The word “graphic” comes from the Greek graphikós, “to draw.” Photographs that a contain only solid black and pure white values with little or no mid-tones are regarded as graphic because of their resemblance to drawing. Strong black lines and shapes help the eye to focus on the linear essences of a subject, their form and geometry. Curiously, there can still be a sense of depth, even when the background has been dropped out.
As with sculpture where stone is chipped away to reveal the subject within, graphic images strip away information—units of visual change—in order to create visual impact. In the Buddhist tradition, aspirants are encouraged to eliminate identification with their body and mind in order to realize their true nature. Likewise, the transformation of a continuous tone photograph into a graphic image involves the elimination of elements that don’t contribute to the subject’s identification.
I find it interesting and beautiful that the arc of life moves from simplicity to complexity and back to simplicity again—building, amassing, and complexifying reaches a point where the tendency reverses toward reducing, eliminating, and simplifying.
Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.
Edward R. Tufte
A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
About These Images
These images were all made by contact printing an original negative with a piece of Kodalith film. That produced a positive image, which was then exposed in contact with another sheet of Kodalith film to make a negative that could be printed. This film, manufactured by Eastman Kodak Co., is no longer available—in part because the same effect can be achieved digitally with much less time, effort and money.
Here’s how: Move any photo into Photoshop. Choose IMAGE—ADJUSTMENTS—BLACK & WHITE. That produces a black and white image. Then, choose IMAGE—ADJUSTMENTS—THRESHOLD. That’s it! Just use the slider to determine your contrast preference.