Chronicling the photographer’s passage toward the void. ‘Photography is a…
A life lived in Black and White – Richard White.
We mourn the untimely passing of master photographer and master printer Richard White. Richard was a friend and inspiration for many photographers in Australia. He was a versatile photographic practitioner over his life, but his large format black and white prints from the Victorian High Country are undoubtedly his signature work.
Many of us knew Richard through the Large Format Group trips which he organised. It was important to him that large format photographers he brought together and he arranged the ‘LFG’ without any charge despite photographic workshops being part of his income. My own first encounter was at one of these events; I walked in to a room of strangers with Richard holding court – fiercely debating the notion that digital photography wasn’t really photography at all.
He was a principled man with firmly held views, be they related to photography, to politics or life in general. He always debated his case strongly, and there had to be a very good reason for him to shift his view. For so long he held less than favourable views, as noted above, about digital photography. In the end he had to succumb, but unlike so many, he remained loyal to his love of large format analogue photography. Principled and firmly held views were part of his character, but as much as he had strongly held views he was also always experimenting and evolving his perspective. Be that techniques in the darkroom, different photography approaches like using pinholes or new (and usually difficult) places to photograph. Despite this, his body of work resolutely remained compositionally simple, finely crafted traditional black and white prints.
Notes from one of his Art of Photography workshops in 2004 are a window into his photographic philosophy. “Reach a point of technical competence quickly and finally, so that technique is behind you forever. Don’t waste time. Simplify. Be consistent.” “Feel it, love it, don’t talk about it, don’t worry about it, make the picture”. “The visual, the intellectual, the spiritual and the emotional that exists in the finest photographs, paintings, music and writing comes out of the spirit of the artist”.
He always reinforced the importance of studying the work of the great practitioners of photography. “Success in photography is like success in anything – not available to those who don’t know what’s possible. You can learn what is possible in any medium only by studying the work of the champions who have pushed against the boundaries of their own limitations”.
What he wrote in 2004 was reflected in what he espoused during the Large Format Group weekends that he facilitated. As I’ve talked to those who knew and photographed with Richard a number of consistent stories emerge. His approach was first, look for contrast; he never rushed into making images, always taking his time to observe and decide where the real point of interest was. Second, always seek to improve prints: whether in the darkroom or sharing prints as a group his question was always the same, ‘what would improve this?’. He was as critical of his own work as he was of others. Third, have a great collection of hats.
Beyond his own photography he leaves us with another legacy: a group of friends who through Richard’s passion and drive have connected to share our collective love of large format photography, imaging making, print making and spirited discussions. In honour of Richard’s legacy we will continue to meet, continue to debate and continue to grow.
We will miss his wisdom, we will miss his wit and we will cherish his incredible images.
Vale Richard White 1949 – 2020.
“Unfortunately photography has become too common. For many it is difficult to take it seriously and to even consider that it could be used for artistic expression. It is the viewer who must make this decision. Do they see what the photographer is trying to convey through their images?
I feel I am compelled to photograph. Always looking for the beauty before me. Trying to make images from my heart with technical information from my head. It’s a visual communication that with luck will elicit an emotional response from the viewer.” – Richard White, 2019
Main photograph above: Richard White with 8×10 pinhole camera. Echuca 2014. Photograph by Shane Booth.
More of Richard’s photographs can be seen here.
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