"Photography has been one of the most popular hobbies in the western world for well over fifty years. This phenomenon grew by leaps and bounds with the transition from analog to digital photography in which individuals could suddenly assume personal control of how they stored and edited their own images. And today, virtually everyone possesses a smart phone in his pocket, created a photographic revolution in not only how many people suddenly have instant access to advanced cameras, but also in the multitude of image-sharing programs that have propelled this revolution and turned this planet into a singularly accessible photo gallery. Online formats such as Instagram and Facebook enable anyone to create individuals communication networks that can dwarf the traditional photographic archive services. The Instagram photo inventory now boasts over sixty billion pictures and grows at the rate of 7.5 million photos a day—more than all the images ever created since the invention of the camera. Facebook users upload close to 180,000 photos per minute. This is astounding when one considers the fact that the Magnum Photo Agency, created in 1947 and long considered one of the world’s most extensive archives, only holds half a million images.
The instantaneous transmission of images has become a new global language that is absolutely universal. The global perception of photography has been redefined and this new reality has also redefined what it means to be a professional photographer in a world where everyone takes photos for a global audience. Most people who take pictures do so automatically and intuitively. They want to capture an image in order to preserve a memory. There is a fundamental difference between those who can photograph and those who are photographers, not by means of technical ability, but by the photographic philosophy and a matrix of calculations that go into the equation so that elements of light, emotion, contrast, drama, and even irony can become part of the canvas. The photographs taken by a professional photographer can create emotional though not necessarily positive experiences that will leave the viewer with an indelible palette of emotional responses. Susan Sontag, the noted author and philosopher, wrote in her book Regarding The Pain of Other wrote about the connection between photography and the emotional response, when she wrote, “the power in photography is that the eye is connected to the brain and directly to the nervous system, and during the viewing of a powerful photograph, the viewer goes through a strong emotional experience.”
At one point in my career, many years before I even read Sontag’s book, I realized that there would be guidelines that would define my career. Sontag’s analysis enabled me to hone my skills as a documentary photographer. My objective is always to be honest and sincere much more than it was to be impressive and admired. I would like each image I photographed to become an experience for the viewer.
All of these questions have led me to my present project “Writing With Light.” The title “Writing With Light” is a loose translation of the word photography (from Greek phos = light, and gaphe = writing and illustration). Light, after all, is the single most important element of photography. A photograph cannot exist be without it. But in this “over-saturated Instagramic-era” I found it necessary to stop and think about this most significant component of photography and return to the origins, to the beauty and complexity of black-and-white imagery, to once again discover light as a basic element of creation. And so began a three year journey—a quest of thought and observation, and the search for the element of light in photography.
Photographs consist of a subject, its composition, and its illumination. Light isn’t the only element of a photograph, of course, but light is the basic element for creating all photos. And, in this world, there is one source of natural light; this is a source that constantly changes. Paradoxically, low light created higher bounds of creative opportunity. When the sun is strongest, everything is uniformly lit, sometimes in a rigid way. When the sunlight begins to fade and daylight slowly descends into darkness, there is enormous room to play with light as both a source of selective illumination and a creative palette of contrasts and shadows. I developed an absolute fascination with the effects of diminishing light without falling into the cliché of photographing sunsets. I examined how low light falls, reflects, deflects, and how it penetrates. I explored how low light can create depth, drama, and three dimensions to significantly change a photograph from one of visual information into a universe of endless creation.
My career as a photographer was launched in black-and-white: with chemicals in bathtubs, the red light of the darkroom, the enlarger, and a sense of shadows and contrast. The camera I used did not have a motor drive; autofocus cameras had yet to be invented. I painstakingly wrote down the details and parameters of every photo I shot in a small logbook after each film emerged out of developing process. Working in black-and-white was a test of observations and senses: the lack of color makes it necessary for the photographer to compensate with additional values that have light and composition as their backbone. I am grateful for having grown up as a photographer when I did. I adopted a very rigid ethic code that precisely reflected the principles of professional honesty and personal self-worth. Today’s technology has changed the basic skill sets of translating what the photographer’s eye sees with the images that are now viewed mainly on computer, tablet, and phone screens. The latest photo-editing technology allows images to be manipulated rather than captured. The tenant of credibility is being lost from photography.
Black-and-white photography adds a more emotional touch to the subject and stimulates your imagination better than traditional color photography. Monochrome images are not direct renditions of their subjects, but are create abstractions from reality, by representing colors in shades of grey. Since the raw file of the photograph is one of color, even when the digital camera’s dial is set to black-and-white, In order to produce the best details out of the photograph, it’s necessary to convert the raw file into a black-and-white image. Technology has forsaken the black-and-white image.
After all virtually all photography used to be most black-and-white—color photography was expensive and often less than true to life. But color photography soon conquered the medium. Today, black-and-white photography is the domain of those who use the format for artistic purposes. After all, there is simply no way to begin the photographic process in black-and-white using a digital camera. Although the transformation process is entirely legitimate. I felt that it was necessary to consult with a number of professionals in this field in order to ensure that I was not straying from the customary ethical pillars of the trade.
Each phase of editing and selecting the photographs for this project was a challenge. After searching through too many images to count, my pool of possibilities was whittled down to 3,000 photographs. I searched for the correct interaction between the subject and light in each image. Each and every component of the photograph had to meet my very stringent standards. Like any other creative work, there are no absolute values and the process is completely subjective. I received help from a number of colleagues whose opinion I value greatly. Still, each person brings his own emotional and professional experiences into the process. Ultimately, I was the final judge and jury on the images selected for this work.
This book is a culmination of this long, exhausting, and, for me, truly fulfilling process. The images presented in this book—which includes 160 pictures taken during different periods of time in 25 countries around the world—are all linked together by the connective thread of a speck of light that gives the photo its added special value.
It would be pretentious of me to think that I have created something here that has never seen before. Greater and more important photographers than me have worked on this subject since the invention of photography some 150 years ago. But photography today is at a crossroad. It is essential to start the discussions and redefinition the role of the documentary photographer in this ever changing modern world."