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Laguna in Black and White

By James Utt
By James Utt

At my age, the mind and body must make an extra effort to stay active. Having realized that a defeat of Roger Federer in a grueling five set match is most likely never going to happen, a new avocation has taken hold of me. Photography.

I have not used a camera since my time in the service in the 1970s, when old Korean men were reluctant to have their pictures taken for fear part of their soul might be captured on the film. But walking through town, one sees too many scenes that deserve to be captured and preserved. I felt a burning desire to start taking pictures again. So, I procured a used camera, film, of course. No digital for this Luddite. Besides, the people at the photo shop said film is making a comeback and for the type of photography I want to do, film would be just fine.

Oh, and in another nod to the old school, I want to shoot in black and white. I will never be another Ansel Adams, or Avedon, but to me their work has a beauty and complexity that transcends the colors of nature. Researching why one should shoot in black and white, I ran across phrases like “color can be distracting,” “you get a stronger emotional connection to the subject,” “there is more feeling.” These may be true, but I just know that black and white pictures speak to me with more power and a greater sense of reality. There is also a beauty that color does not capture. Colorless, it will be.

So, what scenes of opportunity present themselves in Laguna Beach for my used Canon and me? The homeless come first to mind. Some might say it is an intrusion into what privacy they have left. But their presence needs to be catalogued, so they will not become invisible to those of us who live here. Returning to Laguna late after our most recent Hospitality Night, the winds whipping, the streets now empty of revelers, I saw them in the shadows, moving as if they would rather not be seen. A few possessions were on their backs or held tightly to their chests. I was reminded of a poem by Wilfred Owen about exhausted soldiers in World War I returning to their lines after a mission. “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” They are here, whether in the shadows, hiding from the light, or on the benches in front of the library. Black and white would show them with power and a shred of dignity that they are all too often denied.

Early morning in our town offers fertile ground for shooting in black and white. My home is in Mystic Hills, looking across the way at Temple Hills. Many mornings, the white fog makes its way up Park Avenue, its tendrils snaking toward Thurston School. The contrast with the darker hills that the fog envelops is breathtaking.

Another shot could be of that first surfer braving the winter’s cold to paddle out at Thalia or Coast Highway just waking up before the tidal wave of humanity engulfs its sidewalks. Perhaps a toddler holding his mother’s hand as he puts his toes in the ocean for the very first time might make a memorable picture.

Black and white could capture the sadness of the now closed Cafe Zoolu, where so many of us ate the best swordfish on the planet. Speaking of restaurants, I wish The Cottage was still there to shoot. Bad coffee, great memories.                                                                                                                      There is also the empty marque of the now deserted Laguna Cinema, reminiscent of the theater in Bogdanovich’s “Last Picture Show,” the film that made me fall in love with Cybill Shepard. A film, by the way, that was shot in black and white.

And people, always people. Whether it be locals who love this town or tourists with sun burned faces, walking back to the cars with kids in tow. Black and white does capture a piece of the soul and its beauty.


James Utt hopes that if a gray haired man with an old Canon asks to take your picture, you will not be offended.





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  1. Photographs captures moments in time. I trust that the photos, as your columns will be a treasure worth remembering


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