Black & White’s 100th Issue

Words: Dean Brierly and Henry Rasmussen

Despite the many changes that have occurred since our debut, we’re still going strong, as this 100th issue testifies. Such an achievement is impressive for any magazine, but is especially noteworthy given the challenges that currently face print publishing. This milestone gave us pause to review the history of Black & White with founding editor Henry Rasmussen providing the narrative, plus a perspective from publisher Tom Toldrian.

Describe the magazine’s inception.
I worked for Ross Periodicals in the San Francisco Bay Area as art director for their automotive publications from 1992 to 2000. During this time, I prevailed on Tom Toldrian, the publisher, to let me create a Ferrari magazine (Forza). I was responsible for the title, editorial format, graphic design, writing—almost all aspects of starting and running a magazine. More importantly, I learned how to start a new magazine on a limited budget, as we initiated publication of Forza with newsstand-only distribution for the first issue. The magazine was profitable by the third issue.

I had long been interested in fine art black-and-white photography, which was then emerging as an “in” thing, visually as well as from the viewpoint of collecting. I decided the time was right for a magazine with this subject matter, but I wanted to do it on my own. I approached Tom with my plan, thinking he might oppose it, but to my surprise he offered assistance, saying he appreciated the extra work I had done in starting Forza. The most important assist Tom provided was to represent Black & White as another title from Ross Periodicals, which enabled us to use their advantageous pricing for printing and paper. Even better, it enabled us to get extensive newsstand distribution before publishing the first issue. If not for these advantages, I don’t think Black & White would have survived.

Did you look at other magazines in terms of format?
I used to buy American Photographer from time to time and flip through it, but I would only see two or three photographs of interest. It was full of general articles and stuffed with camera ads. I decided that Black & White should be filled wall-to-wall with fine art images. My goal was to have 200 photographs in every issue, so that a reader would never be disappointed. There was certainly nothing like Black & White on the newsstand at the time. I didn’t want to overwhelm the magazine with ads, and I wrote in my first editorial that there wouldn’t be any camera ads. Although advertising would be important, I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing and offered free advertising to several galleries in the first issue to stimulate this pursuit.

Another important part of our first issue was an interview with Maggie Weston. I went to her home in Carmel, photographed her and her collection, and wrote a 10-page article that helped give the first issue credibility. Also for the first issue I happened to see an image of Marilyn Monroe I desperately wanted for the cover. The photographer, Milton Green, had moved from the East Coast to a little town in Oregon. It was so important for me to get it that I jumped into my car and drove all day to see him, and somehow it all worked out. To get Monroe for the cover was a big attention-getter, and great for the newsstand.

How did the first issue do?
Our only revenue source was from newsstand sales, but the subscription insert generated a cash flow response significant enough to pay for the second issue’s printing. From then on it just snowballed. And a couple of months later we received our first large checks from the newsstand sales. We started Black & White as a quarterly for budgetary reasons and because I was still working part-time for Ross Periodicals. Our first year was so successful I was able to leave that job and start publishing six issues per year in 2000.

The table of contents and masthead in the first issue show the title as Black & White Magazine, but the cover has B&W in large type. Is there a contradiction here?
Not really. The legal title was Black & White Magazine, which was used for postal regulations and ISBN registration. B&W is a shortened version, more like a logo, but we used it interchangeably. It was advantageous on newsstands, as magazine displays often show only the upper-left corner of publications. It became a strong identifier for the magazine. The word Magazine was recently dropped from the full title, so it’s now referred to as Black & White or B&W.

Were galleries the first advertisers?
Yes, although our interaction was on a personal level rather than on a business basis. Having them on board was important not only for advertising, but as a source of images. I would go to Peter Fetterman and say, “Can I get Salgado?” I could not have had the door to the world of fine art photography opened to me without the galleries. Black-and-white printers, museums and individual photographers also came on board pretty quickly.

You also positioned the magazine as being for collectors.
In order to make it attractive for advertisers, galleries and photographers who wanted to reach buyers, the magazine had to target collectors. I didn’t know if there was a large audience of collectors who would buy the magazine, but collecting black and white was a rapidly expanding trend, with auction houses selling at ever increasing prices—which we reported on. Our New York correspondent, Anne Horton, was a key to this audience. We also featured interviews with collectors. It’s safe to say that with its worldwide reach, the magazine has had a strong impact on photographers and collectors everywhere.

How did you select images?
For the first issue I selected everything myself. For the second issue, I solicited some photographers, while others were picked from submissions. In those days we dealt with actual prints. It wasn’t long before we were overwhelmed with submissions, and reviewing them was costly and time-consuming. For a period of time, we accepted no unsolicited submissions. Eventually, we settled on the contest method to review and choose submissions for publication. It provided us with quality material and a boost to the careers of the photographers chosen for publication.

How important is the quality of the magazine to its success?
My experience at Ross Periodicals was important in achieving the highest possible quality. Tom Toldrian assisted me in choosing paper that would reproduce a high-quality image but was priced affordably. It was especially important that the coating of the paper was capable of holding the ink without absorbing it. Any absorption would muddy the image. This was even more important for Black & White, as we were running higher-than-normal ink densities to maintain the best possible blacks for reproducing images. The extra effort of our printer was essential in working out these problems; they ran many tests before settling on ink densities that could be controlled on press. It would have been easier to use four-color process to get brilliant blacks, but I thought this was an unacceptable compromise, as the images were shot with only black and white.

That quality helped attract top photographers, didn’t it?
In a very early issue I was able to interview Ruth Bernhard at her home in San Francisco. She was very old at the time. It took a couple of rest periods for her to get through it. But she gave of herself and took the time. Same thing when I interviewed Eve Arnold in London. During the interview I had put aside one of the prints she showed me, similar to but not one of her famous ones. At the end of the day I asked if I could buy it. She looked at me for a moment, said, “No,” then paused for effect, adding, “but you can have it for free.” Then she wrote on the back: “For Henry, a new friend who feels like an old friend.” It was wonderful meeting people of this caliber and getting these reactions.

The magazine has always set trends.
There’s no denying the fact that what is shown in the magazine, while reflecting what is happening in the world of photography, also sets trends. The magazine, I believe, continues to inspire and influence the creative paths that photographers are exploring.

What made you sell Black & White?
Growth of the magazine had leveled off and I thought success going forward would require more capital and more publishing experience. Also, the workload required to continue publishing six issues per year was becoming a burden. I called Tom for advice on selling the magazine, and, to my surprise, he expressed interest in buying it. After reviewing the financial information, he made a generous offer, and the transfer was made. I was pleased because I knew the quality would be maintained. My relationship with Black & White continues to this day, although my duties currently only involve being part of the judging team for the annual contests.

Any second thoughts about selling?
If I had any, they were wiped away when the recession hit in 2008. Ad revenue dropped dramatically, and the magazine needed the resources of a larger company to survive. I am pleased that Ross Periodicals never cut back on print quality, which remains as good as ever. I still look forward to each issue.

[We asked publisher Tom Toldrian to summarize the era of Ross Periodicals’ ownership of Black & White.]
We purchased Black & White because it seemed like a nice fit for our company, and I felt there was room for growth. The Contest Issues sold so well on the newsstand that we decided to publish two each year and added them to subscriptions as an extra benefit. We maintained that policy even when advertising revenue took a severe drop during the recession. A substantial investment in circulation had increased our subscriber base by almost 70%. Still taking an aggressive approach, we started Color in 2009, but Color was never close to being profitable, and soon became a drag on operations. We combined the two magazines for a year or so, but any extra revenue produced couldn’t offset the higher costs of printing a larger magazine.

At that time, I decided we would go back to the original formula: six issues per year of Black & White. At the same time, we brought on Dean Brierly as editor. I’m pleased with our progress to date, and the future looks brighter. As a unique publication, I believe Black & White has an obligation to its readers, and we will continue to strive to meet that goal.

Mona Kuhn

Spotlight, Issue 2, 1999
When interviewed for her Spotlight in 1999, both Kuhn and the magazine were in a state of emergence. Kuhn went on to become one of the most rapidly ascending artists on the international scene, with shows from San Francisco to New York to Berlin to Paris to London. She also has five books under her belt, and a sixth to be released in 2014.

“When we met in San Francisco to do the Spotlight interview, I brought my background in charcoal drawing into black-and-white photography. Two years later I embraced color, and in the past decade my images have been shown as large-scale color prints. But in my latest book, Bordeaux Series, I mixed color portraits and nudes with black-and-white landscapes. It felt good to be involved with black and white again.”

Keith Carter
Spotlight, Issue 7, 2000
“It’s been thirteen years since I first appeared in the pages of this magazine. In the meantime,” Carter says, “stuff happened. Life. Our beloved dog Rosie died. Grandchildren graduated from high school and college. And my work was exhibited in over 100 solo exhibitions in 13 countries. In the same period, I produced nine books and saw my photographs included in numerous public and private collections, including The National Portrait Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the George Eastman House and the Wittliff Collections.

“More recently, my wife became ill, so I stick closer to home nowadays. I have used the time to explore the secrets of the wet-plate collodion process in a project I call Shangri-La—a study of the mysterious swamplands surrounding me. That’s the story I want to tell. The glass remains half-full.”

James Whitlow Delano
Spotlight, Issue 8, 2000
“The series published in Black & White represented an idyllic, heady, slightly naive period of my discovery of Asia, photography and the world around me. In the intervening two decades, Asian cultural links and a deeper comprehension of distant cultures, as well as the often blustery winds of the photography world, have fortified my vision and enabled me to become a better storyteller. Being a storyteller is what I desire more than being an ‘important’ artist. The image of a blooming cherry tree rising through the rubble of Japan’s tsunami describes this sentiment better than any words could. It will be part of my latest monograph, Black Tsunami, which will be released by FotoEvidence later this year. “

Brigitte Carnochan
Spotlight, Issue 13, 2001
“The Spotlight in Black & White was my first feature in an international journal. I was thrilled. Although it’s impossible to prove this sort of cause and effect, I think the feature in Black & White gave my work a credibility that led to other good things. I was named one of 12 Hasselblad Master Photographers in 2003. In 2006 Modernbook Editions released my first monograph, Bella Figura, and 21st Editions published 11 of my black-and-white images in one of their beautiful volumes.

“In my experience, gallery representation, publications, even awards build on each other. That makes it challenging for newcomers, especially today. Competition has gotten stiffer and the publications fewer. Diversity of opportunity, however, has also multiplied—now there are websites and blogs, not to mention social media. But I’m old fashioned. I like to turn the pages of a magazine and go back to them later.”

Jason Langer
Spotlight, Issue 17, 2002
In 2002, when his Spotlight was published, Langer was in full swing with his Secret City work. He had some experience in the fine art photography world, but had never had his work written about in a magazine.

“The feature in Black & White marked the first time I had a chance to talk about my photography,” Langer says. “The exposure contributed to my confidence, which in turn inspired me to create more work, which led to more exhibitions and eventually to the publication of my first book, Secret City, released by Nazraeli Press in 2006. I’m about to have my second book, Possession, published, also by Nazraeli Press. The value of having a professional writer critique one’s work and having it published in a well-respected international magazine such as Black & White is still unparalleled.”

Tono Stano
Spotlight, Issue 19, 2002
Stano’s White Shadow series made for a powerful Spotlight feature a decade ago. He is still adding to the series, still creating brilliant images infused with a sense of surprise, fantastic mystery and foreboding beauty. “Having a vision of a picture that has never existed before, and through photography being able to realize this vision, makes me very happy.”

Employing an old-fashioned camera once owned by Josef Sudek, this artist of the surreal constructs images in his studio in Prague’s Smichov district, a neighborhood with a woeful reputation, where he often finds his models. Stano’s work has been exhibited across the U.S. and Europe, is found in numerous institutional collections, and has been the subject of seven books.

Hiroshi Watanabe
Spotlight, Issue 21, 2002
Watanabe was born in Japan and moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. After two decades in television, he fulfilled his ambition of devoting himself to fine art photography.

“After my Spotlight feature, I was contacted by the Susan Spiritus Gallery in Southern California,” he recalls. “Susan informed me that a client of hers had seen the article and wished to buy some of my photographs. The gallery eventually added me to their stable of artists, and since then, because of the article, a collector started to buy my work. He has since bought more than 100 prints, including every print from my Kabuki Players series.”

Watanabe is now represented by a dozen galleries in the U.S., Europe and Japan and is working on commissions in the U.S. and Europe.

Kimberly Gremillion
Spotlight, Issue 27, 2003
In 2003, Gremillion was featured in a seven-page Spotlight spread that highlighted three of her most prominent portfolios. She was also given the cover of the October issue. “The exposure in Black & White greatly enhanced my career,” she states. “It opened up access to museum collections and gallery representation and gave me the opportunity to publish a 125-page book entitled Circus, culminating in a 26-city book tour.”

Most recently, Gremillion was selected as one of 30 Houston artists to exhibit at UNESCO, Paris, where she was invited to show her work in a commercial gallery. Gremillion continues to show internationally, and her new book, Dance, will be released next year.

Helen K. Garber
Spotlight, Issue 32, 2004
“My Spotlight came four years after I gave up a commercial career for fine art photography. Black & White was the first publication to use LA Noir—the title of my Los Angeles nightscapes series—which helped brand the term. The feature in Black & White strengthened my confidence in my artistic pursuit.”

Garber’s career highlights include creating a 40-ft, 360-degree panorama of L.A. from the helipad of the U.S. Bank Tower; her 2007 solo show, Urban Noir: LA/NY, at Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, New York; conceiving and directing NoirFest Santa Monica in 2012; and receiving a Santa Monica Artist Project Fellowship Grant in 2013.

Dominic Rouse
Spotlight, Issue 45, 2006
When Rouse’s imaginative work appeared in his Spotlight, it made him the leading practitioner of his fledgling genre. “My imagery is the product of a seamless blend of the latest digital technologies and the timeless qualities of large-format photography,” he explains.

In July 2012 his work was included in the New York exhibition Visionaries, alongside such luminaries of “fantastic realism” as Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs and Swiss surrealist painter H. R. Giger. Later this year, German fine art publisher Galerie Vevais will release a limited-edition book of Rouse’s images, and he will also travel to Poland for his major exhibition at the Foto Biennale in Bielsko-Biala.

Photo 1 Photo 3 Photo 5
#1 Black & White