Rad A. Drew Photography: September 2023

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Friday, September 15, 2023

Part 2: Black & White Photographers from Whom We Can Learn

Impact-Site-Verification: -2110864453

Alabama Hills

Editors Note: This blog post is Part 2 of a two part series. 

In Part 1, Exploring the Timeless Elegance of Black and White Films: A Watch List for Contemporary Black and White PhotographersI suggested Classic black and white films as a source of inspiration and influence for your own b&w photography. 

In this installment, Part 2, I share some of the black and white photographers from the 20th century who, through their creative black and white images, not only influenced me as a young photographer, but also helped elevate photography to an accepted art form. 

I close by sharing several contemporary photographers whose work I admire.

(See my video tutorial, How I Did It!™️; Create Black & White Photos with Your iPhone!)

In college in the 1970s studying fine art and photojournalism, I was fortunate to have teachers who introduced me to some of the giants in 20th Century black and white photography. I have always celebrated them as heroes who instilled in me a love of the medium.

While there are a number of influential 20th Century black and white photographers, there are a few whose work continues not only to inspire me, but to shape the world of photography today. 

These are some who were important to me as a young photographer:

Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, and, the only one still with us today, Duane Michals. 

These artists not only showcased technical expertise but also made powerful and impactful images that defined the medium. We contemporary black and white photographers can learn from their unique styles, composition, techniques, and the narratives they conveyed through their work.

Imogen Cunningham was known for her diverse range of subjects, including botanicals, nudes, and portraits. Her work often emphasized the beauty and intricacy of nature, using light and shadow to highlight details. Her photograph "Magnolia Blossom" (Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom - SAMBlog) is a renowned example of her ability to compose and capture the delicate forms found in nature. Cunningham's keen eye for detail and her ability to infuse her subjects with emotion make her a compelling study for contemporary photographers.

Edward Weston is celebrated for his mastery of form and composition. He often photographed natural and industrial landscapes, as well as still lifes. Weston's work is characterized by his use of sharp, detailed focus and careful attention to textures. His iconic image "Pepper No. 30" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_No._30) demonstrates his ability to transform an ordinary subject into a visually arresting image through his expert use of light and shadow. We can learn from Weston's precise composition and his ability to find beauty in everyday objects.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer of street photography, is renowned for capturing candid moments of everyday life. His concept of "the decisive moment" revolutionized the way photographers approached capturing fleeting, spontaneous scenes. Cartier-Bresson's photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behind_the_Gare_Saint-Lazare) exemplifies this concept, capturing a man leaping over a puddle in an otherwise mundane setting. His ability to anticipate and freeze these unique moments provides contemporary black and white photographers with valuable lessons in creating impactful images in the chaos of daily life.

Dorothea Lange's photographs from the Great Depression era, such as "Migrant Mother," (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migrant_Mother) have become iconic representations of the human costs of economic hardship. Lange's ability to convey deep emotions through her subjects' expressions and body language make her work a powerful study for contemporary photographers interested in documentary and social photography. Her impact goes beyond aesthetics, highlighting the importance of storytelling and empathy in visual storytelling. 

In August 2023, Nancy and I got to see the exhibit, Changing Views; The Photography of Dorothea Lange at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis that was tremendously inspiring. 

At 91, Duane Michals is the only one of my heroes who is still with us. I first encountered his wonderful sequences in the 1970s and his work inspired me to do some of my own in-camera double exposures using the 1953 Argus C3 that I’d claimed from my father’s camera collection. 

Michals is known for his creative and conceptual approach to photography. He often incorporated text and sequences of images to tell narratives and explore philosophical ideas. Michals' work challenged the boundaries of traditional photography, incorporating elements of storytelling and imagination. His iconic series Things Are Queer, demonstrated his ability to create enigmatic and thought-provoking narratives through the combination of text and images. We can all learn from Michals' willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of black and white photography.

I’ll close by mentioning some contemporary black and white photographers whose work I find fascinating and which continues to influence how I think about black and white. These photographers continue to push the boundaries of black and white photography, incorporating their own unique visions and perspectives.

Clyde Butcher’s photographs caught my attention only a few years ago. Regarded as one of the top landscape photographers in America today, it’s his photography of swamps in the Everglades that I find fascinating. You can learn more about him and view his work here: https://clydebutcher.com/photographs/.

Arthur Ransome (https://www.aransomephoto.com/the-contemplative-landscape) and I met in 2010 when we were both part of a “secret” Facebook group full of mostly professional photographers who created the space to explore what was then the new iPhone. What I love about Arthur’s work is what strikes me as its purity and the wonderful tonal qualities he achieves in his images.

Cole Thompson (https://colethompsonphotography.com) and I have never met, although we’ve corresponded a bit. I became acquainted with Cole’s work through my friend and mentor, photographer, John Barclay (https://johnbarclayphotography.com). What I love about Cole’s approach to photography is that his pursuit is uniquely his own. He practices something he refers to as “photographic celibacy.” That is, he avoids looking at the work of others so that he can clarify and pursue his own unique vision. You can read more about his concept of Photographic Celibacy here: https://colethompsonphotography.com/2018/03/22/photographic-celibacy-thoughts-ten-years-later/. While I think it’s a fascinating concept and I applaud Cole for his effort in this regard, the practice is not for everyone. Whether it’s his “celibacy” or something else that has enabled him to create, Cole’s black and white photography is some of the most engaging I’ve encountered.  There is one collection of Cole’s that I find particularly compelling: the ghosts of auschwitz. You can read his words and view his images here: https://colethompsonphotography.com/portfolios/series/the-ghosts-of-auschwitz/ This, to me, is what photography is all about, and black and white is the perfect medium to communicate this powerful story.

By exploring and celebrating these pioneering photographers and our contemporaries, we aspiring black and white photographers can gain valuable insights into how to create impactful, emotionally charged images and communicate meaningful, even profound, stories through our photography.

Here are a few of my black and white images created over the years, all influenced in one way or another by the photographers mentioned here. 

Abandoned Gary, Indiana

Ambassador Apartments, Abandoned Gary, Indiana

Along the Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, PA

Untitled, Cuba, 2017



Shadow, Light, Form

Farmer, Vinales, Cuba


Stream, Great Smokey Mountains

Vickery Creek, Roswell, GA

Tobacco Farmer, Vinales, Cuba

Palouse Loess

The Palouse

Friday, September 8, 2023

Part 1. Exploring the Timeless Elegance of Black and White Films: A Watch List for Contemporary Black and White Photographers

Dancer, Cuban National Ballet
Fuji X-T4
© Rad A. Drew

Editors NoteThis blog post is Part 1 of a two part series. In this first part, I'll suggest Classic black and white films as a source of inspiration and influence for your own b&w photography. 

In Part 2: Black & White Photographers from Whom We Can Learn, I'll share black and white photographers from the 20th century who, through their creative black and white images, helped elevate photography to an art form.

(See my video tutorial, How I Did It!™️; Create Black & White Photos with Your iPhone!)

As a photographer who got his start in photojournalism in the 1970s, black and white photography is the medium upon which I cut my photography teeth. Black and white photography was my first love and maybe that's why I appreciate it so much today. 

But what is it about black and white photographs that captures our attention and draws us in? I think it's the textures, patterns, graphic elements, and light/dark contrasts, that, with the right post-processing, so effectively allow us to set a tone or create a mood. A well crafted black and white photograph often takes me into the past, allowing me to savor a melancholy memory or feel the mystery of a timeless scene. 

Take for example, this photo made recently on a country road in rural Indiana. 

Here is the color version.

iPhone 14 Pro Max, 1x (24mm), 48mp, ProRaw
Processed in Lightroom Mobile and SnapSeed

It's arguably a pretty picture with compelling leading lines to a vanishing point, the repetition of the poles, and the prominance of a great sky all making a contribution to hold viewers' attention. And the color is something most viewers can identify with as a beautiful midwestern summer day. But, for me, it's somewhat one-dimensional in terms of any deep meaning and leaves little to the imagination. 

Now, look at this version that I converted to black and white, adding a few other stylizations to affect the tone and create a somber mood. 

iPhone 14 Pro Max, 1x (24mm), 48mp, ProRaw
Processed in Lightroom Mobile and SnapSeed
Converted to B&W with Dramatic B&W on the iPhone

For me, the black and white version is far more compelling and engages my imagination much more. It pulls me in in an emotional way and invites me to consider various story lines. It sets a tone that is timeless, remote, distant, and evokes a mood that is simultaneously melancholy and mysterious. 

As I converted this image and explored its potential as a black and white photograph, I quickly realized its potential to be something more than the color version. The realization prompted me to think about where my inspiration for black and white comes from.

Have you thought about where you draw inspiration for your black and white creations? 

For me, much of my inspiration comes from old movies and from photographers from the 20th century. Films I watched as a young man, and photograhers whose work I was introduced to in college, both fuel my appreciation of black and white and inspire me to explore its potential in my own photography. (See more about B&W photographers who have influenced me and provided inspiration in Part 2 of this series.)

Black and white films hold a special place in the history of cinematography, capturing moments with a timeless elegance. Today, they continue to inspire photographers, provoking emotions and pushing creative boundaries. 

If you're a black and white photographer eager to enhance your craft, here is a curated list of influential black and white films worth experiencing. Each is viewable on Amazon Prime for a rental fee of only $2.99 to $3.99.

1. Citizen Kane (1941) - Director: Orson Welles (View on Amazon Prime)

Considered a masterpiece in storytelling, "Citizen Kane" showcases the exceptional cinematography of Gregg Toland. The film's innovative use of deep focus and low-key lighting techniques makes it a must-watch for photographers, providing valuable lessons in composition and mood-setting.

2. Seven Samurai (1954) - Director: Akira Kurosawa (View on Amazon Prime)

Kurosawa's iconic film is a visual treat, combining intricate camera movements and striking composition to capture the intensity of battle scenes. Photographers can learn from its masterful use of light and shadow, as well as the art of storytelling through visuals.

3. The Third Man (1949) - Director: Carol Reed (View on Amazon Prime)

Sought after for its atmospheric visuals, "The Third Man" perfectly encapsulates film noir aesthetics. Through its dramatic lighting and clever framing, photographers can learn how to create a sense of mystery and intrigue, and add an air of suspense to their work.

4. Raging Bull (1980) - Director: Martin Scorsese (View on Amazon Prime)

Robert De Niro's portrayal of volatile boxer Jake LaMotta is a visual masterpiece in black and white. Scorsese's use of high-contrast imagery and expressive lighting adds depth to each frame, providing photographers with valuable insights into creating powerful and emotionally charged images.

5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Director: Robert Wiene (View on Amazon Prime)

This German expressionist film is a treasure trove of surreal visuals that continue to inspire artists to this day. With its distorted sets and exaggerated lighting, photographers can learn to experiment with unconventional framing, angles, and visual storytelling techniques.

6. Schindler's List (1993) - Director: Steven Spielberg (View on Amazon Prime)

"Schindler's List" poignantly tells the story of the Holocaust through black and white cinematography. Spielberg masterfully uses stark black and white imagery to convey the gravity and emotional impact of the historical events, demonstrating the power of simplicity and symbolism in visual storytelling.

7. Metropolis (1927) - Director: Fritz Lang (View on Amazon Prime)

A groundbreaking science fiction film, "Metropolis" offers a glimpse into a dystopian future through its innovative visuals. Lang's use of shadows, geometric shapes, and grandiose set designs make it a compelling reference for photographers seeking to incorporate architectural elements and dramatic lighting into their work.

8. La Haine (1995) - Director: Mathieu Kassovitz (View on Amazon Prime)

This French film examines the social tensions in urban environments through its gritty black and white aesthetics. Kassovitz's raw and documentary-like style offers photographers inspiration for capturing the essence of street photography, while also exploring the nuances of social commentary.

9. The Artist (2011) - Director: Michel Hazanavicius (View on Amazon Prime)

A modern silent film that pays homage to the era of black and white filmmaking, "The Artist" showcases the timeless visual language of classic cinema. Photographers can learn from its brilliant use of light, composition, and the art of storytelling through visual cues, without relying on dialogue.

Black and white films continue to captivate audiences, showcasing the immense creative potential of monochromatic visuals. By immersing yourself in these influential films, you can gain inspiration and valuable insights, equipping yourself with the tools and knowledge to enhance your own black and white photography journey.

In Part 2 of this blog post, I'll share the photographers from the 20th century (some still working into the 21st) who inspire me in my pursuit of black and white photography today.

Thanks for being here! 

Until next time be safe, stay well, and keep on creating!