Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The attraction of black and white

click photo to enlarge
In the 1970s, when colour prints had become mass market in the UK, I resolutely stuck with black and white. Was it conservatism on my part? Maybe. Could it have been the association of "serious" photography with monochrome - an association that continues in some minds still? Perhaps. Or was it the poor quality of those colour prints compared with the relatively better quality that came from the commercial printing of black and white? Whatever the reason, whilst I occasionally did have colour prints made, the attraction of black and white was so great that I bought the equipment to do my own processing.

Those who have done it will tell you that there is nothing to compare with developing your own negatives, and making prints with your own enlarger and chemicals. It's certainly a magical process, and writing about it now, I can smell the developer and remember the excitement of watching the image appear in the tray. But I didn't take it to the next stage, colour printing, because the fact is that home processing lost its attraction after a few years, and I moved on to slides. A couple of years later I realised that the problem with slides is the awkwardness involved in projecting them. And that sent me back to colour prints!

When digital came along, at the prompting of a friend, I embraced it reasonably early. And I haven't looked back. Digital has revitalised and deepened my long-standing interest in photography. I won't bore you with the advantages it brings - you probably know them all. However, one big plus for me is the ability to make any photograph black and white! The shot above, of the church at Bowness on Solway, Cumbria, is one that I have converted, using a software version of my favourite red filter, and I have to say that it is much better in black and white! In colour the lighting makes it rather flat and lifeless, but black and white introduces more contrast, accentuates the sky, and makes the most of the main shapes and the lichen covered stonework. Ironic isn't it, that the future has allowed us to go back with ease to monochrome - a format that the twentieth century thought it had consigned to history!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen