Black & White: The Humphrey Bogart of Photography

The unknown. The unspoken. The infinite spaces “in between”. The unanswered questions, which do have answers, if we can just find them. These are the notions that draw us, lure us, pull us into any great mystery.

The main character of our mystery today is light itself. It is fleeting and temporary.  Capturing it is like a siren song to photographers. It lures and captures us our hearts, then demands that we tell its story, beginning with its glorious illumination, its gradual fade –  its eventual disappearance into darkness. Or is it the other way around?

The Humphrey Bogart of Photography

I often think of black and white as the Humphrey Bogart of photography; it cloaks itself in mystery, dancing between light and shadow, making no apologies, offering no explanation, simply leaving you standing there by yourself to decide where one reality ends and another begins. It is the ultimate mystery, which keeps you asking questions and wanting to know more.

In the deep dark nightbeneath a bright streetlight,she wore a hood drawn tightto keep her hair just rightas she waited all night...for him.

The Power of Negative Space

The possibilities of negative space run deep: it is incredibly powerful. It demands your attention. It’s like a really long pause in a conversation (she who wields the power of silence effectively has everyone’s attention, after all.)

Pause deepens.
Nary a sound.
Not a breath.
[even the crickets impressed to silence.]

See how that works?

Anything is possible within the darkness of negative space. It’s archetypal. There is potential. There are a million questions waiting. There is peace and rest.

Then there’s that penumbra. (Love that word. Definition: “the point or area in which light and shade blend”). The shadow place where light and dark mix it up. In that magical space there is movement, a shift occurring. What does it mean? Is light falling into darkness… or is darkness being chased away by the ultimate illumination? Is it the hero’s victory? Or the last stand before his fall?

Diamonds in the night...Exchanging moisture.Beadlets on a leaf...Not in a cloister.Huddling in the lightthat shown down from the moooooon...

This is just part of what I love so much about working in black and white. It’s all mystery, non-linear, not easily explained. It makes me talk in sentence fragments. It offers a chance to see thing differently. Claim a different ending… or even choose to NOT know the ending.

It constantly beckons to us to explore the extremes of dark and light and the shadowy edge of ‘between’ and in the process, discover new eyes.

The Hero’s Journey: Life as Art

All I ever wanted to do was to radiate light and be its artist. (Except, that is, for a brief time as a youth when I thought I wanted to be a nun.) To me, art was never that thing they taught in schools. I don’t know what THAT thing was.

To me, art was something you were entrusted with, like a precious jewel. It was that space – that penumbra if you will – where eternity spilled into the physical realms and a soul’s voice could finally be heard in its own language for all to see and hear. It’s OWN language; not one sadly distorted from trying to dumb it down and squeeze it into the rigid encasement of words.

Creating with light like was always a hero’s journey to me. One long enough to last beyond a lifetime – and alter everything in its path.

I always felt that living one’s life that way would discover that life had become an art unto itself.

Which was exactly the kind of artist I wanted to be.