The Carafe in Black and White

The Carafe in Black and White Photo When I was a graduate student at Northern Illinois University studying photography with Larry Gregory back in the day, the work that got you noticed, the work that was considered “serious” was black and white. Larry, one of the photography instructors I studied with, looked like a young Orson Wells, a bearded guy, from Southern Illinois University down in Carbondale Illinois. In addition to his academic work, he did a stint in the Navy as the official photographer on a battle ship. Larry was a pretty cool guy, not all that much older than we students, and he would tell us that if you wanted to say something important: Say it in black and white. Of course when I started doing commercial work, everybody wanted color, those bright colors in Kodachrome as Paul Simon once famously sang. In most commercial work, black and white was anything but admired, it was considered a cheap alternative to doing color. Still the mystique and allure of black and white stuck with me. Of course, color work in the days of color transparency film was tough; there wasn’t any manipulation like the Ansel Adams dark room magic that you could do with black and white, such as burning in high light detail, and dodging the shadows from going too dark. There was a whole arcane, abstruse world of special developers, papers and all kinds of stuff that you could do to change the look and feel of the photograph. So there was this duality: shoot color and you better get it right, get it right in the camera. (This was the pre-digital era.) And then there was the black and white work, that had all this interpretive potential in the post production dark room. And so, even when I was shooting color product photography full time commercially, I usually turned to black and white film for my self assignments. A little later in the late 1990’s, digital capture became the norm, and most of us just forgot about black and white, because in the early days of digital, getting any kind of quality in black and white was problematic. You could capture black and white in the camera, but by the time you converted it to an ink jet print, something got lost in the translation. Those rich blacks and creamy whites vanished into a low contrast piece of funky junk. Around this transition time, I took my oldest daughter Emily down to see an Ansel Adams show in Chicago. They had all his beautiful work enlarged and displayed and it just took my breath away. Incredible. Emily liked it too. Thinking about black and white, and researching the topic, I found good work was being done in digital black and white. Companies like Epson, started making printers that could do black and white, well, right. And so it was, when I happened to be walking through a Crate and Barrel store, I chanced upon the carafes in the photograph enclosed. Something about the way they were stacked on the shelf made me think that they might make a nice study in black and white. And so that’s the story of the photo, things seem to go in cycles and circles, black and white to color and back, and history, as the old cliché goes, does seem to repeat itself. So that’s my story about the photograph, which I hope you like.