Black and White and Color

The eyeWhat follows is a revised and extended version of comments I made recently on another website.

For close to ten years I have processed digital raw photos into black and white images nearly every day. Somehow digital black and white just suits me and I enjoy spending time doing post processing. This is unusual for a couple of reasons, not least because I never shot film in black and white or color.

Deciding to pick up a camera is easy. Becoming a competent non-professional photographer is difficult. Like everyone else I started out reading and following whatever advice I could find. There are thousands of books and millions of experts on every website just waiting to help out. Following formulas and emulating the work of others got me started but that didn’t last long. My goal was always been to produce unique personal work. So for years I have attempted to educate myself while following my muse.

Phototrice.com which is an integral part of my photography went online about fifteen months ago. It gives me the opportunity to publish pictures, create useful software and most of all communicate with a wide audience. A hobby with a purpose you might say. One thing it is not is a vehicle for making money.

Phototrice has presented a few challenges along the way. Certainly I want to maintain minimum quality standards for words and images published in the blog. The first challenge is that I’m a software developer by profession. My languages of choice are for instructing machines. In that regard English is a second language. There is also a requirement to publish mostly color images in the blog. My personal interest is digital black and white photography which has a secondary role here.

I only use digital cameras and capture technologies. Even if my finished images are completely true to the original raw photos they are not what used to be called straight photography. Digital images are manipulated right from capture to conform to the look of historical materials and processes. In other words they emulate analog photographs by design. I see this matter-of-fact processing bias as an unfortunate limitation.

Much of the potential of digital imaging technology is squandered by confining oneself to an emulation of analog photography. That is why I regularly explore techniques that are simply not possible with analog film capture. For me the camera and digital capture are source material for finished images that may or may not resemble classic photographs. I understand that some people will find my attitude annoying but I see no reason confine my work to a standard that ignores the potential of my tools.

Tools for Modern Times

When this self portrait was photographed back in 2009 my idea was to consider the implications of private and public persona. Over the past couple of years I have reprocessed the photo several times based upon my original idea. With each new version it has become apparent that the image makes some people uncomfortable.

There are many reasons why someone wrapped in a headscarf might be considered provocative. The face of the subject, me in this case, is obscured. It is a headshot which eliminates any body language to help the viewer read the image. later versions of the image are composited which adds layers of information to further obfuscate the subject.

I believe there is another reason why my self portrait makes people uncomfortable. It is a more sinister reason. For more than twenty years we as free citizens of the United States have been taught to fear those among us who speak with a different accent, dress in a different way or hold unfamiliar beliefs. Xenophobic attitudes now mainstream in our society.

Every day we are reminded to fear and judge people we don’t know because they hold certain religious beliefs. Politicians shamelessly use fear of ‘the potential threat’ to attain office. News outlets shamelessly echo those politicians without asking meaningful questions. Incidents that are thought of as terrorism are endlessly replayed twenty four hours a day for commercial gain. We are warned on a daily basis to hold our fear close.

The bargain we are making is freedom in exchange for security. The case could be made that we are trading those things that make our country great for the warm blanket of a comfortable police state. In our society informers are not even necessary, we inform upon ourselves. Every electronic utterance and transaction is subject to examination without our direct consent by machine intelligence. Senator Joseph McCarthy was once asked; “Have you no sense of decency sir?” Who in the government and security apparatus would we ask that of today?

Old Dogs

The eyeI’ve been developing software since the days of the Apple II. Back then everyone who used a microcomputer had to know something about how software worked. Most people just wanted to use VisiCalc or play games on those early machines but a few of us were fascinated by the technology. I can tell you the exact day I became a programmer. It was Thanksgiving Day 1979. After a marathon twenty hour session learning MS BASIC I could code. It was such a rush.

From that early day I started writing code for money and continued to do so until a couple of years ago. Suddenly after I turned sixty it was like someone turned off the light. Software developers are young and I was not young. Over the years I had opportunities to become a manager but the code always spoke to me. So I became an ex software developer.

Now after some time has passed it seems that code still speaks to me. In fact I have begun to recapture some of the excitement that I felt in the early days. I no longer have endless meetings, pressing deadlines or code reviews. Now I get to write code to make the machine personal again. My projects are small and completely non-commercial. Most run on my desktop machine but I dabble a bit with mobile Android stuff.

A few months ago I put together an application to generate PDF calendar sets and web ready images. My idea was to be able to take a finished full sized photograph and generate several sizes of images for publishing online along with two different calendars types in encrypted PDF format. This has worked extremely well. I can now generate all the image content for a post on phototrice.com in a few seconds with no hand work.

My old habits have also served me well in that I continue to write reusable object code. This has come in handy for my latest project creating photo mosaic images. This project highlights the differences between makers of things and consumers of things. It would be simple and faster to pay a few bucks to buy some photo mosaic software. It would be simple and boring that is. It is better for me to build the software and learn something new.

To that end I am finishing up the first phase of the project which consists of discovering images, cataloging and producing graphic tiles. There are lots of ways to accomplish this task. I decided to leverage my existing code from the calendar project to automate Photoshop to do the imaging work and use a Sqlite database to manage the cataloging. Works like a charm.

I’m really looking forward to the next phase which is actually creating the mosaic images. I will be writing code using the .Net framework rather than automating Photoshop to accomplish this. It is the interesting part for me. I have done quite a bit of document imaging work over the years but not much actual graphics programming. It should be fun. So in a few weeks you may see some really bad photo mosaic images here on phototrice.com.