Ever since watching my first black and white print emerge under the soft glow of the safelight in my high school's darkroom, I've known that I wanted to be a photographer. All of a sudden, I felt like I could close my eyes, and more clearly imagine my future, which I had never been able to do before.
Fast forward nearly twenty years, dozens of magazine covers, hundreds of advertisements, a handful of continents traveled to, but I feel the most excited about rolling out my fine art work, all black and white. Each and every image has been carefully composed on a 4x5 inch sheet of silver-coated black and white film, carefully hand-processed, then printed on a sheet of silver gelatin archival black and white paper. It's a time-consuming process, but it is something I'm more passionate about than anything else. Sure, I could shoot digital, but honestly, it doesn't look the same. Digital is missing the soul.
In 2009, after a decade of magazine work, I decided to purchase a 4x5 field camera, similar to the one used by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc. I loved shooting large format in college, but never had the money for one. So, after saving for a bit, I found one, bought it, picked up a lens, a few film holders and a box of film, and suddenly, I was in business. The hustle and bustle of the world of digital photography had been wearing on me. I felt like I had turned into a "spray and pray" photographer; just shoot a bunch of frames, and one of them is bound to work out. I didn't feel that I was thinking enough, or slowing down to focus on the details.
My life was about to take a huge turn. My wife and I were expecting our first child. I was tired of the magazine life, and wanted to do more with my photography, so I just up and quit the magazine I was working for, wife eight months pregnant. I started grinding away, getting advertising work, and doing what I wanted to do, for a change. Within a month, or so, I had lined up work with Under Armour, Airwalk and The North Face. I had also photographed a feature for ESPN (below), all in black and white with my large format system, which received great reviews.
Over the past few years, I've gone from looking at a scene as what I'd consider a "traditional landscape", and instead focus on the graphic elements of it. Every scene has a structure hidden within. I find and isolate that structure, be it sticks in the water, ripples of sand, or light raking across a landscape. I seek out the beauty of the serenity within the scene, and put it on center stage.
I've also recently come to the realization that "black and white" isn't just the end result. It's not a colorless print, and it also doesn't simply begin by recording it on black and white film. Black and white is a style of photography, and that style can't be achieved by just stripping the color out of your typical color photograph. Black and white and color are composed completely differently, one of them not having the luxury of being able to rely on color to save it. With black and white, you're left with shape and texture, and with those limited ingredients, baking a tasty dessert is a difficult task.
Above, Mesquite Flat IX and X (2014) were both photographed in the same dunes on the same day, about a half hour apart, however were exposed differently when I photographed them to reflect a different feel than one another. If these scenes appeared in color, one would look highly overexposed, and the other extremely dark, as the viewer would be focusing on what their mind perceives as "normal" sand, and overlook the graphic beauty and tones in each photograph.
Working with large format has also made me more carefully compose all of my photography, whether it's a sand dune on black and white film, or a digital portrait of tennis star Andy Murray, I pay extremely close attention to what's going on in the frame. With my black and white work, each and every detail is where it is for a reason, and while composing a photograph, if I can't get what I find pleasing, I won't push the shutter release. I'm my own worst critic, and if I wouldn't hang it on my wall, then I wouldn't let it hang on anyone else's.