Wednesday, April 01, 2009

K Is For Kaleidoscope

Photography Isn't All About Black And White

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


I was very little when I used a kaleidoscope for myself. I was instantly enthralled. Not just by the vivid colours, but also by the patterns that emerged and changed with each turn of a hand.

It gave me a deep and abiding appreciation for hues and for symmetry – all so crucial for a photographer of any level of experience.

When I was 13, I embarked on a great voyage of understanding photography that was to have very far-reaching consequences. I was in my first year in the Upper Division (senior school) at St Joseph’s College, North Point, Darjeeling.

Each student could elect to join two activity groups, in addition to all the sport we played right round the year. It’s interesting, in retrospect, to look back on my choices – my first preference was the photography group and my second was the horticulture group.


My interest in flowers, sparked by growing up in a huge home with a rambling, colourful garden, is still an abiding passion that I have passed on to the Authorbloglets. And my interest in photography, kick-started by the joy of using that early box Brownie, has taken me to many amazing places around the world.

For someone who had barely entered my teens, they were pretty significant choices.

So that year, I learned the intricacies of using a darkroom. I learnt how to mix chemicals in the correct proportions and where to place the trays. I learnt the value of safety in a confined space. I learnt how to work in the soft glow of the red light in that room. I learnt how to develop films.

I learnt how to use one of those beautiful, angled, sliding enlargers. I learnt how to print images. I learnt how to cut the emulsion-coated paper. I learnt how to ensure that contrast was always maintained in the prints we produced. And I learnt how to use the fixer tray so that the black areas on each print didn’t turn brown.

It was a world that I approached with great enthusiasm. At the time, I didn’t realise (and not surprisingly, given my tender age) that the world of photography would hold several keys in my life.


Back then, of course, it was all black-and-white photography in the realm of spool film. As I grew up, I realised that colour photography, even though it was so much more expensive in those days, was just as intriguing.

Yes, I appreciate that the classical masters of black-and-white photography defined an era to be cherished. But equally crucial is the appreciation that technology has changed so rapidly, especially in the last five years, that the world of colour is what defines our surroundings.

My darkroom experience in the many-sided art that is true photography is precisely the reason I do not edit images or use filters with my camera - the challenge is to produce an acceptable image of decent quality without any of the electronic equivalents of the darkroom era.

So it's just me and a camera in the outdoors - and it does not get more fulfilling than that.

Those early years taught me many facets of the art, but I know this – no one can tell you the correct approach to photography. You have to define your own path. You assimilate. You learn.

You appreciate all the advice that the experts give you, face-to-face, in books and on websites. But the true definition of art is in establishing the boundaries for yourself.


For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

61 comments:

Janet said...

Photography and horticulture were not choices we were offered. I wonder what I would have chosen had we had a variety of options like that.
I love the markers. Or crayons. Or . . . OK, I give. What are they?

Sniffles and Smiles said...

I had a Brownie, too!!! Your words brought back so many memories!!! And the photos are beautiful, too! :-)

Katney said...

I think the kaleidoscope is one of the things that keep me in quilting. I hadn't connected it to photography. But then, I didn't get the opportunity to do the darkroom stuff.

Annie said...

An interesting post David. Thank you. Yes, interesting choices. I also have a fascination for patterns and symmetry ...and photography.
And I am so enjoying being back in NYC with my daughter and her little family. So much to do and see, and photograph of course. And looking forward to catching up with Daryl,and borrowing a copy of your book at long last!
So pleased you are passing on your love of all things horticultural to your family. How special and important!
Regards from Annie from Australia, visiting New York City!

Eddie Bluelights said...

Brings back memories of my dad teaching me to develop films and print them in a dark room. All black and white then of course and very amateurish. I remember HPF 35mm film was a bit grainy. Dad told me to wash the fixer out well or the photographs would degenerate. Colour would have been impossble for us.

Artist Unplugged said...

Interesting post today, I was not exposed to such choices of study at such a young age. Enjoyed all the tidbits you shared today! Funny, my post today is entitled 'Sometimes It's Just Black and White'....funny

spacedlaw said...

Those pastels are a treat for the eyes.

San said...

David, I'm able to grab a few studio hours today, and your post, accompanied by those dazzling photos, has me salivating for color.

Also, what you have to say about an artist being, in the way that really counts, the ultimate boundary setter, ring quite true..

aims said...

Great post David. I envy you the choices you had available to you in your school years.

I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out what those things are. A clue perhaps?

Indrani said...

Beautiful post!
All about your learning days. We will never go back to those film era for sure and reading it was the most interesting part.

RuneE said...

We all so it our own way. We may not agree, but I wholly understand, respect and at times envy yours.

introspection said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
introspection said...

For some of you friends there who are wondering what objects are those pictures; here's my guess. Are these photos of a kaleidoscope from special angles ...?

This is a 'beautiful' post David. your photos are testimony to your interest in photgraphy right from early age. I think you etched out a great path to excellence in your field - photography. We at blogsphere have more than benefitted from this. And the amateur photographers have learnt big lessons both from your narratives and photos alike.

Thanks for visiting my place and for your kind comments. yes, bulbuls are aplenty here these days. May be one day you will do a post of your childhood house and garden pictures for us some day. I would love to know what your bunglow and the garden looked like in Cal.
BTW, I have reviewed a book called 'Selected Stories' by Parashuram, on Penguin India website for them.
If you have time pls do visit
http://blogapenguinindiaclassic.blogspot.com/
Stories in this book are all set in Kolkata, and I m sure you are familiar with the society patterns of those places.

imac said...

You are a world of Colour David.

kaye said...

I loved looking at the pictures of the pastels as well, beautifully captured.

my grandmother taught me to use chalks, I loved coloring with her. she also "chalked" porcelain figurines. She painted with oils and painted murals in our local museum. She was a grand lady. Most of her paintings began with a photograph she snapped. I have a charcoal rendering she did of me as a child that began with a picture of my 4 year old self.

mrsnesbitt said...

Oh David, your childhood sounds so educated and knowledgeable (sp?) My childhood, as featured in my ABC is K for kid stuff! lol! I am sure you will smile at my antics!

Cheffie-Mom said...

I loved reading this post. Very interesting. I always smile when you refer to your children as Authorbloglets. Have a super day!

Carolina said...

Wonderful post and photos. Love the colours. Very pleasing to the eye.

(Shame on me, have not yet ordered your book (for some stupid reasons), but I promise that I will order it in the near future, I reallywant to read it
;-))

Sylvia K said...

Really great and interesting post -- not that I'm surprised! I wish I could have had those choices! Interesting and beautiful photos, love the colors!

Deslilas said...

I don't know if my grand children know what's a kaleidoscope.
I must find one for them ( and for me).
Thanks

Maggie May said...

I started off with a Brownie 127 and black & white film.

I just love the colours of those photos. Looks like a xylophone! Though I have never seen one coloured like that before.
Lovely post.

I also had a kaleidoscope that intrigued me as a child.

Maggie May said...

Pastels! Now I see!

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

First of all I adore these pictures and may try something similar myself if you don't mind.

I remember my Grandpa's darkroom, he was an avid amateur photographer. I am sure that mine and my brothers love for it is thanks to him and those days helping him.

We have an antique Brownie in a cupboard at home.

Russ said...

Very nice. Love your choice of photo subjects, lovely shots.

richies said...

When I was a kid my Dad made a darkroom out of the bathroom. We didn't have an enlarger, but we made contact prints with 620 film.

An Arkies Musings

Craver Vii said...

My, but I just love this set for all it's color, geometry and perspective!

Dr.John said...

I learned most of those things for black and white photography but I did it so I could make pictures with dots in them to use in printing church bulletins.

cheshire wife said...

Interesting post. I, too had a Brownie camera. It all seems so long ago now. It is difficult to imagine a black and white world.

Paula Scott said...

Those are rather PRISTINE looking pastels David! Hope you use them! : )
Beautiful images and post!

anthonynorth said...

I've never been much of a photographer myself, but my brother was marvellous. Sometimes I wish I'd tried harder.

Hilary said...

You coloured my world today. Beautifully written and photographed. I love oil pastels.. if only I could draw.

Leslie: said...

What a great post today! I enjoyed reading about how you got involved in photography and appreciate your philosophy of defining your own path. By the way, do you ever use "film" anymore? And do you have a darkroom at your home? Just curiosity here. ;)

Corey~living and loving said...

love this post, and really really really enjoyed the photos.

Kelly H-Y said...

What beautifully vivid photos ... I wouldn't have thought to take a photo of pastels ... but, oh my, what remarkable pictures they make. And, as always, such great information!

GreenJello said...

My high school offered photography, but it never occurred to me to take the class. I just stayed in "normal" art classes. I didn't take a black and white photography class until college, many years later.

My favorite pic of the pastels is the top one that is angled. It is so interesting to the eye!

Cath said...

I loved that post. I watched a young photographer be born in that post! And boy has he lived. :)
Those are wonderful shots showing a rainbow of colours. That last one (is it chalks?) is my favourite.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

This brought back memories; I remember developing b & w film in a black changing bag on the floor of my bathroom in the West Village! I do miss shooting in film but I love the immediacy of digital. And I LOVE color! Marvelous color photos, David!
Catherine

Lee said...

I remember the first photography class I took. It was like discovering a new world and what a wonderful time I had learning to express myself with that old Argus camera. I miss that beauty.

Those colors are gorgeous. I like how they are all set up by warm and cool tones.

Cheers!

Granny Smith said...

That array of rainbow hued pastels brought back to me some of my early choices. My mother gave me a box of them as a graduation gift from junior high school, which was further encouragement to major in art in college. Early experiences really tell, don't they?

Babooshka said...

I cannot agree with you more about experiencing and learning through your own work. No amount or reading can surpass actually learning "on the job" so to speak. Immensely enjoyed this post. It can be hard to convey what understanding photography is all about as opposed to appreciating it. You ceratinky got the message across and the image highlights why colour is so important.

SandyCarlson said...

The story of your experiences of photography brought back some memories for me. My dad just gave me a roll of B&W film he found in his desk. I was thinking of taking out the 35 mm and seeing what happens. I miss the heft of the thing, the smell of the fun--and even the waiting to see how it all worked out!

You bring so much color to all of us. Thanks.

Tumblewords: said...

Excellent K - full of information and thoughts. Interesting to see how your initial love progressed...

stan said...

Just came across somone else who posted a series of coloured pens!

Willow said...

I was offered a photography elective in middle school, but I was the only girl in the class. In that era, it wasn't encouraged. I knew I was good, but no one nurtured my interest. It would be another 30 years before I picked up a camera in earnest again.

I for one am glad you chose photography. I can enjoy your photos and insight and encouragement.

katherine. said...

I have never used a dark room. I've seen them...but never in action. On the other hand I have always had a kaleidescope around...

I love the pastels....color and symmetry...and a great story.

The Muse said...

I love this, David...

"But the true definition of art is in establishing the boundaries for yourself."

Lori ann said...

This is such an interesting post, I think I can relate to alot of what you say. Photography is a passion, with an interest sparked early in my life.
Lovely photos.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Fascinating post, David. How marvelous that your gift was nurtured from such a young age. And we are the beneficiaries of your gift!

Sheila :-)

Shadow said...

i just love your colours!!! and there's a time and place for black and white too. just not today...

Mojo said...

I really love this series. Macro shots are always some of my favorites, but the color palette here is wonderful.

J said...

This made me wish that my oil pastels weren't in another continent!

Daryl said...

Colored charcoal/chalks pastels ...colors like that literally make my mouth water ...

Debbie said...

I spent hours as a child arranging my crayons in rainbow order. I am so attracted to those photos! It's a disorder - I am sure.

lisaschaos said...

How beautiful! I love all the colors! It makes me feel more creative than I actually am. :)

Dragonstar said...

There's so much magic in watching a picture develop on an apparently blank piece of paper. I loved darkroom work.

becky aka theRAV said...

This is another wonderful post, David. I mentioned you on my K post.

Sarah Laurence said...

Fun photos and thanks for sharing your philosophy. Interesting. I understand you now and I appreciate your attitude to different approaches. I love this line: "the true definition of art is in establishing the boundaries for yourself."

Janie said...

You obviously found your passion early in life, and developed it through the years into the kaleidoscope of color and images that you now are able to capture.

C. Michael Cox said...

David, you almost have me wanting to become a photographer searching for the perfect light. I've always been drawn to the medium (that and a grand piano - what I wouldn't give to have fingers that knew a C from a D,) but my heart is in the written word. Tempting though...

Anonymous said...

If I'd been offered photography I'd have jumped at it! As it was, all I had was a little Kodak Instamatic which I scrimped and saved from my first (very poorly paid) job to buy. That little camera was both a great joy and a great frustration to me, because of its limitations. I think if I'd had the money to get a half-decent camera and take lessons my life may well have taken a different course.

I very much admire your approach to photography. A true craftsman as well as an artist!

jay said...

Ah ... sorry. That last comment was me.