Ok Walter, are you out there? Listening? All the W’s in this post are due to our friend Walter asking David Middleton a question about black and white. Not black or white chocolate, but photographs. David, wisely, punted that question to me. I love black and white images. I first started out in a black and white darkroom with wet paper, fix, red lights – the magic of photography was partly the magic of stripping down the world, simplifying it to line and form, light and shadow, and making those lines and shadows come alive on paper. Maybe as my world is often filled with chaos, the simplicity of black and white was like a soothing drug, and it made me very happy. Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham held my imagination in thrall and to this day I often return to those artists and wallow in the magic.
I admit, I don’t do a lot of black and white processing anymore. My darkroom is now digital and most of my work is shot for color, but some images lend themselves to black and white and really make the strongest impact as an image with the color information removed.
As I said to Walter in an email today, this is not the same thing as having an image that doesn’t quite work in color and then thinking, “well heck, it might work as a black and white?” The best black and white images are purposefully so. They demand to be black and white. When they are shot you are seeing it that way – pre-visualization anyone? Often, the light will be of a different quality than the light which works best for color imagery. Very often it is the line, or rhythm, of the image that is the “song” and the color becomes annoying background noise. Color is also a choice, pallets are important, various colors pull your eye through an image in various ways, colors impart moods, and sometimes the color is working against your vision.
Here is an example. I shot this portrait of the bass player knowing I would print it in black and white. What I wanted to emphasize was the line. The bright line of the strings, the brightness of the hand, the shapes. I knew that the color of the skin – pinkish, and the brown of the wood etc would weaken and not enhance the final image.
Same with all the portraits below – I wanted them stripped down to the essentials. The sand was an icky yellow as the sun came up, but I wanted the bands and grainy patterns.
I wanted the fish hooks to be a singular pallet that would emphasize the texture. In the waterfall images the actual color, (whatever that means), was brownish and slimy greenish, but the layers of light and dark water intrigued and amused my eye.
I encourage all of you to play with a black and white world. Strip it down. Makes the world a simpler place, and can’t we all use a bit of simplicity now and again?