“If the subject is unusual, and photographed in a way that isn’t completely obvious, there’s an advantage to flat, axial lighting in that it takes away the modelling clues that we would normally expect, and helps the image to be a little ambiguous. This isn’t so unexpected, because whatever basic image quality you remove from shooting, what remains steps up to be more prominent.
“In the same way, if you remove colour from imagery and shoot in black and white, the qualities of shape, form and line take over more.”
For this post, I converted the color images from the previous post (see White Amaryllis) to black and white. While it may seem a little odd to render photos of white flowers this way, it’s interesting, I think, to see how flowers we consider white are actually a blend of white, yellow, and green — especially along those sections of the flower blossoms closest to the leaves and stems.
With that in mind, I included two extra galleries at the end of this post: one showing the color and black-and-white versions side-by-side, and a slideshow (using the “fade” effect that’s available with the WordPress slideshow block) that helps highlight the transition from color to monochrome.
From “Amaryllis Through the Centuries” in Amaryllis by Starr Ockenga:
“Amaryllis: elegant, sensual, and mysterious….
“According to the classical poets Theocritus, Ovid, and Virgil, Amaryllis was a virginal nymph, timid and shy but with a spine of steel. She fell deliriously in love with Alteo, an icy-hearted shepherd reputed to be as handsome as Apollo and as strong as Hercules, and determined that she would be true only to him, no matter what the consequences. Indifferent to her charms, Alteo claimed his only desire was that a new flower be brought to him, a flower that had never before existed in the world….
“Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi and was instructed to pierce her heart with a golden arrow at Alteo’s door. This she did, dressed in maiden’s white, for thirty consecutive nights, dripping blood all the while. The shepherd finally opened his door to discover a flower with crimson petals, which had sprung from the blood of Amaryllis’s heart.”
This is the last of three posts showing black-and-white conversions of the color photos I uploaded to:
From “Amaryllis Through the Centuries” in Amaryllis by Starr Ockenga:
“Victorian volumes devoted to decoding the language of flowers attribute to the amaryllis characteristics ranging from haughtiness, pride, and determination to timidity and shyness. In her Flora’s Dictionary (1829) Mrs. Elizabeth W. Wirt, credited with assembling the first floral dictionary in America, gave the meaning as ‘Splendid Beauty.’ A name with such romantic connotations, even contradictions, seems fitting for the queen of all bulbs.”
“When a garden is ablaze with flowers it is, with some justification, the gardener who receives the praise. But few of us give much, if any, thought to how those wonderful shrubs and trees, annuals and climbers, have come to be flourishing in cultivation, and still less to the people who discovered the parents of the species and hybrids which give us so much pleasure….
“However, if it had not been for the daring and endurance of a small band of dedicated men, these plants would probably be unknown to gardeners today, still a secret from the world in the fastnesses of mountain or jungle….
“[Francis Masson’s] contribution to gardens and botany was enormous. Nearly half of all known pelargoniums were introduced by him, and of the 786 plates in the first twenty volumes of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, almost a third are devoted to Cape plants, the majority of which were collected for Kew by Masson. His skilful drawings and watercolours of South African plants are now in the British Museum. The weird stapelias, or carrion flowers, the popular greenhouse ericas, scores of bulbous plants, and many annuals which are now familiar bedding plants can all be credited to Britain’s first official plant collector. Even though they are familiar today, it is not hard to imagine the sensation caused by such discoveries as Zantedeschia acthiopica (the arum lily), Amaryllis belladonna (the pale-pink belladonna lily) and Strelitzia reginae (the bird of paradise flower), which headed the list of exotic plants sent from Kew in 1795 as a gift to the Empress Catherine of Russia.”
… to black and white. Each of the 33 photos in this color series got (approximately) the same treatment: conversion to flat black and white, adjustments to the red and green color channels to create additional contrast, and a bit of blue color added to the highlights, midtones, and shadows to create some silvery-looking tints.
At the top of this post is a quotation from The Plant Hunters by Charles Lyte, published in 1983. Lyte’s book contains biographical and historical sketches of about a dozen plant-hunting explorers from the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. After reading about the book in one of my others (Flower Hunters by Mary and John Gribbin), I tried to find Lyte’s work in e-book form. There was no Amazon Kindle version and the usual place where I often find older texts — Google Books — didn’t have it either. But I did find it on the Internet Archive — specifically, among their Books to Borrow catalog — which got me learning more about this surprising resource of several million e-books that anyone can borrow, for free, by simply creating an account.
I had used the Internet Archive before, for a couple of days several years ago when I moved my blog from one hosting service to another and lost some images. Their Wayback Machine had a record of all the old pages, and had all the small- to medium-sized images I was missing, enabling me to download them and fill in the gaps in some broken blog posts. Yet I’d never explored their lending library before, but now know it holds about 3.7 million books published since the early 1900s (and through the 2000s) as well as several million older books I was usually accessing with Google. If you are a reader and love books (omg, who doesn’t LOVE BOOKS?!?), you might enjoy a little book-hunting there. Books to Borrow would be a good place to start, with a search by title or author name.
Admittedly, the user experience isn’t exactly whiz-bang, since most of the books are scanned copies of their original tree-based counterparts and the amount of available content makes searching a minor exercise of your patience. There is no app like you might be accustomed to with devices such as a Kindle or iPad: the site uses its own reader for viewing book pages. So you’ll be reading with a browser on a computer or mobile device, but both work quite well. The site’s reader has an option for viewing a book as a continuous, scrollable page — called “One-page view” on the toolbar at the bottom of the viewer — where you can read and navigate the book with your keyboard or touch-screen the same way you would a PDF file. See Books and Texts – A Basic Guide for an overview of the reader.
Most of the books can be borrowed for 14 days, and those 14-day loans come with additional options (which vary by book) for downloading a copy, as described on Borrow a Book from the Lending Library. As far as I can tell, there are no limits to extending your borrowing period (though it looks like some books may have a waiting list, which might inhibit your extension). When you find books of interest that you may want to return to later, you can mark them as favorites, then access your favorites any time from your account page. I was thrilled to find Robert Hirsch’s excellent history of photography — Seizing the Light — available to borrow, since the Kindle version is very expensive and the paperback book is so large it takes two hands and one foot to handle. And as Halloween approaches, here’s a link to one of the scariest (though not for the squeamish) books I’ve read by Joyce Carol Oates: Zombie — an “autobiography” of Quentin P., an especially spooky serial killer.
“The process of making pictures involves keeping an open mind to single and serial image constructions, narrative and non-narrative formats, in-camera juxtapositions, and post-camera manipulations. How does changing the sense of scale, the size you expect something to be, affect viewer reaction? Does the unusual scale evoke humor, mystery, or horror? How does this make you rethink the subject? Consciously ask yourself questions like these: How does image size affect viewer response? How would changing to black-and-white or color affect the image’s emotional outcome? Examine how one photograph may modify the meaning of the image next to it. Consider what happens if text is added to an image. How can meaning shift with a title as opposed to leaving a photograph untitled? What is the most effective form of presentation, and what is the appropriate venue?”
“When making color images, the intensity and the relationship of one color to another within the scene plays a vital role in creating contrast. If you decide to make black-and-white images, then contrast is created by the difference between the darkest and lightest areas of the composition.”