I have a thing for black and white art, especially black and white photography. Which is never just black and white, but endless shades of gray playing in between.
I love how a black and white photo can strip away the obvious and dare the eye to consider … the subject, the light, the composition, the mood, the textures, the emotions. I love color photography, too, but there’s something about black and white that tugs at the deeper parts of me.
Part of this preference no doubt has its roots in my St. Louis childhood home. It was there my dad started creating a black and white gallery on the wall behind the sofa in the mid 1960s, when my brother, sister, Mom and I became his instant family (with a second sister soon on the way). With an understandably tight budget, there wasn’t a great deal of other art in that house, but the gallery wall was a showstopper and typically a conversation-starter when company came in.
Then there was my own dabbling in photography in high school (and since), several photographer friends and boyfriends, and my own gradual collection over the years. In all my homes, there was always room for one more print, always a place where black and white would happy-up the decor.
When I visited my dad a few years back at his New England town home, where he'd migrated during his career, I instantly felt “at home” seeing his stunning black and white stairwell gallery. By then it had grown considerably, continuing onto all the walls in the second floor hallway. It was fascinating to observe the mix of fine art and inexpensive art, whimsy, intrigue, sarcasm, dimension and more. That extended gallery was, in essence, a vivid portrait OF my dad — his superb taste, his love of humor, his ability and compulsion to create order out of chaos.
My decades-long collection followed a similar path, and each piece had its own story, particularly the images photographed and gifted to me by others … the delicate nature macro by a best girl friend, the old man “standing in the light” in Lisbon from Steve, the editorial shot of the Santo Domingo trading post in New Mexico I’d won in a raffle at a business conference. Wendy’s black and white “Vidal Sassoon-ish” family portrait of me and the kids; a pin-up shot of my four-year-old daughter, during her swimsuit fetish stage, captured magically by my dear friend Jane.
When evacuating before the wildfire got to our house, I grabbed the large family portrait and a handful of small, framed candids, but was out of time to rescue much of anything else. Months later, while documenting property losses for my insurance claim, I began to obsess about the Santo Domingo shot.
Several years after obtaining that print, I was driving through New Mexico and saw signs for the reservation. It was a no-brainer; I had to go find the place and see it in person. Thankfully, I managed to do that; a few years later the trading post burned to the ground. Many more years later, so did my house — and the prized photograph.
I wanted that print back more than anything. For weeks I worked my brain to bring up the photographer’s name. I recalled he was from Denver; I was certain his first name was Jim. Finally, I found him: renowned photographer and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jim Havey. I told him my story and asked if there was any chance he’d held onto the negatives for that photograph.
And guess what’s now hanging in my living room!
Two cherished images — a family portrait and a striking landmark shot — help bring “home” into another house. They’re comfort and inspiration, as slowly life grows less black and white in the aftermath of disaster, and infinitely more beautiful in endless shades of gray.
What's your "thing" in your decor? Would your home feel like home without it?