The natural landscape and the urban landscape have always felt more or less the same to me.
I have to confess that if I was reading that statement for the first time it would strike me as either deliberately provocative, or perhaps as simply absurd. “How”, you might ask, “can an evergreen forest with a dusting of snow ‘feel’ the same as naked rebar protruding from a concrete foundation with an urban skyline as a backdrop?” So allow me to qualify that statement: it’s as a photographer that I feel it’s all grist for the photographic mill, and in that way, essentially equal.
Whether this makes sense to you as viewers of the photographs is not a question I want to dwell on here. If you find the notion either absurd or provocative, my hope is that you’ll at least think about the proposition, and more importantly, that you’ll enjoy the photographs (which of course is my hope for those of you for whom the idea does makes some sense). What is of more interest to me here is the presenting of black and white and color photographs in the same exhibit. While I maintain that as a photographer the urban and natural landscapes are inseparable for me, it is also as a photographer that color and black and white have always presented themselves to me as entirely different beasts.
When I started photographing seriously in the late 1960s, I was equally as fascinated by the prospect of color, as I was black and white. Throughout the 1970s I exposed quite a lot of color film. The “better” I felt the work was getting, the more frustrated I became with the limitations of the color darkroom processes. The prints simply didn’t look the way I wanted them to look!
In black and white printing, the choice of paper, chemistry, contrast, toning; not to mention the skill and taste of the printer, all combine to create an exceptionally high level of control over the final result. This was not the case with the commonly available color processes of the period. No matter how effectively the variables mentioned above were dealt with, the color printer could never escape the actual color “palette” injected into the paper by the manufacturer– be it Kodak, Ilford, Ciba, Agfa, etc. If one didn’t like those “palettes”, one was simply out of luck. So it was for me. It was an easy decision to concentrate on black and white for the past 30 years.
As many photographers who have been at this for a while have done, I’ve added the new digital tools to my arsenal. I’ve spent several years now playing and experimenting with them, trying to figure out what they can do better than the old tools. There is still much to learn, but the one thing that was most immediately apparent to me was the fact that “color” was no longer dependent on the arbitrary palette of anyone. Through the wonders of Adobe Photoshop, remarkably sophisticated inkjet printers, and a wide variety of beautiful papers, every photographer can now style their color palette to their own taste.
So for several years I have been scanning some of the color negatives I made back in the 1970s, and have been working with them as digital files. In this show there are two distinct bodies of this work: one is from the Catskill Mountains in New York State, shot from 1973 to 1976, and the other is of industrial and rundown areas of San Francisco, shot in a manically productive April/May of 1978. The one thing I can say for sure about them now: They finally look the way I wanted them to look when I originally shot them. This “new work” is almost forty years old!
One of my favorite and most influential teachers – Ralph Putzker — a professor at San Francisco State University and an instructor at the Ansel Adams Workshops, once said to me that “black and white is a string quartet, and color a full symphony”. All analogies have their flaws I suppose, but this one, as did many of Ralph’s ideas, struck me as particularly insightful. It’s in this spirit that I offer this selection of my photographs.