Windy City SYC 2015, Day 1 | The suffering of light
I sincerely hope that I do not offended Mr. Alex Webb by subtitling this post after one of his books. Regular readers here know that I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a great admirer of the works of Alex Webb and his wife Rebecca Norris; in fact, one of the highlights of 2014 for me was having the opportunity to meet and talk to both of them at a gallery opening. The reason why I have subtitled this blog so, however, is twofold: 1) the lighting conditions at the Windy City Fencing Super Youth Circuit (SYC) that I shot last weekend was truly suffering, and 2) as I was editing the final selected images for publication, every time I made an attempt to convert an image into black and white, I hesitated, thinking about Mr. Webb’s transition to shooting in black and white to colour.
To the first point, as I had mentioned in my debriefing, the first day at the SYC the weekend before last was a rather rude awakening as a lesson in lighting. I have photographed in the dark of night before out in the streets, and I have faced dim gymnasium lighting before. Never in a fencing event, though, have I had to push my cameras’ ISO setting to 6400, even with fast glass. The latest camera models can handle ISO 6400 rather well; much less so cameras released in five years ago, however. Nevertheless, I pressed on with the job at hand.
Indeed, in the past week of editing, I have come to stop worrying and have learned to accept ISO 6400 and the grain/noise it brings. Back in the days of film, high ISO film produced grainy artifacts called . . . grain . . . that are now valued in the digital age. The digital counterpart to film grain is termed “noise.” The general feeling has been that noise is bad as it degrades image quality, distracting from the image itself. The irony is that this aversion was not uncommon back in the film days, and yet, in the Instagram and hipster beard world that we life in today, film grain is good. Forgive my controversial statement here, but I hereby submit that noise is the new grain. I have learned to live with it, and in fact I see it as being as aesthetically pleasing as film grain. Perhaps decades from now when holography becomes the new standard medium, digital noise will become desirable.
A second odd thing happened to my mindset while I was editing these images. My assessment of the harsh, contrasting lighting at the venue gave me the initial impression that I would convert the vast majority of my images into monochrome. My esteemed colleague, Adam Barbanell of ABarbanell Photography, did just that with his set, shooting exclusively in black and white. Taking a closer look at my images, however, I found myself rather reluctant to strip away the colours. Perhaps it was the red of the venue’s carpeting and wall accents, or the young fencers’ vibrant socks, but colour and harsh lighting oddly enough worked for these photographs to my eyes. While I did convert a few to black and white to heighten dramatic effect, I kept most of them in colour, asking myself constantly, “What would Alex Webb do?”
Mr. Webb started off shooting street in the classic method, of black and white and focusing on composition á la the great Henri Cartier-Bresson. The notion back then was that colour was tacky and too commercial, having no place in artistic photography. After an expedition to Haiti in the late 1970’s and continuing through the Caribbean and US-Mexico boarder, Mr. Webb began seeing value in colour and so transitioned to Kodachrome. Kodachrome, of course, is a relic of the past that is all too much of an obsession to me, so much so that two rolls of it sit on my desk as keepsakes.
Now that my work from Day 1 of the SYC is complete, I can proceed onto Day 2 and Day 3, both of which I hope to have ready quite shortly.