Canton Vander Built’s Beautiful Classical Take on Black and White Photography

All images by Canton Vander Built. Used with permission.

Photographer Canton Vander Built describes himself as a photographer who is more interested in light, form, movement, color, perspective, and shutter speed than in any particular genre of photography. To that end, he says that his favorite subjects are those that are present before him at the time. At the other end of the spectrum, CVB’s work explores the boundaries between recognizable imagery and the most minimal aspects of shadow and light that comprise an “image.”

Canton draws influence form Anne W. Brigman, Martin Munkacsi, Seydou Keita, Daido Moriyama, and Francesca Woodman. When he shoots, he’s most likely toting around his Lecia SL with Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f2.8-4. But don’t scoff just yet, because he’s also a fan of the Nikon D810 with Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G and a few other pieces.

Personal Relationship to Photography: To date, my most defining moments in photography have resulted from the decision to revisit taking photos some thirty years after my very first camera, a Minolta 110 Zoom SLR, was stolen by some unsavory character or characters in the early ’80s. In picking up the camera again, I have published fifteen volumes of my work over the past two years.

Creating photographs is important and meaningful in that each photo captures or represents another perspective or framing of the visible world (among countless perspectives and framings). An enlarged understanding of the world and its people can be gained from the contemplation of multitudinous perspectives and framings.

Merits of Black and White Photography: Like the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama (b. 1938), I believe that black and white photography is not only erotic, but also possesses “stronger elements of abstraction or symbolism”. Such erotic, abstract, or symbolic features “pull me into” images captured in back and white. Black and white photography seduces, mystifies, and challenges my imagination in way that color photography does not.

To the degree that color photography can be categorized as “vulgar” because it “is making the decisions” or dictating its own interpretation to viewers, the value of black and white photography for the future art world lies in the ambiguity of meaning intrinsic to black and white photography itself. Since the abstract or symbolic elements of black and white photography create ambiguity by not predetermining what a photo means or how it is to be consumed, black and white photography can help those in the art world keep an open mind, help them refrain from foreclosing on the possibilities of photography throughout the 21st century. In other words, black and white photography can compel us to rethink how film photography in general and black and white photography in particular can be innovated as opposed to discarded in an increasingly high-definition, predictable, blatant, and candy-colored world.