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  • Writer's pictureDon Toothaker

2021: A Black and White Reflection

Photography, for me, is an ongoing experience of personal exploration that began 35 years ago. I bought my first camera in 1986 and awkwardly began teaching myself to take pictures. At the beginning, I casually documented my life, but immediately dreamed of more. The sound of the shutter and the resulting photos soon inspired me to travel in ways I never imagined. These travels went far beyond the boundaries of a map. They pushed me deep within my thoughts and feelings like nothing had before. It was enlightening to say the least. Armed with a prolific curiosity and stout determination, I began.

Every year now, I take tens of thousands of photographs. Not every image is great, many are not even good enough to keep, but every image taken has great meaning to me. Each image, good or bad, is part of me. Each image, by design and attempt, is meant to be a reflection of how I feel about the world that I am part of. I am not an observer here; I am a participant. I travel, and photograph, on a local, national, and international level and, admittedly, I love it all. It is both exciting and fulfilling to explore this big, beautiful, diverse world. My job as a photographer and photography instructor takes me to many fascinating places full of interesting things, beautiful animals, compelling people, breathtaking landscapes, inspiring cityscapes, vivid color, and wonderful tones. I love to photograph everything for everything affects me. I feel it all. My photography began on a fledgling foundation of color, but my skill, vision, and emotion was built upon pillars of monochrome. With each passing year, I find that more and more of my images that resonate most profoundly with me, and I am most proud of, are black and white photos. I know at least one person who would appreciate that greatly.

When photography began for me, I had little use for black and white photography. I admired and applauded the black and white work of other photographers, but I found little appeal in gray tones for my own creativity. Being completely seduced by the vivid colors of Velvia and Ektachrome, I stubbornly ignored the opportunities and lessons to be found in the tonal range of Tmax and HP5. Monochrome, it seemed to me, was too dull to compete with the boldness of color. I was wrong. No, I was really wrong. At the age of 20 and stationed in England, I befriended a coworker, Ian Proudfoot, who knew a thing or two about photography. Ian had spent his career in the Royal Air Force as a photographer. With his patience and enthusiasm, he became my first and only true mentor. We enjoyed many great conversations about photography together as he tried to convey to me knowledge that he had and was willing to share. We would even have outings together where we photographed and discussed concepts of composition, exposure, and subject development. It was then, at the weekend market and small streets of Huntington England, that he instilled in me the desire to create images on purpose; with purpose. He urged me, repeatedly, to embrace black and white photography in order to grow as a photographer, but I could not bring myself to see the value in it. In time, maybe another 15 years or so and long after I left England and my friend, I finally listened. Ian Proudfoot was right.

Editing and organizing many thousands of images a year is a lot of work. It can be quite overwhelming, but it is definitely worthwhile. I pride myself on shooting as accurately as I can in the field which in turn limits (hopefully) how much time I spend at the computer editing. My goal will always be to be a better photographer more so than a better image editor. Nonetheless, the time invested in post-production is immense. At the end of the year, I enjoy looking back to reflect upon what I have done and where I have been. This year, compelled by a deeper sense of fulfillment and the same continued curiosity that propelled me so many years ago, I decided to select some of my favorite black and white images from 2021 and share them.

For those of you that take the time to read these thoughts and look over the images, I say thank you. Many of you have a part in these creations for you were with me as you too explored the world and your own creative place in it. And for Ian Proudfoot, I will never be capable of adequately finding the words to say thank you enough. It is just not possible. The impact you have had on my creative life, and my life, is immeasurable. Sadly, Ian is gone now, but his guidance remains with me and I am happy to say he was right all along. I love 2021, and life, in monochrome.

Photograph What You Feel

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