All images by Jack Ronnel. Used with permission.
My name is Jack Ronnel and I specialize in black and white fine art and documentary-style portrait photography. I work with film as well as digital. I love reportage photography and portraits. With documentary style portraits, without my intervention in any way, as opposed to directed photography, I am able to get the real human interaction, emotion and spontaneity, creating an involvement that the viewer can experience. I shoot reportage photography with musicians, artists, artisans, craftsmen and professionals. In my photography, I enjoy emulating classic b&w film, with a contrasty and grainy look that appear more “alive”, creating drama and a classical quality. I develop and print my work, as I enjoy the process very much.
I love teaching. I am coaching photographers to be more creative and expressive using black and white and I also give lectures on the subject.
I use a Leica M 240 Rangefinder with 35mm Leica lenses and 50mm Zeiss and Voigtlander Nokton f1.1 and lately I mostly use my Leica SL with the 24-90mm Leica SL lens. From time to time, I use my Mamiya Pro 645 TL. For digital processing, I first use Lightroom and then develop in black and white using NIK SFX-Pro. I print in black and white with the Epson Pro 3880 using museum-grade Matt Rag paper from Hahnemuhle.
Presently, I am a semi-professional photographer as only about 1/3 of my income derives from fine art black and white photos for luxury hotels and hi-tech offices, as well as reportage assignments for art books and other publications.
My creative vision is to find a way to communicate to the viewer a story, an experience, a deeper look into the subject of a portrait.
Why did you get into photography?
To be creative, to discover, to express myself, to make an impact.
What photographers are your biggest influences?
Yousuf Karsh, Irving Penn, Jane Bown, Anton Corbijn, Sebastiao Salgado.
How long have you been shooting?
For more than 40 years, since I was a teenager. My first camera was a Canonet rangefinder. A great little camera.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
Simply, the need to create and to discover.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
This is a tricky question to ask a documentary photographer! For me, the most important aspect of photography, is the creation of a new work. The sense and feeling of creation is very powerful and satisfying. It drives and motivates me and it becomes an instinct.
A new work, a photo, includes both the image of the object (subject chosen by the photographer) as well as the choices and contribution of the photographer (framing, perspective, decisive moment of the shot, light, focus, depth-of-field, angle, distance, choice of lens, etc.).
The photographer can further impact his work during the development, processing, printing, etc. In the end, there is the final work that integrates an (most probably) interesting subject and the individual contribution and direct input of the photographer, resulting from his style, technique, experience, mood, vision, ideas, intelligence, communicative skills, etc.
An interesting work will usually provide and insightful and penetrating look into the subject, as well as an awareness and appreciation of photographer’s contribution (a piece of her/him should be detected in the work).
Therefore, I do believe that, even when documenting, I am able to create and basically, I am more of a creator than a documenter.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.
Mechanically, I will concentrate on the framing and light. Mentally, I will try to visualize the image printed in black and white. At the back of my mind, I will compare and evaluate what I see through the viewfinder to the memorized database of my own good photos and the ever-present memory of images created by the masters of photography, and through the process, ask myself, if the new photo I am about to create will measure up (at least to my own best photos). This elimination/selection process helps me to keep a fresh eye and mind, even during long sessions.
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
For my scheduled and assigned portrait sessions, I follow the simplistic and practical approach of the British Photographer Jane Bown, working exclusively in black-and-white, using only natural light, on location, without professional assistants, with minimal equipment and setting as few barriers as possible between me and the subject.
A typical session lasts between half-an-hour to one hour.
I set the photo session at the workplace or residence of the subject. I look for a suitable spot, preferably with a good source of natural daylight.
I am a good listener. I study the profile of the subjects before the session and I engage them in conversations. This helps them to loosen up. Ideally, within a short time, the subject will stop noticing the camera.
I never ask the subject to pose, as the candid and natural expression will vanish and the moment will be gone. Eventually, during the conversation or when the subject is lost in thought, the special moment will happen and I will be ready to capture it.
The character of the portrait lies in the expression and the textures of the face, in the eyes of the subject and the light hitting the face.
We can’t always choose our portrait subjects. Not everyone is photogenic, has an interesting look, or has a face with character. This is a challenge that compels me to work harder, to find an interesting angle, a peculiar look, a curious expression, an unusual framing.
Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.
My principal portfolio consists of portraits, documentary projects, and street photography. I shoot reportage photography with musicians, scientists, artists, artisans, craftsmen, professionals as well as special projects & assignments.
In my photos, I am emulating classic black and white film, with a contrasty and grainy Tri-X 400 look that appear more “alive”, creating drama and a classical quality.
The specific reportage project I attached is about a famous Boxing Gym in Tel Aviv and the well-known heavy weight boxer who owns it. The only suitable setting for portraits was in a corner of the gym, between two windows. I usually shoot wide-open, even when the subject is in movement.
You can see another documentary project example that was featured in Adore Noir magazine.
What made you want to get into your genre?
Most probably the fact that I am introverted and to get closer to my subjects was a challenge I needed to conquer. Now I can’t get enough. The street and the portrait subjects are great motivators for me. In addition, the specific style that I embraced, consisting of a timeless black and white film look, is very suitable to these genres.
Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.
I love the look of the images shot with Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander lenses. The Leica SL is faster and more responsive than the M240 and the viewfinder of the SL is exquisite. This WYSIWYG viewfinder allows me to have full and instant manual control over the Aperture and Shutter Speed. The Leica SL + SL 24-90 lens is a heavy but very stable tool and I use the SL more and more. The Leica SL 24-90 lens is an exceptional lens, even for someone who is spoiled using great/fast Leica prime lenses. If there is one camera that motivates me to go out and never get enough, it is the SL.
What motivates you to shoot?
My guiding principle in photography is to remain an amateur, in the true sense of the word: someone who does something for the love of it, rather than being a “professional” who does something for money. As Andre Kertesz stated:“ I am an amateur and intend to remain one my whole life long… The photographer’s art is a continuous discovery, which requires patience and time…”
Basically, I am curious, I am patient, I want to discover and to create.
Although we live in the age of Instagram and insta-everything, a large number of people are still captivated by good quality portraits and curious about well executed and interesting reportage. The old school Tri-X 400 film look has a special charm.
I know that black & white documentary and portrait photography is not to everyone’s liking, but for the readers that do like this genre, I am confident that they will enjoy discovering and seeing my work.
Visit Jack Ronnel’s website to see more of his photography in timeless black and white.