Intro by Jeff Johnson Portrait by Dylan Gordon
Black-and-white photography is so specific. Nothing else in this world is black and white. And when you’re dealing with tones rather than color, there’s a point where you can only take it so far. You can’t improve upon the works of Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Dorothea Lange done 60 some-odd years ago. Of course, there will always be a way to make sharper, faster, less grainy images. But it’s the content that counts, that decisive moment that transcends technology.
I got my first real camera in 1999. I was living on the North Shore of Oahu surrounded by some of the world’s best waves, the best surfers, and the best surf photographers. But I wasn’t interested in shooting the surf. I was traveling a lot and always liked taking pictures while on the road. I bought a bunch of Kodak TRI-X black-and-white film and simply photographed what I saw.
Somehow this turned into a career. In the beginning, color slide film was the industry standard, so that’s what I shot. Occasionally, I used TRI-X for my personal projects. In 2008 I was getting ready to leave on a six-month journey to make a documentary film called 180º South. I was in a bit of a slump. It had been a year since I switched over to digital and it seemed to take the wind out of my sails. I was spending more time in front of the computer than outside shooting. Chris Malloy, the director, and a close friend of mine, urged me to get a film camera for the trip and reconnect with my roots. So I bought a Leica M7 and some black-and-white film. In the six months that followed I shot the Leica very sparingly, only when certain images presented themselves, and even then I would only shoot a few frames. When I got home and reviewed the contact sheets, these became my favorite photos of the entire trip.
With digital cameras I have a hard time shooting in color then processing the images into black and white after the fact. Recently, Leica came out with a digital camera that only shoots black and white. It’s called the Monochrom. I got one right away. Now I have a digital camera that feels like shooting black-and-white film. I love the commitment. Limiting your options forces you to be more creative.