Thursday, May 24, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 12

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on August 28th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 25 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 25

Paul Roark explores the duality of black and white

Gallery Los Olivos presents “Landscapes and Cityscapes” through September


Paul Roark is showcasing landscapes and cityscapes with the stark treatment of black and white.

Before cameras ever captured color, black and white reigned, from film noir to Ansel Adams. Despite the advent of reproducing reds, yellows, and blues, however, some people have stayed committed to the basics. One local photographer in particular is presenting a show of his photography, which includes a black and white treatment of landscapes and cityscapes.

Black-and-white photographer Paul Roark—whose show “Landscapes and Cityscapes” hangs at Gallery Los Olivos for the month of September—first realized that colorless photography might be his preferred media when the black-and-white works in his first solo show were stolen—and all the color prints were left behind.

“I think black and white, because of the color, accentuates the forms,” he said. “I am not looking for color. What I am looking for are forms, and how those forms fit together in different compositions.”

Landscapes and cityscapes are large explorations of forms from the macro to the micro. But, as Roark explains it, since the photo remains black and white, it’s abstract, even while delivering photographic detail.

“Photography is like an off-site memory system,” he said. “When you have abstraction in an image, you want to trigger more than just the literal thing that is in front of the person; it will bring back thoughts that are similar or relate to the literal thing.”

Roark focuses on two patterns when he looks for an image to capture: the “macro” and “micro.” The macro pattern is what draws your attention from a distance; the micro pattern is what keeps you analyzing and viewing the work.

Roark’s photographs will be printed with special inks and dyes he developed himself to achieve a clearer black-and-white image.

“It’s holding the attention of the viewer for as long as possible and making the most meaning for that person,” he said. “Photography is like fishing, and sometimes you get the big one and it is enjoyable for everyone.”

Roark has done much to accentuate the duality of the black and white, and the abstraction and realism in his work, including inventing and developing his own special ink sets. With the help of his brother—who has a PhD in chemistry—he developed a carbon-based ink set to be used in the most state-of-the-art printers.

“Carbon is by far the most stable pigment; that’s why those caves in France, the carbon is still on those cave walls after all those years,” he said. “Carbon is very strong, that’s why we are made out of carbon.”

The carbon-based ink Roark invented—the formula for which he shares on his website, royalty free—will be used for one large work showing at Gallery Los Olivos.

“It’s going to be a very large panorama,” he said. “It’s going to be a one of a kind. There is no coating so it won’t crack, and the carbon will just soak right into the paper.”

The rest of his show will make use of Epson dyes, which Roark has prepared at several different grades of dilution for use on metallic paper. The resulting prints bear a high dynamic range, meaning a high attention to detail in the measure between black and white and a sharply detailed image.

“People say it has an almost three-dimensional look,” he said. “It has an effect; it looks more like a slide.”

Color isn’t necessary when you’re enjoying an image as richly detailed as reality.

“What I’ve come up with is a technology for black and white that can compete with color,” he said. “It delivers the most detail and accentuates the contrast between the edges and gives an effect that people are simply not accustomed to.”

Exploring black and white
Gallery Los Olivos presents the black-and-white photography of Paul Roark in the show “Landscapes and Cityscapes” showing Sept. 1 through 30. An opening reception is Sept. 7 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the gallery, 2920 Grand Ave., Los Olivos. More info: 688-7517 or Paul Roark’s website is

Roark grew up with parents who were photographers, complete with an in-home darkroom. He was one of the earlier movers over to the digital realm of photography, something that helped him prepare to work with his carbon inks and dye sets. All of his effort was ultimately part of the quest for a crisper picture, and a finer art.

“I wanted to create the illusion that you are looking out of a window and looking at black-and-white reality,” he said. “With the dyes, I have removed the window or the shroud, so now you have something that is more real and more accessible.”

Roark hopes that other photographers will use the information on his website to make his carbon ink—which he said may be the best archival black-and-white ink on the market today—and his dye sets.

“I structured my life so that what I do is to pursue passion without any regard to whether I am selling into a market and making a living at it,” he said. “Photography has been such an important part of my life that to make this available to everybody, it is something I can do to contribute.”


Arts Editor Joe Payne is glad he’s a carbon-based life form. Contact him at

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