50 Million Shades of Grey: A B&W Photo Portfolio

April 7, 2017 • Photos

All words and photos by Dick “Mez” Meseroll

Seeing and photographing in color is easy. Visualizing, shooting and translating a subject into black and white is another thing altogether. And a “black and white” photo really is not all black and white but instead a infinite continuum of shades of gray — which is why it’s also referred to as monochrome. Mastering and perfecting the many intricacies and nuances of monochrome is a lifetime learning curve, but when it all lines up, the visual reward becomes quite the visceral buzz. Quite addicting actually.

Tones, textures, patterns, ambient light — from full sun to moody shade to downright dank, dreary, rainy-cloudy conditions — can get super “drama-fied” if you know how to work all the angles starting with what you got inside the camera on that roll of film. As a dedicated B&W lover/shooter since the ’70s, both film or digital,, it is definitely more personally gratifying to me, mostly based on my failure rate, which of course is high. When it all comes together — from finding a good subject to capturing the image and then processing the vision in your head into a final rendering in shades of gray via a “wet” or digital darkroom — the time, effort, and trial and error failures are just the sacrifices you have to make for your art.

For me, it has been just too damn much fun, either working a print in an old-school chemical darkroom or now getting in front of a couple of 27” monitors and a host of digital programs and plug-ins without having to inhale the noxious fumes given off by liquid developer, stop bath, and fixer. While I still cherish them, I sure as hell do not miss those days now. Black and white photography has been a 40-year plus passion that I started pursuing in 1975 when I took two night classes (B&W Basics and B&W Advanced) at Ocean County College (O.C.C.), in Toms River, New Jersey, which was near my home.

Those two semesters went on to serve me well learning all the things that go into shooting a good black and white capture as well as with local newspaper stringer gigs, which paid good at the time, all the way up to mass printing ESM’s images for close to 10 years before digital took over and put me out to pasture. Thankfully, mercifully.

The following 35 images were culled from the past several decades of my photography and are an amalgamation of black and white film, digital captures, or scanned color slides, prints, and negatives. The journey is still as fascinating and bewitching as when I developed my first print in O.C.C.’s well-appointed darkroom, gently shaking the grooved tray with an 8 x 10 piece of Kodak paper floating and bouncing about in the liquid developer, lit only by the faint, spooky orange glow of the safety light, watching the shape of the tails and fin arrangements of my three-board winter quiver for Puerto Rico magically emerge before my eyes.

My teacher gave me an A on that one, and it’s been a fond love for a black and white world for me ever since.

Balaram Stack drops into the black out on the East End of Long Island.

Shot on film, CJ Hobgood somewhere between a grom and a young teenager at the 1992 ESA Easterns at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, NC.

20 years later, as I was photographing around Rickman Park and the Melbourne Beach Pier one late afternoon, I ran into the same grom with the same big smile who had just said “I do” to his beautiful wife Cortney about 30 minutes earlier. Many thanks to their photographer — and the happy couple themselves — for letting me snap a few in the middle of their photo session. Watching this guy grow up into the great human being that he is and to call him a friend has been one of the pleasures and honors in both my surf photog career and, more importantly, my personal life.

The Godfather of East Coast Surfing and a true global legend of our sport, “Captain” Dick Catri helped establish East Coast surfing and professionalism in both competition and business. You’ll never be able to count the number of Right Coast waveriders he’s influenced, mentored, and helped in his storied career from the grom at the end of his street dreaming big thoughts in his homebreak all the way to The Champ himself, Kelly Slater.

Carter Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, December 1976. Shot on Kodak Plus X Pan Pro B&W film, this empty sandbar barrel is at the end of my street just two blocks from the home I grew up in. This sacred spot is where I learned to swim, bodysurf, ride a Converse rubber surf mat, then handcrafted skim board before becoming homo-erectus and standing up to catch my first waves on a 10-foot pop-out the size of the Queen Mary in the Summer of ’64. I thank my lucky stars and the powers that be for putting me there. To this day I can never, ever imagine being born anywhere else.

A man who needs no introduction but I’m going to give him one out of unbridled respect and love, Sid “The Package” (now retired) Abbruzzi, Newport, Rhode Island. This is The Man who put Northeast surfing, skating, and rock ‘n’ roll on the map. The Man who sowed the seeds of the punk surfing DIY ethos for legions of faithful to follow and be inspired by. The Man who put soooo many brothers in the water and the water in the brothers while committing many a legendary feat in his time and has lived to tell about it. You’re damn right Sid Lives and we are all the luckier for it.

From legendary feats to legendary feet. Sid doesn’t just live The Life on his sleeve, folks, it goes way beyond skin deep and right to his heart.

Talk about a cool-ass ink design…

This photo looks pretty sick in color as a digital capture, but Nils Schweizer’s Sunglow Pier barrel in Daytona Beach goes to a whole ‘nother place for me when presented in monochrome fashion bringing out superior tones, textures, and detail that gets blinded in CMYK (four-color) form.

Stormy weather over the Indian River in Central Florida. Who says shooting on cloudy days sucks?

Okay, so this is a two-parter (if you’re even paying attention to the words), but shooting an intense concert is not easy, especially when it’s Bruce Springsteen going full bore with the Big Man on one of the encore songs, “Rosalita.” The amps were pegged and the house was literally shaking and rocking on its foundation, which this night, was the Meadowlands in New Jersey on September 11th, 1984. To be honest, I only shot one roll of Kodak Tri-X and did not do all that great with my exposures as you can see in the blown highlights — I was way too busy enjoying the three-plus-hour show and the E-Street Band’s thundering virtuosity…

…Still, out of 36 exposures, 80% of them rendered unusable due to my technical and alcoholic malfeasance, I managed to somehow capture the “Decisive Moment” of the entire gig between Bruce and Clarence when The Boss did a full speed, drop knee’d slide across the lower stage and dead center into Clarence’s arms where the Big Man grabbed him up and planted the kiss that blew the roof off the house. With no apologies but all due respect to my brother and sister Dead Heads out there, there really ain’t nothing like a Springsteen show. Well, as far as we’re concerned, here in New Jersey anyways.

Baron Knowlton’s bomb drop floater at Spanish House, October 1994.

The Bear portrait session, Fernandina Beach, Florida, chasing Hurricane Leslie, September 2012. He’s a freakin’ Red Sox fan (diehard Yankee supporter here) but I still love him anyway and let him keep the hat on.

Surf vacation air recon in southern New England, November 1983 during some “me time.” This was the fourth day of an unprecedented run of swell at this location and the only reason I was not down there still surfing this amazing lefthand point was because I was too damn tired from riding it eight-plus hours a day the other three days and wanted to give my body a rest. These were the only “surf shots” I took and yes, I went back but told nobody nuthin’ for years about this hidden mysto spot less than a six-hour drive from home in Jersey.

Virginia Beach’s Ian Parnell at the 1992 ESA Easterns. It never ceases to amaze how our tribe operates and how you connect at events like this and form lifelong friendships and where those friendships might take you.

Guinness, it does a body good. 13 years later, Ian and I end up on an ESM Always Right video trip to Ireland with Sam Hammer, Billy Hume, and legendary shooter / filmer and Unsound Surf owner Mike Nelson. The braces were long gone but the fun-loving, grom spirit was still very much alive within.

Weed dealers in Ireland. While being a color, digital frame originally, I decided to go black and white then funk it up but running the image through a couple of plug-ins to add a little bit more dynamic range to the end product. To get looks like this, the secret’s in the sauce and the trial and error time that you want to put into it.

Shea Lopez styles through a little gem of a Larry’s Lefts at Sebastian Inlet. Shot on Kodak T-Max 400 film then scanned on an Epson V750 Pro with post being done in Macphuns Tonality CK plug-in via Apple’s Aperture 3.

And sometimes you just want to keep it simple. I shot and processed this one of Pedro on my iPhone while sitting on the hood of my car on my way home to Florida from Jersey during a leg stretch / pee break. I ran the image through an app named Snapseed while I rested and, voila!, insta-art for ninety-nine cents (not including the cost of the $400 phone of course). Total time, less than five minutes.

Surfer Mag trip to Nova Scotia self portrait with (left to right) Jon Rose, Ben Bourgeois, and Bryan Hewitson, Lawrencetown circa 1990.

Neophyte surf scribe and Jersey home boy, Mike Ciaramella, circa 2008, catching up on his homework while in Barbados for 10 days on a Kamp Keenzo grom trip organized by Matt Keenan. Soupbowl was roaring just outside our front door but Mikey had work to finish and did not join our little rat pack until he was satisfied it was done. Since then he’s gone on to intern and work for the now defunct Surfing Magazine but you can catch him at his new gig as the Jimmy Olsen-esque cub reporter at a funny-ass website called Beach Grit, which is like an electronic version of UK’s Fleet Street tabloids such as the Daily Mail or Daily Mirror or, closer to home, the National Enquirer. If you like click bait journalism they have all the shark attack!, pro surfer sexual innuendo!! and Kelly gozzip!!! to keep you entertained for days !!!! We love what Mike’s doing so check him / them out !!!!!

Mike Ciaramella getting straight A’s at Soups for carving the shit out of it while barely out of grade school.

Kirk (left) and Eric Brasington of Coil Surfboards. You could hardly hope to find a more photogenic pair of twin brothers. While being totally funny, engaging, brilliant, and colorful characters themselves, they are perfectly made to be presented in the black and white medium, especially when you throw in the furtive mystery of how they construct their vacuum-bagged creations in secrecy.

Clay Pollioni, Polaroid surf check portrait, Bay Head, New Jersey. Analogue photography is not dead for me and my film camera of choice is a 600 SE Polaroid “pack film” style body that uses the old peel-apart films so popular in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Enter sandman. Noah Snyder is a hoot on surf trips, always smiling, always full of good-natured joking, and ready to mug for the camera on demand. He’s an easygoing, relaxed subject with a lens in his face therefore he’s always easy to shoot and walk away with something good. We were goofing off on the beach at The Boom in Nicaragua — putting off the long walk back in the super heated tropical sun to the cabanas we were staying at more than anything — when Noah decided to roll around in the wet, black volcanic sand to cool off and, bingo. Magic. For a black and white portrait reflecting his fun-loving spirit, I don’t think we could not have done much better.

Noah making more magic back home in shaggy looking S-Turns.

On an assignment in the Fall 1987 issue of Surfer Magazine’s spin-off pub at the time, Beach Culture Magazine. I was tasked with among other things shooting some “out of the box” type portraits for a piece BC was putting together on the world’s most dynamic, winningest female surfer at the time. We drove up from Florida in my Nissan 4×4 Pathfinder and hung out on the Banks for 10 days shooting surf for Surfer, Billabong, and material for the Beach Culture gig and we came up with this image. It was LA’s idea to “dress up” after I showed her this weather-beaten location at the old town Waves post office. The rest of the time she just traipsed about in regular jeans, surf T’s, and her favorite ‘Bong hoodie with slaps on her feet like the rest of us. And, truth be told, she still looked just as good.

 

I was sharing a second floor bedroom in Barbados with one of the East Coast’s (if not the US’) most all-time underrated surfers, New Jersey’s Randy Townsend, when he decided to have an early morning shave by the southwest-facing louvered windows of our beachside house at Soupbowl. I quickly reached down for one of my cameras and began snapping. Window light rules in black and white.

Kelly Slater making a PBJ and banana sandwich in my New Jersey kitchen in August 1986 on a promo tour with Matt Kechele and brother Sean. I never really noticed it ’til I started culling images for this web portfolio, but man the kid had huge hands and a small head for a 14-year-old!

Big hands, huge turns? Kelly at Sebastian Inlet, Thanksgiving Day, November 1988.

“ESM Girl # 28” as it is written on the black and white contact sheet from which I pulled this Kodak T-Max film strip. It was shot in my backyard sometime in the early ’90s and it is kinda odd (and extremely rare) that I used a black and white stock because the ESM Girl is always a color page. Glad I did though.

Bay Head, New Jersey, and the myriad of erosion control groins along its beachfront where I spent most of my time surfing when I wasn’t shooting or on the road just a quick five-minute bike ride from my house in neighboring Point Beach. Man I miss this place.

Pumphouse, Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to a tip-off from Baron Knowlton, whose words still ring clear in my head (“Mez, just listen to me and get the fuck down here tomorrow morning. All I’m gonna say, don’t fucking blow it!”) When Baron speaks, I listen, and I caught a small handful of crazy men towing into mutant waves like this, the likes of which I’d never seen before on the East Coast. Shooting up close and personal from my jet-ski, to say I was blown away is an understatement.

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  • jeff bauer

    Wow…! The last one of pump house at Palm Beach inlet is my home….where can I see more of these ?!

  • Jimmy Weisflog

    Most interesting piece ina long time! Awesome photos and commentary! Your work really rocks!

  • Jimmicane

    Awesome stuff Mez! Years of iconic east coast imagery. Gotta love it.

  • SID

    Awesome Boss…

  • Lisa Pelletier Harman

    Remarkable eye. Thanks for years of letting me live vicariously through your photos.