BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography of New York by Dave Beckerman

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Month: February, 2001

First Quoted Interview

21 February, 2001 (15:11) | No comments

And, oh yeah, here’s the latest interview:

1. Why did you chose to shoot in only black-and-white?
When I first started shooting with black and white, (I was about fifteen years old) — it was because you could develop and print the pictures yourself. It seemed quite magical back then, how by exposing film you could pour these chemicals on it, and create a negative.

2. Why don’t you shoot color photos?
I am not crazy about color prints, and have never shot color film. I think that color film and prints seems less realistic than black and white. In other words, the colors in color film don’t really look the same as the colors I see without a camera. Shooting with black and white removes that problem.

3. What steps would you take to prove that black-and-white photography is
more artistic that color?
You cannot prove that. There’s been lots of junk shot in black and white, and lots of beautiful stuff shot in color. They are just tools for different times, and different artists. Any medium in the hands of an artist can produce art.

4. If you were to compare and contrast black-and-white photography to color
photography, what are two things that make them similar?

Well, the obvious similarity is that both generally seem to represent a 3 dimensional reality in two dimensions. i.e. most photography, whether black and white or color is based on the bending of light going through glass and imprinting itself on a flat medium. So ideas about composition, far and near relationships, etc. are the same. In both color and black and white, you are often trying to represent what you felt about a subject by how the shot is composed and lit.

5. What are two things that make them different?
One of the major differences is that in black and white photography you can control the various tones that are used, both at print time and at exposure time. You are not stuck with the colors that are tied to an object. Example might be a bowl of apples. Shot in black and white, the apples can be any shade of gray, from black to white, and still appear to be apples. In color, if you change the color of the apples to purple, they will no longer be accepted by most viewers as normal apples.

In black and white, it is quite easy to change the tone of one part of a picture (through dodging and burning). This can be done in color through computer programs, but you are still left with a certain representational limitations — i.e. the problem of the purple apple.

Another difference — most color prints and negatives simply don’t last as long as black and white film and negatives. For very little money, you can create a black and white print which will last for 200 years without fading. Doing the same thing in color is not as simple.

6. Why did you decide to chose a career in photography?
It’s more like photography chose me. I did it because it was the thing that I liked best. I shot for many years without even showing my prints to anyone. I also like the fact that you can produce fine photographs with or without the assistance of anyone else. Unlike a writer, who really needs to get his book published, or a musician, who might need to have his cd bought by a producer… I had the feeling that when a print was matted, and properly framed, it was done.

7. What are two things that of advice you would give someone who wants to
start a career in photography?

If you can, have something else to fall back on. For me, computer programming has helped me to be able to shoot just what and when I wanted. If I had to depend solely on photography to make a living, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do. That’s only one thing, but its important.

8. What is your favorite thing to photograph in black-and-white? Why?
The New York Subway. I’m not sure why. I think I was influenced by the look of German expressionist films, and the subway is the closest thing to the look of Metropolis.

9. Out of all the photos you’ve ever taken, which one would you say is your
favorite?
‘Good Careers’.

Some of my favorite shots have ocurred when I was simply shooting everything that moved.
I had just bought my first auto-focus camera and as I walked into my house, noticed these two guys going through my garbage. Nothing unusual about that. Happens every day. What was unusual was that I pointed the camera right at them, being about 3 feet away, and took the shot. One man said, ‘Hey, did you just take my picture?’. I said ‘No’ and hurried up the steps to my apartment.

A few months later, while looking at the negatives, I noticed the title of the book he had in his hand — 101 Careers!

I like the irony, and the serendipity.

10. What is the most difficult thing you come across when you shoot in
black-and-white?
Probably any scene that has a very large tonal range, where I am not using the Zone system, and I know that the thing is going to be real difficult to print. This can happen anywhere — it might be on the beach, or at night with bright lights in the foreground, and dark sky in the background. In other words, mostly these little technical things that can get annoying. The challenge, whether in black and white, or in color, is shooting people and catching them as they are.