Recent Departure :: Exploring Black & White Photography

Posted on January 12 2017

Over the past few weeks I have had numerous people message me on various social platforms inquiring about the recent departure in my photography. Mainly this move to primarily shooting in black and white that I have been doing for the past 6 months. I do realize that this is vastly different from what a lot of you may come to know my photography as not only in technique but also subject matter. 

Reminding myself that the V/SUAL blog is not just a platform to showcase imagery to share stories but also it is an avenue to express thoughts through words. I felt sharing my point of view in this direction would make for a good read as well as a bit of an explanation. 

Back in September of last year I was asked to be apart of a panel discussion for Leica Camera at Photoville in Brooklyn. The topic was Finding your Voice in a Digital Age of Photography. Something that I am sure has plagued all of us at one point or another. With more and more people making "good" photos everyday how does one find their identity? Let along mixing in the social aspect of likes and follower counts to throw us off course. 

During this panel discussion I had the honor to hear one of my favorite photographers Ralph Gibson discuss his view on this. Now when you hear someone speak so passionately and intelligently about something such as photography it should make you check yourself in numerous ways. His body of work alone would shut you up and make you take notes.

One point he made was that software is something we all have access to which means we all have the ability to make our pictures look the same. Wether it is shooting with a cellular device or using presets in Lightroom On the other hand the one thing we all truly have that is not able to be duplicated is our eye. Our vision. Our one sense that visibly allows us to interpret the world through our cameras. To see things in your own perspective, that is if you choose to see that way. 

Needless to say I spent the rest of the day pondering my photography after this discussion. What it meant to me but more importantly what I want it to mean to me. The next day I woke determined to start to truly find myself in photography. With this new found sense I decided to change up my approach. One camera and one lens. And to top it off I would take my Monochrom with me. I had this idea to hit a reset button in my mind and in my eyes. Rather than take out multiple focal lengths I thought just stick to one as to not be so distracted by choices. Using a black and white only digital camera also made me not get distracted by colors. 

Maybe it has been the Instagram style of photo editing that has occurred over the past 6 or so years that got to me but I started to realize that in my own photography as well at times I was letting the color palette dictate the subject matter at times within the images. Sure sunsets are pretty but what is actually going on in the photo other than capturing some colors in the sky? Or perhaps it would be letting a photo draw my attention away from what was going on to be fascinated by the colored wall in the back drop. Too many distractions can occur with color photography I think, which brings back the idea questioning the context of the photo. 

I started looking at photos by other photographers and even some of my friends where I felt yes it is a technically good and composed photo but what is actually going on in the picture? Often times there wasn't anything directly speaking to me with in the photos.

While out photographing New York City the day after the panel discussion I saw it as an optical challenge. Here is a city I have photographed numerous times and now I need to learn how to see things differently. Rather than shooting a common placed skyline or waiting around for grand street moment I opted to have fun utilizing light, shadows and shapes for my photos. Learning to see the uniqueness in the mundane. Learning to develop my eye in my own way. And you know what, after a few hours of shooting like this I started to have fun! I loved this challenge, but at this point it didn't feel like a challenge. It just felt like I was making photos that I enjoyed!

I continued on this path and kept finding myself discovering a new sense of photography for me. One that had fulfilled me in a lot of ways. Learning to rely on my eye to make the photos and not the software in a post process. By completely eliminating the color palette and looking purely at the subject matter at hand. Along with use of light and composition these are the elements I rely on making my pictures. 

Now I am not giving up completely on color photos. By no means, I do some commercial work wether for my brand or outside companies and not everyone is open to the idea of pure black and white photos. The idea at hand is to understand this mind set to the point that when I do make color photos they carry on the same ideology and approach as shooting black and white. The idea is if a picture can hold the same weight in black and white as it does in color that is the goal. If you make a photo black and white and you lose the same feeling then maybe it was just the colors making the photo good and not the subject matter? 

This is my mindset and where it has been for the past 6 months. Rather than worry about catering to an audience (which I am grateful for) I opted to take some time to push myself and to grow in a different way. Sure I could have kept doing the same old color photos and continue to have the good fortune to keep shooting with models but I am not someone that can keep doing the same thing over and over just for the sake of what others expect from me. Once something starts to feel easy I think you need to challenge yourself. But more importantly it was the idea of pushing on the concept of making photos vs. taking photos. I wanted to be more precise with what I see in my pictures. In such a way that you the viewer can quickly see my deliberate intent I had when making a photo. 

The idea of this personal project for me is to understand a deeper meaning of making a photograph in such a way that my technique will transcend the subject matter. Showcase things how I see them in a way they all are cohesive. Wether it is a model, street, aerial or abstract. You will be able to see the competence of myself through my camera.

Sorry for this long rant. If you made it this far than bravo, hope you enjoyed the read. Stay up.

- Stephen Vanasco


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