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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Postmodern


The legendary black-and-white imagery of Richard Garrod navigates a fine line between art and nature

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Leaf Cluster, Hawaii, 1984. Photographer Richard Garrod combines an incredible eye for detail with a comprehensive understanding of photography to produce incredible fine-art nature imagery. For this image of a leaf cluster in Hawaii, for instance, Garrod carefully arranged his framing so that the bright green leaf dominated the composition. Next, he used a host of tools to emphasize the leaf, including exposure based on Ansel Adams’ Zone System, a medium green filter to enhance the top leaf, Verichrome Pan film for minimizing grain and preserving detail, and a final printing paper that ensured proper contrast for separating the leaf from its neighbors. Often, it can take a lot of work to make something look effortless.
“When photographing,” Garrod continues about his work, “I often experience an emotional response to the subject that relates to my life experiences, both long term and recent. I do look for the ‘beautiful,’ but I also feel a need to go beyond that to seek out shapes and forms that reflect feelings of energy, force and dynamic movement, which I feel help to define my approach to fine-art photography.”

The Black-And-White Approach
Garrod knows that when dealing with fine-art photography, especially when you’re using black-and-white imagery, composition matters more than ever before. Sometimes a beautiful subject, such as a sunset, sunrise or roaring waterfall, can carry an image all on its own, but when your photography explores the fine-art aesthetics of an object more than the object itself, then graphic elements like lines, angles, light, shadow, tonality and other considerations need to be perfected in a photo in order to captivate the viewer.

These considerations are particularly true in black-and-white fine-art photography because you won’t even have colors to distract the eye. Garrod largely chooses to work with the black-and-white medium because it permits him to be creative in a way that he says isn’t available to color photography. By manipulating tone and contrast with this palette of blacks, lights and grays, he’s able to use the simplified graphic elements of his subjects to convey the special meaning of an image. In order to accomplish his goals, Garrod uses every option available to him for gaining the ultimate control over an exposure.

“Photography relates to a range of issues from the technical to the creative in which we must become proficient,” he explains. “The technical includes exposure, development, mathematics, chemistry, optics, mechanics and others, including the Ansel Adams Zone System, while the creative aspect involves psychology, intuition, design, seeing and many other subjects. Thoroughly understanding the relationship of all these contributing areas to fine-art photography is of prime importance to my approach. Initially, the two areas of most significance are being able to apply the Zone System to the exposure and development of the negative, and the second relates to my ability to see images and how to relate my seeing to achieving balance in the overall composition.”

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Salt Pond, Death Valley, California, 2000. Garrod’s images have a timeless appeal, thanks largely to the black-and-white medium with which he works extensively. The photographer has over five decades of photography under his belt, and many of the images in his extensive portfolio look as if they could have been taken today—and some of them have been!
By ensuring a full gamut of tone that blends highlights, neutral tones and shadows seamlessly, Garrod makes his negatives and his prints into absolute masterworks of exposure. Adams’ first developed the Zone System as a systematic technique for determining precise exposure in a photo. Still applicable now, even to digital photography, the Zone System is summed up in a famous Adams’ quote: “Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.” (For more on the Zone System, read “The Zone System Revisited” in this issue.)

“In black-and-white photography,” Garrod notes, “we need to thoroughly familiarize ourselves with the colors in nature and learn how different-colored filters can enhance the story being told by the image. Filters can affect contrast in skies and rock formations, for example, and can be used to emphasize areas of the image by modifying how much light reaches the negative and, in turn, can affect the tonalities of the final image. These changes, carefully studied and implemented, can be the final determinant of depicting the ‘landscape behind the landscape’ that I find most important to achieving my goal.

“I also control my tonalities and other image requirements in the darkroom by traditional means with different techniques that digital workers can do by use of Photoshop. I like the use of the darkroom and high-quality silver paper to achieve the special prints I am after. Some of the work I have seen in the past year or two via digital work in black-and-white is outstanding, and I can now acknowledge its beauty and high quality.”

Adds Garrod about working with the unpredictable conditions of shooting in nature, “I normally try to work with lighting conditions that I can control, so I don’t get contrast that’s impossible to work with. Soft lighting is normally very beautiful and adaptable to whatever I am trying to achieve; however, at times I find that low cross-lighting is very revealing and works well. I use a one-degree spot meter [Pentax] for reading the light—I take nothing for granted, or automatic, with the light and exposure. I love the analog approach to working with all aspects of my work, although I recognize the outstanding value of digital work and will no doubt be heading that way in due course.”

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