I have things I aim for with my black and white photography that obviously include subject matter and composition, but I would like to discuss tones. For the uninitiated this is the range of brightness levels from absolute black to absolute white. I have a pretty simple method for judging how good my tonal control has been in an image. I ask myself a simple question; do I want to lick it? It is that simple. If I want to taste the photograph, I have done well. This is not limited to my work; I have always wanted to lick good black and white images. My earliest memory of this oral fixation with black and whites goes back to a restaurant in Zimbabwe called “Wild Geese”. I don’t know if it still exists, but in the bar they had a set of black and white images taken during the shooting of the movie “The Wild Geese” starring Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris. The images were shot on film using a medium format camera and were just magnificent. I’m drooling just thinking about them. I was young when I saw them and it was long before I knew I was interested in photography, but they have always stuck with me. Years later, that memory was once again invoked when a friend of mine dropped into my lap, a black and white print he had made on an old medium format machine. I was transported straight back to that place of wonder and awe, the bar in The Wild Geese; a place I drooled, and perhaps where a seed was planted that would years later blossom into a photographic passion.
What is with the licking you may ask? Well a good print must be like a good dark chocolate or exquisite coffee. The highlights I liken to the sweetness, not too much (blown highlights), just a hint that keeps you wanting more. The lowlights, are of course, the cacao solids. Too much cacao and the bitter chalkiness starts to dominate (crushed shadows) and ruins the palatability. The art is in the balance or mid-tones; this is where the magic is. Imagine the chocolate melting on your tongue and the flavour percolating through your mouth. A touch of sweetness here, a trace of cocao there, and full body of flavour unfurling into the corners of you mouth or image. Now who wouldn’t want to lick that?
Having read of my oral obsession with black and white photographs, you will understand my title for this image with greater insight. The obvious inference of the Coffee and Cream description references the contrasting stripe colours, but now you know better, this is an image I want to savour with my tongue.