A Tricky Question and a Mumbling Answer

This past weekend I took a day trip to photograph the Fonthill Castle along with fellow photographers, John Barclay, Tony Sweet, Rad Drew and Charles (Dick) Maclauchlan. Fonthill Castle is an amazing place and I hope to prepare a blog post when I get around to working on the photographs I took.

While shooting one particular scene, Tony Sweet asked me what I looked for when photographing in Black and White. The question took me by surprise and I mumbled my response saying that it was all about the light. However, almost as soon as I had said it I felt that it was a ridiculous answer. All photography is about “the light”. Although an important part of photography, light is not peculiar to black and white photography. I could have also said that it is all about the composition, or the color (tonal) relationships, the contrast, or something else equally ridiculous. Since they are all tangible it is easy to pick any one or more of these reasons when fabricating a response. But the reality is that it isn’t any of these things and I have no magical formula. If it were that simple then I would not only be creating black and white images, but would also be creating color images.

I thought about Tony’s question on my drive back home, but I couldn’t come up with an answer other than “I look for something that just feels right…”. When I see a subject that grabs my attention I don’t immediately search for a reason – it just looks and feels right. Only then do I start to compose the scene and analyze the light, tones, contrast, framing elements , etc. etc. to figure out what I can do to emphasize what grabbed my attention.

The image that accompanies this post is my interpretation of a scene that several of us photographed during the day and is where Tony asked me his question. I have now seen two or three versions of this scene, but what is really interesting is that we all saw it differently. Therefore, although each of us clearly had different reactions to the scene, it must have felt right to each of us in different ways. For me, this is one of the great joys in photography and is the reason why I struggle to understand someone when they say “I have seen it before”.

Fonthill Castle, Henry Mercer

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  1. Arthur and friends, as it is true that it is all about “the light” it is also true that it is all about “the minds eye”! As photographers we all “see things differently”. We discover new images from revisited places because as the light changes so does our mind’s eye. Why are we drawn back to a place? Is it that we feel enchanted and some inner connection or is it something that we cannot express.

  2. Great take on this, Arthur!

  3. Good post Arthur. Your take as a trademark “Ransome” look and I like it. Well done. Now you have me thinking about what it is I see…. I’m sure we’ll chat more about it on a future outing. Great to see you again.

  4. OK….I only saw the image posted online and commented without reading the post….so, let’s try this again:

    First off, I’m flattered that you gave my innocuous questions such attention, and agree that it is an intangible, non-quantifiable process. However, based on a mountain of image viewing, image making and evaluation, and self education (for the most part). A solitary journey, for sure. But, it is the nature of any creative process.

    It’s a function of what strikes us based on who we are. It’s that simple, isn’t it??

  5. Tony, I absolutely agree that it is a function of what strikes us based on who we are. In the act of making our art we bring to the table our entire life experiences, some of which are the techniques we have learned and the rest is how we have grown to see the world around us. The difficult part (I think) is how we tap into our inner self to explore those life experiences and the feelings they evoke when we see something that grabs our attention.

  6. This is wonderful, Arthur. I recognized what you were “saying” almost immediately and went back to look at other’s images of this scene, mine too. Each seems to have highlighted something different and brought a different feeling to the same place, photographed within a few minutes of each other.

    I love the feeling of intimacy within the steps in your image.

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