adams.

    I don't think Frank gave a s*** about the print. He abused it, shot it with a gun (after finishing the Americans), scratched it, wrote all over it. I've never read anything about how he makes his prints (though he has made pictures of stuff in the developing trays), but I can't imagine him sweating about the nuances of tonal separation or color. Compare that to Adams:

    "I have not yet made a print that fully satisfies me. The negative prints fairly well on Ilford Gallerie Grade 3, but while it is about as good a negative as I could have expected in terms of holding all values, I nevertheless find it very difficult to make an expressive print. Merely preserving the values results in a rather flat image, lacking in the mood and tonalities I visualized. It is a subject that might be better revealed by use of a warm-toned paper such as Agfa Portriga. With other negatives intransigent printing problems have been overcome by discovering the optimum paper, developer, and toning combination, and much depends upon the mood of the photographer." — Ansel Adams writing about printing Merced River, Cliffs, Autumn​
  8. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    And the new 2008 edition published by Steidl offers perhaps the best printing yet, with all new tri-tone scans of the original prints, printed on top quality paper

    The Americans - Photographs by Robert Frank | LensCulture

    All new Tri-tone? Done in the best possible taste no doubt

    Last edited: Apr 2, 2017

  10. His physicality. I think he wanted to be in the print; for the print to bring him, carry him, not be anything independent of him.
  11. I need to apologize to Adams and Weston for (twice!) describing them as "shaping and making." I think that they did shape and make, but ... it's complicated. And interesting.

    Here is Minor White describing, to a student at the California School of Fine Arts, where Adams and Weston were also on faculty, camera-as-extension-of-vision (which the school advocated):

    1. Surface of print considered as clear glass.
    2. Omission of handwork, optical and chemical alteration.
    3. Composition determined by nature of subject.
    4. Reality accepted as the whole working field and penetrated.
    5. Creative activity terminated by exposure.

    As opposed to camera-as-brush, aka pictorialism and the like, which the school did not advocate:

    1. Surface of print included. [by which he means, as described elsewhere: matte papers, textures built into the emulsion, texture screens, fogged prints, etc.]
    2. Handwork on negative and/or print; optical and chemical alterations of negative or print. [drawing, coloring, scratching, etc.]
    3. Rules of composition deduced from academic painting imposed on photograph.
    4. Reality altered considerably by nearly any means.
    5. Creativeness continuing through printing.

    Continuing on camera-as-extension-of-vision, here is how they claim one should shoot pictures:

    " ... when there is a feeling the photographer imposed nothing, but instead let the subject matter itself generate, dictate and determine the composition out of its own shapes and relations. Thus he strives to see new balances, new solutions to the old problem."​

    The first sentence of that sounds to me far more like Robert Frank than Weston or Adams or White. The second sentence seems to contradict the first: "solutions" is not a hands-off approach.

    White repeatedly says that the picture should be a crystal clear window (no surface) through which the viewer sees objects as they were, without any interference. It seems to me a strange window that has turned everything black and white.

    In an effort to then explain why pictures of his favored kind are anything more than a regular window, White says:

    "Objects in reality are looked at so intensely they become transparent to the visionary eye. A mountain stared at becomes lucid about weight after a while, becomes lucid about power slowly applied that can move mountains. Reality is not to be avoided, it is to be penetrated to its other side. Perhaps the other side of reality is exactly the world the painter seeks in his own way of altering the visual world. The camera, however, targets on reality and stops down to get beyond."​

    It seems to me that the two sides of his description contradict one another. I don't mind this contradiction — it's one of the wonderful things about photography, but it does confuse discussion, since I think a Robert Frank or a William Klein end up being more true to the camera-as-extension-of-vision school even as they scoff at its prissy demands and claims of purity.

    And, I will point out, that Adams (and Weston and White) as we know, had no problem with tone and tint within the black and white print, never mind #5 in the description of purity, above. It's the surface, not the content that has to be perfectly transparent according to them.

    Thanks Phil for getting me to ruminate on this further and therefore causing me to look more closely at the White/Adams/Weston approach. When thought about beside Frank, they seem to be approaching the same thing from opposite sides, all of which shows, for me, the richness of the photographic means.
  12. Do I also need to apologize to Robert Frank? You decide.

    This is Sarah Greenough:

    "... Whereas the first prints that Frank made from his Guggenheim negatives in the late 1950s were usually small in size (often approximately 8 by 12 inches), neutral in tone, and uninflected in emotional affect, the ones he created for his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art [in 1962] were larger (most were approximately 12 by 16 inches), with a full, lush tonal range. Rich and eloquent, they reveal the nuances of light that Frank had so succinctly captured -- the humming glow of neon in a dimly lit bar, the luminosity of white cloth under an overcast sky, the throbbing brilliance of sunlight reflected on highly polished surfaces — as well as his exploitation of the different tones and textures of deep gray and black — from the suppleness of skin to the dense weight of dark cloth to the energized emptiness of voids and shadows. More moody and poignant than sharp or harsh, more sad, even elegiac, than biting or bitter, these prints suggest that Frank was attempting to prove to his critics that The Americans was born not out of hatred, contempt, or disgust, not out of desire to destroy, but rather, as he had written, out of love."​

    [ ... ]​

    "To celebrate the new edition of the book, Aperture organized an exhibition of sixty-six photographs ... at the Philadelphia Museum of Art [in 1969]. ... Printed by Frank and the photographer Sid Kaplan, these photographs were larger (several were approximately 16 by 22 inches) than those he had made for his 1962 exhibition at MoMA and even more lush. Because of their size, the graphic strength of the images becomes far more apparent, as details that were lost in the approximately 4-by-7-inch or 8-by-5-inch reproductions in the book assumed much greater prominence and authority and were often transformed into bold, abstract forms."​

    [ ... ]​

    "[Frank's] growing infatuation with film, coupled with his disillusionment with still photography and perhaps also some inattention, surely help to explain, in part, what he referred to as the "lousy" printing and binding of the 1968 edition of The Americans. Published by Aperture and MoMA, the book's reproductions were made using Stonetone, a duotone process perfected by Sidney Rapoport that attempted to replicate photogravure. However, the reproductions are not only much paler than those in the earlier editions, they are also positioned incorrectly on the page ... "​

    "Aperture and Grossman Publishers reprinted the book in 1969, and although the images are properly aligned, the reproductions are still far different from those in the Delpire or Grove Press editions. Printed with extremely high contrast, they contain none of the details in either the highlights or shadows that had been so lovingly rendered in the gravures by Draeger Frères for the 1958 and 1959 editions. As mystery and sensuousness were replaced by blasted bleakness, many of the people depicted in the photographs were transformed into ghoulish,grotesque figures. Subtle details [were lost] ... Fluorescent bulbs and jukeboxes that had pulsated and glowed in the Draeger Frères gravures became blinding floodlights and the "holy halo" of sunlight bouncing off a chair in Restaurant — US 1, leaving Columbia, South Carolina that had so mesmerized Kerouac became little more than a meaningless, disturbing glare."​

    "This edition of the book, however, was the one that became a bible — "An amulet," as an artist noted — for many photographers coming to maturity in the 1970s. Unable to appreciate the graphic complexity of Frank's compositions from this new edition or the tone and mood he had created, these photographers frequently looked more to the new icons he had identified, his seemingly loose, casual style, and his apparent disdain for technique. This printing also colored much of the critical appreciation of Frank's art in the 1970s and was the basis not only for comments about the "scummy tone" of his "grainy ... harshly lit ... and badly printed" photographs but also for interpretations of "The Americans as a portrayal of "sullen people, bored, phlegmatic, nasty in their emptiness," who show "the spiritual desolation of contemporary American life." It should be noted, however, that this 1969 rendition of The Americans, with its greater contrast, not only was more consistent with the gritty, high-keyed aesthetic popular among photographers of the time but also more closely approximated the gelatin silver papers that were available in the late 1960s and 1970s, which often lacked the rich, subtle tonal range of the ones Frank had used in the 1950s and early 1960s."​

    I'll leave out the later scenes from some of Frank's movies where he shows himself power-drilling and then taking to the trash, his prints.
  13. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    when you search for The Americans on google (right now, right here, WICA*)you get nuffin' but links to a tv series. fair enough, i always thought TA was overrated unlike London & Wales and the early edge of the world stuff.

    *where i currently am
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    hoo-ever, what i am interested in is the different print versions especially what prompted RF to go from the first version (well accepted) to the "lousy" 68 version to the final, ghastly sounding, tri-toned 2008 version.

    in particular, isn't he suggesting that those who talk about doing everything " in the best possible taste", those that suggest separating content from presentation is naff, are talking nonny-nonsense?
  15. Shoot In Raw, Shoot In Color , LOW ISO , Composition , When To Shoot
  16. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i thought there was something fundamentally odd with this but didn't know to describe how i felt

    now i do. bear wiv me, it's worth it and it has a simple, happy, binary, non NP ending…have you ever seen Superman Deux*, the one where SM's dad** punishes those BADASSES by sticking 'em in a picture frame- a 2-D space [drones on in italics]

    was Julie's post a compliment or a slur?

    * datzzz cultured for II, innit
    ** British English for Father

  17. That's a really good point.

    Just off the top of my head, it reminds me of how much Minor White talked about the book format, the series, and the space between the pictures, yet he had many strong ties to the Adams/Weston tradition of the gorgeous single print.
  18. Phil, today's picture in my Met Museum picture-a-day calendar is this from Atget. I don't think I've ever seen it before — it's not in any of the many Atget books that I have.

    As usual from him, it's an amazing picture. Just picking one thing out of many, the use of the gentle slope of the pedestal with/against the pose of the foreground statue. It does seem a little bit unusual in how almost formal the composition is. the bit of railing along the bottom/front edge is so careful (and good).
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i, literally, don't know about weston but adams' pics (and his books and his fame) are all about reproduceability (la meme, la meme, toujours la meme) but frank was more experimental (try anything, honey). including the presentation
  20. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    of course it's integrated, ffs. but what about processing for $$$$'s sake? there was never any need for frank, or his printer, to redo TA with a new, improved, shiny look (or your money back) assuming the images were any good and didn't date etc.…

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