Category Archives: Monochrome

Ready Pilgrim One

At the outset I must stipulate that a spacious room in a luxury 5-star hotel is a great place to organize for a longish walk on the Camino de Santiago. The Parador at the Convent of San Marcos in León, Spain, where I stayed before I began my Camino, meets this description of “luxury”. I stipulate to this luxury a bit abashed: the concept of a pilgrimage and the life of ease don’t mesh together so well. Traditionally, a pilgrimage involves penitence and pain—the blisters currently on my feet satisfy this requirement, alas.

According to the Wikipedia, the “convent of San Marcos is one of the great architectural jewels of the Spanish city of León.” It’s featured as the luxury stop the protagonist treats his Camino cohort to in The Way, the Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez film that has brought so many pilgrims to the Camino de Santiago.

The Convent of San Marcos has been (as the name implies) a convent, a monastery, a hospital, and a way-station for pilgrims. My photograph of one of the interior cloisters is shown below.

Lower Cloisters, Convent of San Marcos © Harold Davis

In its current incarnation as a newly renovated luxury hotel, part of the Parador chain, there is something tawdry and abominable about the place. It’s geared for the luxury bus tourist trade. Easy listening American standards are piped via a too-high volume sound system into all the public spaces. They’ve gutted the classical atrium and replaced it with a modern interior structure, justifying this colossal design inanity with an exhibition of modernist Spanish art.

One can have second thoughts about privatizing a great historical structure for the benefit of well-to-do tourists. No second thoughts are possible about the awful design choices that were made during this renovation.

So, ready pilgrim one! Onward to the simpler life as a pilgrim-with-a-camera walking the Camino.

Also posted in Spain

Flower like a shell

I’ve been working on photographing a group of white Calla Lilies the past few days. With this image, I tried to abstract the flower so that it seemed almost like a shell, or perhaps the sensuous lines of fabric.

Calla Lily Study © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Flowers, Photography

Walking by the Sea

Yesterday I went exploring with fellow-photographer QT Luong, the creator of Our National Monuments. Of course, we brought our cameras, and spent the afternoon through sunset along the beautiful San Mateo coast.

The first photograph was made in a grove near Davenport, California. The image below it was taken at  Waddell Beach as a squadron of pelicans flew in front of the setting sun. (What do you call a group of pelicans, anyway? I’ve heard “pod,” “fleet,” and “pouch”—but “squadron” seems to fit pretty well.)

Grove near Davenport, California © Harold Davis

Pelican Party © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

Funhouse

When one is lost in a funhouse, as a photographer, the first question is, can one lose one’s reflection. Days subsequent, one looks for a way out.

I made this photograph from within the House of Mirrors on Petrin Hill, in Prague in the Czech Republic in 2015. It strikes me now as a fairly appropriate image for Halloween.

Hall of Mirrors, Prague © Harold Davis

Also posted in Czech

Hoan Kiem Lake

In 2017, my friend Eric and I explored Vietnam. We flew into Hanoi through Taiwan, and checked into our hotel. As we explored the bustling, steamy city, we stopped on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake for some photography, and made some images, including the one below that I recently processed for the first time.

Click here for a photo of Turtle Tower, located on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake (and visible in the distance in the photo below), and here for more about our adventure in Vietnam from the beginning.

Hoan Kiem Lake © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Romanesco Broccoli

Broccoli that we enjoy on our tables is the blossom of a flowering plant, and this is nowhere more apparent than with Romanesco Broccoli, shown in extreme close-up below. 

The little spiral flowers on the Romanesco Broccoli are created with rotations. The number of rotations for each one is a number in the Fibonacci sequence. This is the famous sequence named after thirteenth century mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, better known as Fibonacci: each Fibonacci number is the sum of the two preceding ones, so 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on.

Romanesco Broccoli © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

More about seeing in Black & White

Recently I’ve been thinking about black and white photography. One context is the landscape of Iceland, and the relative appropriateness of color and monochrome.

A comparison of black & white versus color ways of seeing also came up in correspondence I recently had with someone I shall call X. Without going into details, X has a medical condition which means that he cannot perceive color.

Black Sand Beach © Harold Davis

As someone recently enamored with photography, X wanted my opinion as to whether photography was viable since he could only see in black and white, and how much of a liability his perceptual challenges might present. At one point in our conversation, I asked X to consider if only seeing monochrome might not actually be a “super power”—and confer unexpected benefits.

In the course of our conversation, X brought up four issues that concerned him:

  1. How do you decide what is best in Black & White? I understand fundamentals like composition, light, contrast, texture etc. but is there anything else in your thought process?
  2. Have you found photographic subjects which simply do not work well in Black & White?
  3. Do you think your photography would be different if you never saw color?
  4. Do you think that even when viewing the most stunning B&W photograph, people still feel something missing?

Falling Water © Harold Davis

I answered X as follows:

First, asking about the subjects that work best in black and white, is fully answered in my book Creative Black and White 2nd Edition in the first part The Monochrome Vision (pp 16-83). 

Your second question, subjects that don’t work well in monochrome, is the obverse of the first question, and, as such, is also discussed in The Monochrome Vision section of my book. The short answer is that any image that is truly about color would not work in black and white. Some of the photographs of Ernst Haas and William Eggleston come to mind (and some of my own, for that matter).

Taking this into the wider world of art, the work of some of the impressionists (Monet and Gauguin most clearly) are really about color, and would not work well in monochrome. This list could go on, and (reductively)  the work of color-field painters (Arshile Gorky, Kennith Nolan, Mark Rothko, Mondrian, etc.) would not work without color. To summarize, when the subject is color, the image won’t work in black & white.

Two Towers © Harold Davis

Whether my photography would have been different if I had never seen color, the third question, is hard to answer, because it calls for speculation on a negative. But personally, color has always been very meaningful to me, and some of the earliest art that inspired me was about color, so I think my work would likely be different if I’d never seen color. But, you know, it is impossible to unsee things once they are seen; so I have no real idea how I would be different as an artist. I do know that I still could have made art even without any perception of color.

Finally, whether black and white is missing something, I don’t think so. Of course, people differ: but my own opinion is absolutely not, perceptive viewers do not feel anything is missing in a striking b&w photo. So long, that is, that the black and white is intentional, and it is not just a color image squashed to black and white. As an example, it would be a dullard indeed who thought anything was missing in the best of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston.

Spiral Stair © Harold Davis

A little about the black & white images that accompany this story: In Black Sand Beach a white line (of incoming surf) splits the dark beach from the storm-tossed ocean on Iceland’s south coast. Falling Water is a capture of water in motion, a subject of endless fascination, and often essentially monochromatic. There are spirals, but not much color to be found in Two Towers or Spiral Stairs. The towers are small-scale industrial silos on the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland, and I found the spiral stair in a gift shop in downtown Reykjavik. 

Also posted in Iceland, Photography

Iceland in Monochrome

There’s something about the wild and stark landscapes of Iceland that compel me towards monochrome. Oh, there’s plenty of color in Iceland, depending on the time and place (as examples of color, consider my version of the Godafoss waterfall under the setting midnight sun, and this Highlands landscape).

But in my opinion, the spectacular landscapes of Iceland when rendered in color can verge on the “postcard” look; the high-contrast scenery that reminds one of the existential struggle to eke out survival over the last millennia is, for me, truly a study in black and white. 

Vestrahorn © Harold Davis

Haifoss Variation 4 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Iceland, Landscape

Gullfoss Rift

An unusual feature of the famous and spectacular Gullfoss waterfall is that the water flow makes an almost immediate 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom of the falls, down into the rift shown in the distance in this image.

It’s an almost surreal experience standing with one’s camera above the head of the turn of the flowing waters, trying to make an exposure through the intense, wind-blown spray, and enjoying the grandeur of the setting. 

Gullfoss Rift © Harold Davis

Also posted in Iceland, Landscape, Photography

Coming into Iceland

Coming into Iceland after a long-haul overnight flight, the land near the airport looked flat and green as a steady mist fell. Talking the shuttle bus in from the airport, I wandered around Reykjavik with my camera—this slight motion blur of the distinctive Hallgrims-Kirkja tower perhaps echoing my disoriented state of mind!

Hallgrims-Kirkja © Harold Davis

Also posted in Iceland

The Blossfeldt Effect webinar video recording

We’ve posted The Blossfeldt Effect video webinar recording. Here’s the description:

In this unique and creative webinar, Harold starts with a look at the characteristics of a Blossfeldian composition. What kinds of subjects did Blossfeldt choose to photograph, and why? What makes a particular botanical specimen visually exciting?

Next, Harold explores two possible places to start with Blossfeldian botanical compositions: the black background and the light box.

To cap it off, Harold demonstrates how he processes his Blossfeldt-like images using some surprisingly simple yet tricky steps.

I think you’ll enjoy this one, it is one of our best!

Click here for The Blossfeldt Effect video, here for a catalog listing of our video webinar recordings, here for my YouTube channel, and here for upcoming Workshops & Events.

California Live Oak © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Workshops

The Blossfeldt Effect Webinar coming up on Saturday June 12

Karl Blossfeldt (1866-1932) began his career at a decorative ironwork manufacturer. He was assigned the task of creating reference botanical photographs to use for wrought iron designs. Eventually, his iconic botanical images became celebrated in their own right, and today he is known as one of history’s foremost botanical photographers.

I’ve long been fascinated by Blossfeldt’s botanical imagery and have developed a set of techniques for emulating the beautiful photographs of this master.

Some of my work in homage to Blossfeldt has even been mistaken for the real thing on a certain art consolidation website that shall not be named!

You can check out a portfolio of my (genuine, authorized Harold Davis) prints after Blossfeldt on Saatchi Art

Click here to read more, and here to register for this webinar!

Queen Anne's Lace © Harold Davis

Queen Anne’s Lace © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Workshops

Travels in the Inter-Mountain West

These are newly-processed images from travels in the inter-mountain American West in early 2020 just before the pandemic struck and we began sheltering in place.

As vaccinations proceed apace, I am looking forward to traveling with my camera again soon!

Old Tree © Harold Davis

Colorado River © Harold Davis

Death Valley Landscape © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Wayback Machine

Today we will journey to a labyrinth and church on the island of Gozo in the Malta archipelago, followed by the Île de la Cité along the banks of the Seine in Paris early in the morning of an autumn day. Both were photographed pre-pandemic in November, 2018, and first processed just now.

Maze and Church, Gozo © Harold Davis

Île de la Cité © Harold Davis

Also posted in Malta, Paris, Photography

From the Files

California Live Oak © Harold Davis

Here are two images from my files. California Live Oak (above) is from 2019, photographed in Walnut Creek, California. 

Arcade, Trapani (below) is from November, 2018, photographed in Trapani, a seaport on the western coast of Sicily, Italy.

Arcade, Trapani © Harold Davis

Also posted in Italy, Photography