Category Archives: Monochrome

Steam Train

I was photographing some derelict factory buildings in La Jara, Colorado, when a natty gentleman came out of the mostly disused train station beside the overgrown train tracks. He was the city manager of La Jara, which is near the New Mexico border, and his office was in the train station. He told me about the steam-powered Cumbres & Toltec scenic railroad, and said that I could just about arrive in time for today’s departure from Antonito.

Steam Train © Harold Davis

I drove to Antonito, and arrived just as the train was “gathering a head of steam” and pulling out of the station. I drove ahead a bit, and parked by the tracks to grab a sequence of shots, including this one. It looked pretty good in color. I decided to try taking it to monochrome, and don’t regret it!

About the Cumbres & Toltec scenic railroad:

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a National Historic Landmark that moves.  At 64-miles in length, it is the longest, the highest and most authentic steam railroad in North America, traveling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Rocky Mountain West.

Owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the train crosses state borders 11 times, zigzagging along canyon walls, burrowing through two tunnels, and steaming over 137-foot Cascade Trestle.

Also posted in Photography

The Eternal City: Albumen Print Simulations

I’m excited to be headed back to Italy this autumn, and have been looking through my archives. What work have I done in Italy, and how can I make progress from there?

These digital simulations of albumen printing are based on images I made in Rome. I had forgotten this series, from 2016, but now as I revisit it I am pleased (if I say so myself!).

Rome from St Peter’s Dome © Harold Davis

I briefly mentioned the image above in a blog story about a workshop I gave: “The sepia image of the eternal city (Rome) shown above was a classroom demonstration, with the file drawn from my recent trip to Italy.” I think what happened is that I liked the in-class demo so much that I worked through the other images (shown below) using the same set of techniques, and style!

Forum of Rome © Harold Davis

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Long Live Monochrome Memories!

Here are a few of my favorite monochromatic black and white images that I haven’t posted in a long time.

Bolinas Beach by Harold Davis

Bolinas Beach (2012) © Harold Davis

Apparently, despite its success as a large-sized print, Bolinas Beach has been resurrected from my files once before!

Reflections in a Maine Pond (2015) © Harold Davis

My original blog story on Reflections in a Maine Pond quoted the journals of Thoreau:

“To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind. . . . So it is with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity!”

Chateau de Nazelles 1 by Harold Davis

Chateau de Nazelles (2013) © Harold Davis

The Chateau de Nazelles was a really fun place to spend a few days in the heart of the Loire Valley; more about my thinking in making this image here.

Artichoke

Artichokes are good to eat. They are a real treat. You peel the leaves to the “meat” inside, in a spiral motion that echoes the visual path in this great, big edible flower as shown from above. 

The artichoke is shown here photographed straight down on a velvet background with some side lighting to bring out the spiral pattern. I bracketed exposures, and started layering using hand-HDR with the darkest exposure. The resulting low-key layer stack approaches life from the opposite direction than my more typical high-key layer stack. Poppy Dancer is another example of this technique, with some explanatory and tutorial links at the end of the Poppy Dancer story.

Artichoke on Black © Harold Davis

The lens I used for this image was my Nikkor tilt-shift macro (to even out the plane of focus) at an effective aperture of f/64. 

An inversion of the artichoke image is shown below, created in LAB color in Photoshop by applying an Invert adjustment to the L-channel.

Artichoke Inversion © Harold Davis

Click here for another kind of image of a thistle flower—a very close relative to the artichoke.

Also posted in Photography

Under the Bridges of Paris

As I’ve previously noted, I seem to spend a lot of time photographing underneath bridges. The beauty of the scene from the deck of a bridge is often pretty self-evident. On the other hand, the elegance and grace—in a “form follows function” kind of way—of the practical constructions that are under and hold up the bridge are not always so clear. But I find myself moved by the humble engineering that holds the weight of the bridge span on its shoulders. I think what is underneath a bridge is often visually very sexy.

Pont D’Arcole © Harold Davis

In Paris, it is very easy to access the under parts of the bridges across the Seine from the paths beside the river. In previous times, I’ve made images in this way of Parisian bridges, including the Pont Solferino and the Pont de la Concorde.

Under the Pont de Grenelle © Harold Davis

This April’s collection of Parisian under-bridge spans began with the Pont de Grenelle, photographed from the Île aux Cygnes. Next, on a bright and breezy day we walked along the right bank starting near the Île Saint Louis past the Pont D’Arcole and the Pont Notre Dame, emerging from the river side just past the Pont des Arts.

Beneath Pont de Grenelle © Harold Davis

Pont D’Arcole © Harold Davis

Pont Notre Dame © Harold Davis

Pont des Arts © Harold Davis

I had a great time photographing these bridges, and am glad I can share my images with you.

From a general perspective, next time you are photographing something structural, consider how it works and what is holding the structure up. Often, visual analysis stops at surface appearance. But I also like to think about the under carriage and the mechanism, as this can be as profound and significant as the face that is presented to the world.

Also posted in Paris, Photography

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