Gretchen Robinette (NSFW)

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GRETCHEN ROBINETTE Photographer

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What makes black and white photography so important to you?

Black and white photography is what first inspired me to pick up a camera, shooting 35mm film. It felt like I could create my own world by removing the color, yet still remain rooted in reality, not fantasy. Unlike people who learned photography from the internet, but I took an entire semester course called The Zone System, formulated by Ansel Adams, that teaches you how to see every color, in any temperature, or type of light, as a specific shade of grey on the Zone System scale of 1 thru 10, with 5 being middle grey. With this system, you decide before you shoot, exactly which zone you want each element in a scene to be, picking the exposure for the shadow fall off, then processing the film with a specific temperature for the highlights. This also continues on to the printing, which is super tedious and nerve racking if you don’t actually obsess over this stuff. Ansel Adams said once that you only truly know the Zone System when you can put your toast in the correct zone everyday, so I of course had to do this. With digital however, you are really only concerned with Zones III thru VII. All of this analysis was really what taught me the most about seeing and creating images. Even though I don’t use this anymore, I still unconsciously consider it when I shoot, and it is really the basis of understanding color as well.

What inspires you to create photographs?

Some times I specifically go out to make photos, but other times I just see a scene or moment and without thought, am inspired to photograph it. I’m not sure if it always is inspired, but I have found if I focus on a specific idea, or theme in my head, I’ll start seeing it everywhere, and when I see it, I know and just immediately shoot. Only recently have I started setting up shoots and posing people, but for years I did more candid, street, or documentary style, which is mostly inspired by light and elements just coming together.

Why is black and white photography so important to our future in the art
world?

If you really want to understand light and how it affects skin tone, the composition of a scene, the entire mood or meaning within an image, you have to understand how to see without the influence of colors. I love color photography (now although I used to hate it) but some images you can strip away the amazing vibrant colors, convert to black and white, and what do you have? A mediocre composition. I’m pretty sure a good portion of the Instagram stars shooting everything in lemon yellow or all pastels, would have a difficult time creating great images if they were forced to leave the crutch of color. Like, try creating an outstanding image of fall leaves in black and white, with tonal separation between each different leaf color, where the leaves still pop. An exception though, Thanksgiving turkey. Turkey in black and white, yuck. I praise whoever can make a turkey look appetizing without color. Black and white is important to photography just as understanding human emotions are. The human eye can be distorted by color, but the emotions are what remain the same.

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