"B&W" magazine says No to digital photographs

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

B&W, perhaps the fastest growing serious photography magazine (at least among those that don’t showcase equipment and supermodels), has declared that it will not feature "digital photography." (No precise definition was given, but the objection covers at least those photographs that were _output_ digitally.)

In an editorial titled, "In Consideration of Constancy" in the April 2002 issue, B&W publisher/editor/founder Henry Rasmussen writes, "I’m a traditionalist, in awe of old-fashioned craftsmanship, and moved by history. For me, this has always been the lure of black and white--its connection to the past.

"The practical ramification for this magazine is that, having now made our position clear and public, we will not widen our editorial scope to include Digital photography. This is not a judgment reflecting on the worth of practitioners of the new ways, but a practical necessity--it’s impossible to please both sides in the same forum.

Rasmussen continues: "However, I will not be shy about expressing an opinion that keeps me in the Conventional fold: In that age-old conflict between change and constancy, Digital represents an element of modern technology while Conventional represents craftsmanship.

"This difference does not produce a watershed when it comes to creativity. It does, however, present a contrast when it comes to the method of reproduction: Digital utilizes a machine, much like a printing press, that places the output on a par with an etching, a lithograph, a poster--works of art that do not qualify as one-off. Regardless, we may from time to time reevaluate our policy, and will keep readers informed of developments in the Digital arena.

"I realize," Rasmussen concludes, "that the subject can be discussed endlessly without converts being won by either side. But I do hope that practitioners of Digital photography will not see our concentration on Conventional photography as a negative comment on their priorities, their integrity, or their creativity--only as a decision in consideration of constancy." (copyright HR/B&W 2002)

Again, I have no idea how Rasmussen feels about using digital at an earlier stage of the process than the printing: for example, a photo that was shot on 4x5 film, scanned and digitally printed as a 16x20 negative, and then printed as a silver contact print.

It’s easy to dismiss Rasmussen as a minority voice of the elite traditional-print collector crowd, of which many photographers are not a part. On the other hand, B&W’s circulation figures indicate that the magazine is reaching a far wider audience than mere collectors (when young photographers ask me what book to buy to aid in learning to see, I suggest they "Buy as many back issues of B&W as you can and just pore over them.") Every time someone in an online forum asks about magazines that go beyond the gadget/celeb variety, B&W is up there near the top among recommendations. So B&W is not without influence in the wider photographic community.

Thoughts? Reflective (as opposed to reflexive) responses especially appreciated.


-- Micah (micahmarty@aol.com), March 16, 2002


Men Oh Men! How many times are going to rehash this Digital VS Traditional topic on this forum? So one more magazine of the many that are doing digital and/or traditional and digital wants to do only traditional, to my knowledge there are only two, photovision and now B&W, is this supposed to be a big deal? Oh men, I hope Tuan gets rid of this thread!!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), March 16, 2002.

Magazines can be a thermometer that tells you where the life cycles of Photography are at. It's interesting to me that this magazine is thriving in spite of what all the others have said "must" happen. Tells me traditional photography is quite alive and well at this point.

I wouldn't want to have to walk the fine line that this fellow is creating for himself. Magazine production is completely dependant on digits these days isn't it. So obviously if someone sends in a nice 11X14 contact, he has to go to the PC and Scanner to get it into the magazine. But that's production, not creation.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), March 16, 2002.

I see quite a few digital mags not featuring convential (film based, enlarger printed) photography.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), March 16, 2002.

And I can see that every issue this magazine will highlight as treachery the demise of yet another B&W film. I wonder if there were magazines for glass plate photography?

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@grandyphoto.com), March 16, 2002.

What is Rasmussen going to do whan he realizes that this years Pulitzer Prize winning image is most likely going to be a digital image?

If he publishes it, his credibility will be reach much lower levels that it just did with his editorial. Lest we forget that a magazine that publishes excellent photographer should be more concerned with the message and less concerned with the capture medium.

Can you say "Egg on your face".


-- Mike Kravit (mkravit@kravit.net), March 17, 2002.

This year's Pulitzer-prize winning image will probably also be in color, putting it out of the topic of _B&W_ no matter what the medium, so that is hardly relevant. An award winning news photograph would only be of interest if it were available as a collectible print.

If the editor has identified an audience that shares an interest in traditional media, what difference does it make? It's not as if there aren't plenty of venues for digital work. If the magazine were called "Pd/Pt" and only published reproductions of platinum/palladium work, would anyone be bothered?

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), March 17, 2002.

It's clear to me that Rasmussen just doesn't know enough about digital photography. Anyone who is an expert at both digital and darkroom printing recognizes that each medium requires just as much craftsmanship, artistry, painstaking work, etc. I have yet to meet anyone who is an expert at both, who disagrees. My experience is that those who say there is not as much artistry in digital are simply ignorant of the digital medium.

Poor guy, I think he just signed the death certificate for his magazine.

-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), March 17, 2002.

As a board member of a Photographic Museum I have to say that Rasmussen is being very short sighted and doing his magazine a disservice. We regularly show work by many traditional and digital photographers. When scheduling exhibits we are interested in the artists imagery quality and not necessarily the medium although both certainly need to be of the highest quality.

I can somewhat see the position of a gallery with respect to archival issues (almost), but a magazine? A photographic image is a photographic image despite how it was printed. I am interested in the image if it is brillant, if it was shot with digital capture, or on celluloid it is still a brilliant image.

Mr. Rasmussen needs to open his eyes, and stop smelling the fixer.


-- Michael J. Kravit (mkravit@kravit.net), March 17, 2002.

Many of the seminal photographs of the early 20th century, including most of the masterpieces of Paul Strand, are available only as photogravures. Wonder if he will reject them?

-- Wilhelmn (wmitch3400@hotmail.com), March 17, 2002.

What the hey. Grab nose, dive in.

>I have yet to meet anyone who is an expert at both, who disagrees

Chris- have you ever met an expert at *anything* who was willing to dis his own "craft"? of course not, so this is a meaningless statement.

I'm not trying to dis digital imaging here. however, I think that anyone trying to make the argument that moving one's fingers over mouse and keyboard and running to the Epson as "craftmanship" has their work cut out for them. probably best to focus on other arguments that make it a valid art form.

Michael. There are plenty of places that digital imaging is accepted and welcome. It is NOT the same (though still just as valid) as what we have come to know as photography over 150 years +. THAT fixer aroma is pretty darned obvious, and IMO it only hurts digital to not accept it. The argument that "oh its exactly the same as what you do" isnt working now, and I doubt it ever will.

-- Wayne (wsteffen@skypoint.com), March 17, 2002.

Black and White Magazine is a wonderful publication. Consider its audience though. Collectors and Galleries. The archival argument probably falls flat these days with the new materials and testing, but digital imaging threatens the existing limited-edition model currently in place. The idea of limited printing and value hierarchy within the sequence becomes moot. Or does it? I suppose photographers could print an edition and then delete the files, so perhaps the fact that all prints are identical ruffles the gallery feathers here?

-- daniel taylor (lightsmythe@agalis.net), March 17, 2002.

I agree with the premise that there is an essential difference between machine made objects, and those made one at a time by hand. I see the difference between digital prints and conventional prints to be similar to glassware made from molds, and glassware that is made one at a time by hand. Nice to see that there are others who perceive this difference.

-- Chris Ellinger (chris@ellingerphoto.com), March 18, 2002.

Gee I thought that the idea was to get there, not how difficult the journey was.

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@grandyphoto.com), March 18, 2002.

= intrinsic value = excellence. ?? These are ideas lost on a generation of instant everything. If everybody can get to the same place in 30 seconds or less by pushing a button, is there any value? Indeed it's the struggle that fine tunes the artisans and stimulates the brain to creativeness. We'll find out soon enough what taking that out of the equation will ultimately produce.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), March 18, 2002.

I find it difficult to believe that no digital processes are used in the printing of the magazine?

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 18, 2002.

Just a question if I may. How many of you here get Black and White Magazine as a subscription or from the newstand?

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 18, 2002.

It's easy to see why collectors might be a little reluctant to embrace Digital: A negative can be destroyed and you can see, by examining the shreds, that it has indeed been destroyed.....Can't do that with Digital.

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), March 18, 2002.

What is the big deal? This magazine will fill a niche, and the marketplace will decide its fate. It will specialize in film photography much like "Fly Fisherman" specializes in one form of fishing. Using this comparison, this does not mean that surf fishing or baitcasting are hated by "Fly's" owners. Likewise it does not mean Rasmussen hates digitial. So, if you want to read about digital, you don't buy B&W magazine, just like you don't buy Fly to find out about the latest/fastest bass boat. If you want to read about the latest Fenwick flyrod or where to get a few more Royal Wulffs, "Fly" is the magazine for you. There are already plenty of excellent magazines that cover digital very well. B&W just chooses not to. It's their right to decide what their magazine will cover, it's ridiculous for people who think digital is the "magic bullet" to get so excited just because he does not share their opinion (sounds too much like a mob yelling "Kill the heretic"). Personally, I find it very refreshing and entertaining.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), March 18, 2002.

The passionate responses to the mag's position, both in print and on this and other online forums suggest that a large portion of B&W's readership are photographers, not collectors. I live in NYC, and digitally outputted prints are becoming more and more common in high- end galleries. When I ask, they tell me their clients care about "who did it" and "what it is", in that order.

If anyone's first thought when seeing an image is whether it's silver, platinum, or digital, the photographer has failed.

Amadou Diallo

-- amadou diallo (adiallo@mindspring.com), March 19, 2002.

the thrust behind the magazine and the editorial is money, not photography. sorry to be cynical here, but the incentive appears to be return-on-investment, and art appreciation secondary.

-- daniel taylor (lightsmythe@agalis.net), March 19, 2002.

Since I'm not at all familiar with the issues--economic, philosophical, and otherwise--faced by this magazine and its editor, I'm not sure about how to contribute to the response Micah has asked for. B&W could go for the niche market and try to do a good job of satisfying "traditional" or "conventional" photographers or it could spread itself thinly over the entire field and try to go part way towards pleasing everybody. I can think of examples of both approaches but have no idea which best fits this particular situation.

Otherwise, I honestly don't see what the problem is. There are different styles of painting and sculpture, of musical composition and performance, of dance, and so on. We can have film & wet darkroom photography; we can have digital photography and imaging-- each with its sundry variations and specialized subspecies. I consider myself a crafter, using traditional (or conventional) equipment and technique, where "traditional" means not archaic or obsolete but beginning in the past and continuing into the present. But on the basis of what I've learned since coming into LF b&w a couple of years ago, it's obvious that the digital practitioners are no less artists, crafters, skilled technicians, and all the rest.

I suspect that the reason it sometimes appears that the two camps can't live in peace is that as with other "traditional" art forms (classical, blues, and folk music; portrait painting; art film; classical ballet; and so on), a critical mass of practitioners (i.e. consumers) is needed in order for it to be economically feasible for the art form to carry on. It's a special problem for us "traditionalits" because it really isn't practical to make your own LF camera, your own lenses, your own film or paper. Resale of used stuff can keep us going only so long. We can survive with fewer magazines, fewer shows with smaller audiences, fewer or smaller h.s. or college classes devoted to our craft, but we've got to have equipment, supplies, and the means of processing.

The day after I bought my 8x10 camera, with 5x7 back, I read a post on this forum that one of my chosen films, TMax 100 in 5x7, would no longer be produced by Kodak. And every day since then, I've been wondering how long all of us will able to keep going. So, my response to the B&W editorial is to see it in this larger context of the survival of traditional LF b&w film wet-darkroom photography, although again I'm not at all sure that this is also the issue, or the primary issue, for the editor.

-- Nick Jones (nfjones@stargate.net), March 19, 2002.

Well I have to disagree with you Daniel. Black and White Magazine is the fastest growing photography magazine on the American market today. It doesn't cater to "just" collectors and galleries. But it is about black and white photography from the very beginning of the craft to todays up and coming artists. It is about all the different styles encompassed by traditional photography. It "is" about the image. That is where Henry wants to keep his magazine. If you email him he will discuss the magazine and why he takes the position he does. And he will tell you that he does not dismiss digital photography or image reproduction at all. He merely wants to focus on images made in the traditional way which is how most of the existing photography in galleries and collections was made. He is not debating the status of digital as a new art form. Were an image (it would have to be a portfolio because this is the only way he will accept images) to come to him for review that was digitally shot and reproduced, that was what he thought might be a good article, he probably would include it. But he focuses on traditional photography and photographers. That is his audience. He seems to be doing the right thing for his magazine because it is selling well. And as for galleries and what they will or won't handle, most black and white photography accepted by galleries is traditionally produced with traditional silver or pl/pd. There is a resurrgence of other iron based alt processes too showing up in galleries. Color is now mostly produced as digital prints mainly due to the discontinuance of the dye transfer materials. All this talk of digital vs traditional photography sounds just like the tech wars and canikonolta battles that are fought endlessly on forums like this. Pretty dull reading. But not much discussion is devoted to the why of photography here. How about a little more of that and less "what is better" arguments.

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 19, 2002.

"fastest growing photography magazine on the American market today"

Total unaudited circulation in over 28 countries = "about" 24,000.

It doesn't appear to be the fastest on the American market for print media.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), March 20, 2002.

Bob, can you name some other photography magazines that were only founded in the past three years that are now at the 24,000 level? I can't think of any other photography mags that have grown this fast, but you're probably in a better position to know than I am! Some digital-video magazines, perhaps, but if there are other plain old still photography magazines doing this well, that would be worth noting.


-- Terry (tcdvorak@aol.com), March 20, 2002.

As I mentioned, I love the photography in B&W and have every issue. On the front cover of every issue are the words 'Black and White Magazine For Collectors of Fine Photography'. Open the magazine and read the advertisements .. the galleries. The publishers can do what they want of course, but it makes good business sense, to editorialize on your sponsors behalf. It appears not be a digital/traditional argument at all, but simply a wise financial decision when you understand the market you have identified, your niche position, and your identified (and headlined) purpose. If it was truly about the image only, why write this editorial?

Christopher Burkett is my neighbour. He is up at 3:00 every morning laboriously printing his art that commands upwards of $7000/print. Each print has his fingerprints on it, as he says, and I wonder the differences in the art/gallery world if he wrote a batch program to dump hundreds of inkjet prints out while he sleeps, to find them ready to ship when he awakes. I honestly do not know, nor do I care, about the ramifications of that scenario, but if I were a magazine publisher I would certainly understand who feeds me, who bends my ear, and what the motivations are.

It seems the gallery, edition, artist/middleman/client paradigm is a fragile one these days and one in need of adjustment. There are strong forces resisting it.

-- daniel taylor (lightsmythe@agalis.net), March 20, 2002.

There are two kinds of answers to this question, the obvious economics of running a magazine, and the philosophical issues involved with the value of traditional vs. digital photography.

As noted by Daniel, the economic issues are fairly obvious to anyone who picks up B&W Magazine. The bulk of the advertising revenue in B&W Magazine comes from Galleries such as Scott Nichols Gallery (inside front cover and page 1) and J.J. Brookings Gallery (back cover). Most of the other multiage ads are from similar galleries that specialize in high value prints from the masters, in addition to up and coming artists.

You can’t expect a magazine to bite the hand that feeds them. The future revenues of these galleries, not to mention the multimillion- dollar investment in inventory that galleries and museums have made, is threatened by the idea of digital photography, namely that all prints are identical in quality and value. This of course leads to the philosophical discussion about the value of various prints made from the same negative, esthetically and commercially (supply vs. demand).

Soren Kierkegaard posed the following question in the title page of “Philosophical Fragments”:

“Is an historical point of departure possible for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure have any other than a merely historical interest; is it possible to base an eternal happiness upon historical knowledge.”

In the above quote, Kierkegaard was referring to the historical Jesus, and in this discussion we are referring to the historical knowledge of the print. That is, whether a print made by the photographer nearest to the time that the negative was made, is more valuable than a print made at a later date, or more valuable than a print made by someone else after the photographer has died.

We know that from a purely esthetic point of view, a print made at a later date may actually have more artistic value as the photographer’s experience printing the image and the materials improve over time. A supervised assistant (e.g., Cole Weston) should be able to produce a print just as well after Edward Weston is dead as Cole did when Edward was alive. But we all know how the market values these two prints (both made by Cole) are quite different.

The world of fine art photography (commercial galleries and museums) is completely dependent on making this distinction in historical knowledge in the way it values photographic prints. It depends on the presumption that no two photographic prints are exactly alike, and some vague logic about the intent of photographer being more pure in the expression of their artistic expression nearest to the time that the negative was made. In reality, the earlier prints are usually more scarce (supply vs. demand) which affects the value of the print far more than purely esthetic concerns.

Digital photography, by virtually guaranteeing that every print is identical (even after the death of the photographer), and by the knowledge that exact copies of the digital negative (digital file) may exist somewhere (unlike a conventional negative), throws the entire world of fine art photography asunder. So it is no wonder that the galleries and the museums will do everything they can to make a distinction between convention and digital images.

-- Michael Feldman (mfeldman@qwest.net), March 20, 2002.

:can you name some other photography magazines that were only founded in the past three years that are now at the 24,000 level?:

Since he uses unaudited figures of "about 24000 in 28+ countries" you can not do a comparison as agencies look only at controlled audited ABC figurews. We want to know a reliable # of impressions per ad per market and he is not ststing these figures in a standard, acceptable form.

As for fast growth wiyh aududited figures check Outdoor Photography.

You may or may not like the magazine but they have legitably measured demographics.

Of course the other question with B&W's stated circulation is how many of the "about 24,000" are located in the US specifically (as well as in the other "28" countries and how many of these readers cross over and are readers of other accepted ABC audited publications.

Perhaps he has a total readership that only reaches his publication or perhas he has a readership that can be totally reached by advertising in other poto magazines. If the former, and he can proove it, then he should see a big increase in advertising revenue. If the latter he could experience a total lack of continuing industry advertising as his magazine is not a viable alternative for reaching a large enough base with a low enough cost per impression.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), March 21, 2002.

Reality check: In the current issue with the editorial posted above, there is one portfolio by a photographer who prints giclee on watercolor paper. Also a brief news item on someone who does digital composites. I doubt he will stick to such an absolute ban on digital techniques.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), March 21, 2002.

Bob, if you know of another "photography" magazine, one that deals in traditional photography, that is increasing sales faster than black and white I'd like to know about it. It is the fastest growing magazine in the nation. I didn't say the best selling I said the fastest growing. If you don't like the magazine then that's cool.

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 22, 2002.

Bob, check outdoor photographies new subscribers trend. Point made. And outdoor has been around for what? 10 years or so. and I just love these idiotic assumptions that the artist should control the markets. The patron, buying public, determines what a product will sell for. Not the gallery. Many galleries are stuck with merchandise that was over priced and now they have to devalue it and it makes them look bad.

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 22, 2002.


Who says it is the fastest growing anything?

Not audited is no proof.

It's funny. Right now I am exhibiting at the SPE show in Las Vegas. SPE is the show for photographic teachers and students, primarily at the 4 year level.

At the show they have a large area for photographic magazines and books. You know like Yale Univ. Press, MIT Press, Photo Austria, etc. Apparently while this place is loaded with educators, gallery participants, publishers, etc. There is no indication that B&W even exists.

Asking attendees I have found only one who has even heard of the magazine.

Oh yes, attendance is at least 2500 members of SPE as of the latest count.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), March 22, 2002.

There are specialist digital photography magazines. There are specialist wooden boat magazines. There are specialist quilting magazines. There are specialist flyfishing magazines. Why not a specialist B&W analog photography magazine?

About time, if you ask me.

-- Ole Tjugen (oftjugen@online.no), March 22, 2002.

Interesting Bob. I talk with hundreds of photographers in my travels around the southwestern US and almost everyone of them has heard of Black and White and Lenswork magazines. Both at PhotoLA and PhotoSF this year the magazine was the talk of the event. Now if you don't like the magazine then don't buy it.

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 23, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ