I like them black

Recently I watched a documentary dedicated to celebrating Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 90th birthday. Towards the end of the film he said something interesting: ‘I don’t like them black’, and then immediately lamented the fact that people call him a ‘classic photographer’.

The line, ‘I don’t like them black’ came across in that context as a defensive statement, and in opposition to what the man must have assumed, namely, that the black and the grainy photographs are anything but classic, the implicit also being that while the man would have liked to be considered as something other than ‘classic’, he would also appreciate it if people would not demand that he made them black.

I couldn’t help smiling at this episode, as it showed an old legend concerned with what others think… at 90. I reckon that on that particular day, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Zen was not strong.

The interviewer also asked to him: ‘What do you think about people saying that you’re the greatest photographer ever?’ First he whispered into her ears, and then said it loudly: ‘Bullshit’.

He was correct about that one. He was a great photographer, but the greatest? Who is the greatest? Who can decide? According to what rule? If you ask me, I think his wife, Martine Franck, was better. Also, I happen to like them black. So much so that I’d rank Josef Koudelka over Cartier-Bresson any time.

The point is that if you work within the tradition that dictates: ‘There must be details in the highlights and the shadows’, then it’s clear that if you make them black, you won’t pass the darkroom test.

I emerged from my work last night with some very black ones. I don’t care about details à la Ansel Adams’ zone system, in which it’s important to name the 50 shades of grey. What I’m interested in is looking at how my two-dimensional ‘blobs’ arrange on the paper. So I’m a formalist in this sense, not a humanist looking for naturalistic representations.

Gelatin silver print by Camelia Elias

Now I look at the silver gelatin prints of my dog and then of myself in the mirror. My arms appear hairy, and there’s something that both grabs my heart and disturbs me at the same time. I see that the details of my slim waist are gone too.

Gelatin silver print by Camelia Elias

First I think: ‘I really do like them black,’ and then I realize what does it: The black is a beast, hairy and growling, wild and uncontrollable. The opposite of ‘classic’ in Cartier-Bresson’s understanding of that term.

I think I’ll take that, especially since I fancy the idea that a beast cares very little about what other people think. Look at those arms, they make my hair rise…

This kind of hairy Zen becomes me. The Buddha agrees.

Gelatin silver print by Camelia Elias

For more reflections and gelatin silver prints that are almost always more than the black that’s allowed, even more so when one is a woman, visit my social media profiles on Facebook . Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *