Rachmael Pendragon: Faces of New York

All images by Rachmael Pendragon. Used with permission.

We discovered Rachmael Pendragon’s photos on the Facebook group “I Love Black & White Photography” and were immediately taken by his keen ability to find interesting people and take engaging environmental photos of them on medium and large-format film cameras. A relative newcomer to the world of photography, Rachmael has developed a keen, clearly defined vision.



What I love about black and white film photography is the basic honesty and immediacy of the black and white film medium. Having started out with a digital camera, with default color rendering, it was very easy for a beginner like me to get distracted and led astray by superficial, surface elements like exotic hair colors, or gaudy colors of objects, or clothing, and fail to see underlying foundation and aesthetic integrity of the photographic subject.. This would cause me to loose sight of the fundamental formal elements, such as volume, mass and solidity of the photographic subject. In other words, color photographs tend to lack the gravity of black and white

What inspires you to create photographs?

I came to photography rather late in life, after spending decades on painting and poetry. Nonetheless, I found my niche quickly, namely environmental portraits. I’m inspired by the rich panoply of human types, available in New York City, which is a heaven for an outdoor portrait photographer. I often take photos at Union Square and Saint Marks Place, where I’m sure to encounter a wide variety of unusual looking people. Even so, I often have to wait hours to find a suitable subject, sometimes none at all. But New York is full of surprises; every now and then I’m startled and amazed by the people I meet, and the resulting photograph is magic.


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

I was born in San Francisco, but I moved to New York in 2006. I also lived in Manhattan during the roaring 70’s and 80’s, where I studied to be a writer. I only wish I had a camera then. Things were pretty wild back then, but now the City seems¬†more sterile and homogenous. New York has not entirely lost it’s soul; there are still pockets of strangeness, eccentricity and creativity to be found, and I hope I’ve conveyed some of that in my photography.

I invested in some rather expensive camera gear, but it was all second, or third hand, so it was not too dear. I like to use a medium format 6X7 Plaubel Makina 670 camera for street portraits, which gives me more flexibility and mobility than my Large Format cameras, but I really love to use my 4X5 Large Format cameras. I use a Crown Graphic 4X5 camera with a 150/5.6 Sironar S. lens. I also use a modified Polaroid 900 conversion camera, that has a 4X5 film back, and a fast 135/3.5 Xenotar lens. This is favorite camera . It is significantly lighter than the Crown Graphic, and I use a mono-pod to keep it steady. I’ve experimented with the 8X10 Format last summer. It was quite a challenge, but and I was delighted with results. I used a Shen Hao FCL810 camera.


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

I like to think black and white as a sculptural medium, in the sense that the subject it gives the illusion of three dimensionality, suggestive of sculpture. Just as the ancients would carve a sculpture, or a mask as a foundation upon which colored pigments were applied, and the Renaissance painters would employ chiaroscuro, monochromatic under-painting, before applying colored glazes, black and white is a more basic and fundamental envisioning of space than ephemeral color. Of course, black and white stands on it’s own as an artistic medium, and not merely as an intermediary step on the way to producing a color image. There will always be a future for Black and White film photography, because it captures the essence of things. Black and White film photography is the soul of photography.

My advice for young photographers is stick with it through thick and thin. It is a wonderful journey of discovery.

You can see more of Rachmael Pendragon’s work on Flickr.