Looking Back in Black and White
All images are copyright, George Cannon, all rights reserved.
When I first began photography seriously, I shot black and white film. Mostly Tri-X, developed at a community rental darkroom and printed by hand. I learned a lot about photography by doing this, about light and contrast and film density and filters and highlight and shadow detail and film latitude.
I went through boxes of paper, experimenting, running test strips, making print after print until I got what I wanted. I also relied heavily on the old Time-Life series of books on photography. I don’t believe there was ever a more instructional and inspiring series for beginning photographers that taught about the basics of film and cameras, light and exposure, tricks and techniques, and exposed me to the very best photography by the best photographers in the world.
Digital has changed the way of looking at much of the technical aspects, but the basics of exposure and making a good print still apply. Photoshop has given us a whole new set of tools for rendering the final results. The days of paper and chemistry and hours on my feet under the glow of the safelight are pretty much behind me now. Although I still have a great appreciation for a finely crafted silver print.
In the last couple of weeks I have been scouring over my old black and white negatives looking for images I loved to print in the past and digitizing them so I would have access to them on the computer. I use a Minolta slide scanner for this. I have been fortunate because I had the good sense to organize and file my negatives safely years ago in binders with corresponding contact sheets. So my negatives are virtually scratch and dust free. Something I can’t say for my color slides. But it has been inspiring to look back over years of images and pick out those pictures that I always loved as well as some that I have found a new appreciation for.
When I lived in Atlanta, I would often spend my Sunday mornings driving about the city in search of images. Sunday mornings were always a quiet time with little traffic and fewer people up and about. I would drive around listening to “Concert Hall”, a classical radio program (even though I was somewhat of a hippie and preferred rock and roll in general), because the music just seemed to fit the Sunday morning mood.
As I collected images from around the city I began to be aware of how our environment changes. Things I took pictures of one day would be gone a week later. Buildings torn down, trees cut, areas that were run down eventually replaced with something new. Without recording things, I probably would have simply not noticed as changes happened. But by being aware of my surroundings as a result of peering at it through the camera’s lens, I became more aware of how things changed.
I think that’s one of the things photography does for us. Makes us more aware in general of our world and how in flux it is all the time. That’s one of the driving forces that causes us to take pictures in the first place, that desire to hold on to a passing moment so as not to loose it or to just preserve that memory of it, lest we forget.
My black and white images span a time from when I first began photography to the early 1980’s, about 15 years. I shifted to color slides in the late 70’s in an effort to produce material for the publishing market. So these negatives span a very important part of my creative development as a photographer.
They cover time in Georgia, my years in Rochester, and then in Boston, as well as my transition to upstate New York. They bring back memories, as photos should, of events and friends, people I have lost touch with, and places I have seen, lived in, and moved away from.
They represent growth, and changes, losses and gains, experiences and trials, beyond just an artistic statement. A journal of sorts. They help us sort our past and see our life as a time line. They are our record and our statements about life.