“We were not so much learning how to photograph as how to see.”
I often describe my undergraduate photography training at Yale University as a photo boot camp. On the first day of class, we were told to acquire a 35 mm camera—ideally one that did not require a battery—with a 50 mm lens. Zoom lenses were not permitted, nor was cropping, rules I still adhere to today. We would make photographs in black and white only. Working with this palette, we would come to internalize the subtle but powerful qualities of light and shadow through technical fluency in film exposure, f-stops, and shutter speeds, so that we could expose correctly in any situation without the aid of a light meter. By the end of my first term, I was so steeped in seeing shades of gray that when I traveled abroad and learned to paint in watercolor, my teacher had to direct me to see color in the shadows.