Fuji X Adventures in North America - Seeing Things in Black and White


Continuing the Small Town Pennsylvania Series.

All photographs taken with the X100, X-Pro1 and 18mm, 35mm and 56mm lenses.

Click on images to view in gallery and light-box modes.

As much as I love colour photography, there are some photographs that are just meant to be in black and white. However, in the shift they become less representational, more of a statement. Their worlds can be romantic, aching, nostalgic - or colder, darker, crueler. My exploration of Bradford continues, but here a friendly small town becomes lost in translation. There is no such thing as the commonplace. In monochrome, Bradford becomes something else...

Something far away from Bedford Falls...

A great feature of having a mirrorless camera such as the Fuji X cameras is that you can see in black and white. You quickly learn what scenes have a greater impact when shorn of the distractions of colour. When processing the images back home I found that the Replichrome preset package gave me a great consistent look in the form of their Kodak BW 400CN™ emulation. It can be found in the Replichrome I: Icon set and I really can't say enough good things about it. Throw in a tone curve to match the style of portrait or environment and you're set. But truth to tell the Fuji B&W in-camera emulations are pretty good too.

But the most important inspiration came to me through seeing Vanessa Winship's wonderful monograph, 'She Dances on Jackson'. I first encountered Winship's work in Cardiff's Third Floor Gallery. They were showing an exhibition of her work set in Georgia - the country, not the state. I got talking about how much the quiet beauty of her work and sense of stillness impressed me, only to find that I wasn't actually talking to Vanessa Winship and was instead gushing gibberish, having drunk one too many beers, in front of a confused foreign arts student who was too polite and too scared to do anything other than nod and smile in placating desperation. 

After discovering my terrible error and slinking away, I managed to find the true Vanessa Winship. I immediately bought her 'She Dances on Jackson' book and thus atoned for my egregious blunder. In it I found that her photographs, taken across many states, all shared a sense of quiet stillness. As if every television set, every talk radio station, every angry diatribe and emotional outburst had been silenced. An America at peace with itself, at peace with the good and the bad. And yay, I found it heavy with small town America. And I treasured it, and kept it in my head when wandering those Pennsylvanian streets, camera in hand.

The two main black and white photographers of post-war America are probably Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand. But they didn't seem as interested in the quiet suburbia and America's hinterlands as Winship is. They mainly favoured the city street, bars and politics and hotels and hustle. Their imagery is incredible, but it didn't lead me on out there like Winship's did.

You might find the photographs I took as ugly, hard things. All I can say is that what I saw out there compelled me. Add colour, a wash of golden light and maybe we'll see things differently again. This is Bradford, alongside the wonderful forest that surrounds it and the cosy diners, good-time bars and friendly faces.

In how many different ways can you see your own city, town or village? Get out there and look closer...