Black and White Portrait Photography

Group portraits in black and white

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

It has been years since I have been in a black and white darkroom, using chemistry to develop film and prints. I miss the intensity and joy of that process and the work that is needed to take lasting black and white photo portraits.

This week I was digging through my boxes of old prints and found a couple that I gave to a friend, who is featured in one of these two group shots. One is of his extended family who I have known for decades now. The second is of my friend in Vietnam, with his public health colleagues in Hanoi.

The warmth I find in a black and white group portrait, taken on film, can’t be replaced by digital. Digital may provide a level of sharpness and clarity, and simplicity. It still lacks the feeling I always experienced seeing my prints slowly emerge in the developer bath under the safe light of a darkroom, reeking of chemicals.. More than 15 years after I took these shots, I still feel that emotion.

A study in beauty

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

In the early 2000s, I was enmeshed in the wonderful world of black and white portraiture. I used that time well.

I reached out to friends and contacts and asked them if they’d like to have their pictures taken. Everyone I asked appreciated the chance to have their portraits done.

These images come from that period, when I did a photo shoot in natural light in Woodland Park, in Seattle, My model was an admittedly beautiful person. I met her working, and we bumped into each other infrequently.

This photo shoot also represented a collaborative effort. We each contributed to the final body of images, which I took with a Nikon and Yashica twin-lens reflex.

All I can say is, some people are simply beautiful. They just look good on film. My model was one of those people.

I never saw her again after I gave her the 11×14-inch prints I promised. I would like to think she has one hanging in her study.

An Ode to my Former College Roommate

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Despite the inauspicious circumstances that led my former freshman college roommate to fly from France to Portland this week, I could not be more happy. It has been well over three decades since I shared the cramped dormitory living space in college with my friend, Sebastian. And fate brought him back to Portland this week. For that, I personally am grateful.

I probably could not have found a better person to share that tight living space with, when I was 18. It was the only time in my life I lived in a dorm (for one academic year exactly), and I am sure I was not the easiest person to be with. I had odd hours and was restless. I probably woke Sebastian up more than he would like doing those all-nighters that I tended to do during my undergraduate days.

Last night a group of us former classmates gathered at a local pub in Portland. I had not seen any of these folks in decades. I really enjoyed it. It made me realize how important connections can be, even when you part paths and move to different parts of the country, or world.

That get together inspired me to dig up two black and white shots I took of Sebastian, when I was more into black and white photography and darkroom experimentation. One shows him hard at work in his room during our freshman year. I always admired his ability to focus, not to mention his incredible intelligence. The other shows his creative side, which he had in spades. Thanks for helping to make that first year of college a success, and safe journeys, ami!

 

 

Tell me, you so wise, who among us does not have many masks

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The expression “Janus faced” stems from Roman mythology. The god it represents, Janus, was two-headed. Sculptures show  two faces arranged in opposite directions.  The contemporary expression “Janus faced” is used to call out “two-faced” or deceitful persons, often politicians. Classic Greek theater  has a similar pairing many modern theater goers have seen of the two masks of drama, which show the classical Greek division of comedy and tragedy. They symbolize ancient Greek muses, Thalia and Melpomene. The muse of comedy is represented by the laughing face, and the muse of tragedy is represented by the weeping face.

I thought about the faces we present to the public, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. No one is able to fully mask their emotions, and I would say all of us can wear each mask depending on our ambitions and circumstances. Many of us encounter this daily, perhaps in a work environment with someone who projects being a lovable person to impress an audience he or she deems important to his or her personal priorities, and then they wear the other face when they no longer need to put on an act and can display the polar opposite behavior, usually to subordinates.

A conversation I had last night made me think about this, and during my long run today I thought about a pair of pictures I have of someone I once knew. Her faces were wonderfully clear, and powerful. I took these photos more than a dozen years ago, when I was much more involved in black and white portraiture and fascinated by what those portraits would tell me and other viewers. I hope one day to have someone capture me with my masks so I can see how I project my masks to the public.

Emotions captured in black and white, in Denmark

 

I miss the chemical darkroom. For years I used Tri-X, ASA 400 film, and had figured out everything I wanted with that film, and how I liked to shoot it. Most of all, I loved and still love what you create with the silver-halide crystals that leave a type of graininess I have not duplicated precisely with the digital lab.

Here is a shot I took using Tri-X, ASA 400 film of some friends in Denmark, L & T. They agreed to be my subjects for a few shots during a quick trip I took to my favorite country in Europe back in the spring of 2004. This was taken on the island of Zealand, where we took a road trip to see some very old Danish things (cathedrals, pre-Gothic burial mounds, Viking museum exhibits), and to visit a beach house. I like the Danes, and I very much like my Danish friends. We have a lot to learn from them back over here. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)