Big-Time Digital B&W


By Eric Rudolph

Michael Horowitz has embraced digital black-and-white, big time.

Seventeen of his richly detailed 40x60-inch B&W inkjet prints are on display as the Cathedrals of Industry exhibit at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, in Buffalo, New York (the two-part exhibit runs through January 25, 2009).


Horowitz's big B&W images originate from Leaf Aptus and Phase One medium-format digital backs (33 and 39 megapixels, respectively, RAW only). He uses an impressive assortment of medium format cameras with these backs: Hasselblad, Fuji 680 and Arca Swiss 6x9 FC, as well as Sinar and Linhof view cameras.

And when working light, it's with the King of all DSLRs, the full frame 21.1 megapixel Canon 1Ds Mark III, with its 36x24mm 35-mm frame-sized sensor (used only in full Manual mode, exposures determined via a handheld spot meter).

Horowitz, we should note, is part owner of a pro-level New York City-area photo retailer, so he has readier access to the latest and greatest gear/materials than you or I. (

His dedication to his art and craft is still impressive.

He's anything but a camera-toting grind, however. "I take these pictures because they make me feel good," Horowitz tells a customer as I enter Kenmar Camera, his store, in Albertson, NY. "If people like them, and buy them, that's just an extra benefit… I can't stop making them!" he adds.

His ongoing (two-part) exhibit focuses on dormant industrial sites around Buffalo.

Part One features (all B&W) work taken at the massive Colonel Ward Pumping Station, a long-mothballed behemoth that pumped 30 million gallons of water from Lake Erie each day for Buffalo, starting in the 1920s. (This industrial White Elephant is far too big to dismantle.)

The Colonel Ward Pumping Station B&W part of the exhibit runs until July 25, 2008; Part Two, color studies of Buffalo's massive First Ward Grain Elevators, begins August 8, 2008 and runs until January 25, 2009.

Horowitz proudly shows off a 40 x 60" print of the four-story steam-powered water pump, noting that the highly manipulated image probably has 30 Photoshop layers. He uses a flashlight to point out the richness of the deep shadow detail (the lighting isn't gallery quality inside his store).

"It's all traditional photography skills, translated, without film," he notes. "It is burning and dodging, lightening and darkening; changing densities of whole sections."

A lot of the manipulation involves, "creative painting of highlights. For example, with a dead-looking tree image, if you just dapple the ends of the leaves with light, and it will suddenly come alive. You hit it with light, just right, and trick the eye."

He avoids the burn and dodge tools in Photoshop however, saying they "lack subtlety." He prefers the Quick Mask with a soft brush, for "great light and dark control."

He's good. We closely examined a roomful of huge prints and saw nothing that even whispered obvious manipulation.

He's long been fascinated by architecture and the "behind the scenes, behind closed doors" mystery of anachronistic structures. "We see interesting buildings everyday, and I want to know what's inside them. What's inside a water pumping station, a grain elevator?"

However his photographic approach is definitely not anachronistic. A somewhat late convert to digital, he's now embraced it enthusiastically, and with a bigger-is-better approach.

His main printers for both B&W and color are a 44" Canon Prograf IPF 8000s and a 24" Epson Stylus Pro 7800. For profiling, he uses the ImagePrint RIP from Colorbyte (with the Epson) and Gretag Eye-One system (with the Canon). He doesn't swap out to dedicated ink sets for B&W; he sees no need to do so, thanks to his profiling software.

"I profile so that even with a color ink set, things come out in rich B&W, not with a magenta or greenish cast," he explains.


He works on a Dual Quad Core 3.2 gigahertz Mac with six gigs of RAM and two terabytes of storage. (Each 40x60" print is made from A 1.2 gigabyte 16-bit file.) His computer, the two big printers, plus four other oversized inkjets, are crammed into a spare room in his Manhattan apartment. He has a very understanding wife, he adds.

His favorite paper is Ilford Gallerie Smooth Pearl; because it is, "relatively inexpensive, looks great and I can print a lot."

Horowitz's inkjet B&W prints are gorgeous, but they lack the rich surface luster of their silver gelatin cousins. Horowitz, who once earned a living as a traditional B&W darkroom printer, acknowledges this, but points out that once an image is behind glass "It is virtually impossible to tell the difference. Plus the control I have is wonderful, and precisely repeatable."

He captures all his images in color, as is common with digital capture, and doesn't decide if something will be B&W or color until it's time to print. (He shoots most everything in RAW, at 50 ISO.)

He brings out the color version of one of his more striking B&W shots, a small, complex machine that oiled the giant water pump. The color image is good but unexciting, but the B&W version is mysterious and compelling in its rich monochrome sharpness and full-scale contrast range.

Horowitz nearly levitates across his retail counter to convey the excitement he felt when he converted the color image to B&W. "The stark B&W moved me more. It's got mystery, you can't tell when in time it was taken!"


NEW B&W IMAGES JUST ADDED. CLICK HERE. Big, Bold & beautiful 40x60” B&W prints from huge, highly-manipulated Medium-Format digital files: Meet Michael Horowitz, a guy who truly loves photography. (All photographs, below, Copyright Michael Horowitz. All rights reserved, no reproduction of any kind is permitted without the written consent of photographer.)

Above, LEFT:  The massive, four-story Colonel Ward water pump in Buffalo, NY. Horowitz made this shot with a Linhof view camera with a Leaf Aptus 33 megapixel back and a 38mm Schneider-Kreuznach XL Super Angulon lens.  Photo by Michael Horowitz, all rights reserved.

Above, RIGHT: Horowitz holding a 40x60” print of the image, at his store, Kenmar Camera, Albertson, NY (near Mineola).

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