Saturday Evening Post:#60 A touch of Black and White

Facing a blank sheet

is an artist’s terror
Deng Ming-Dao

It is a most interesting thought for those who try to find a medium of expression.

It’s not just an urge to create something, but to express something.
But what, and for each of us that answer is different.

One of the joys, rather than terrors of our art is finding that vision and then pursuing ways to bring to life for the enjoyment or the edification of others.

On his web, “The Online Photographer”, author Mike Johnson has been examining and critiquing where Black and White digital photography has been heading, and what are some of the challenges.

I had the good fortune, to work, at least for a short while,  with one of the great black and white printers of the 1970s. A critical time in the world of black and white imaging as the new kid on the block was the expanding colour print market.

Wedding albums were still hand-coloured.  Bridesmaids dresses where pastel shades, people had ‘blue’ eyes, and a good handcolourist was a prized asset to a studio.

As Mike points out in his article the difference between the work then, and a bulk of current digital b&w was a rich deep black, a stunning white, and a superb range of middle tones.
As Mike sees it, the mid tones are now a thing of the past, as we stretch our Tone Curve Sliders left and right to make, St Ansels “Soot and Chalk”. (A term coined by Ansel Adams for washed out results)

The Lab I worked in had the most wonderful Durst A600 4×5 inch enlarger and a range of Nikon and Rodagon Enlarging lenses. Optics that were indeed cutting edge, if there had been an edge to cut.
The philosophy of the lab was simple. The craftsman said, “If its not good enough to hang on my wall, its not good enough for my customer.”.
And a print was examined, and if not up to standard, it was reprinted.  And woe to the printer, if that happened the second time. Kept us on our toes.

Blacks were indeed, Black. Mid-tones sparkled, and whites, did infact hold detail.

Trip forward a number of years, and I no longer make black and white prints.  I look at the results from highend black and white printers (the machinery, not the operator), and in-spite of fantastic inks and amazing rag papers, I usually am confronted with soot and whitewash.
On screen results are no more encouraging.

Yet, truth be told, I still see in Monochrome a lot.

My fav way of getting there these days is via Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro.

I think the last image I shared here was of a Grey Butcherbird, and strangely here is another.
When I found this Butcherbird just recently, I thought, “Oh, how good you will look in monochrome”, and worked to get a respectable backdrop for it, and SExP did the rest.
I chose a film style of an old Ilford favourite Pan F and added a touch of Selenium tone to hold those wondrous mid tones.